Water Basin – 40″ x 20″ Oil on Canvas
Sometimes I receive a commission that requires a bit of research, and those typically are my favorite. For me, my painting has always been a tool to explore ideas, thoughts, concepts, etc. on the canvas being able to portray various perspectives to fully grok the theme or subject.
Ryoan-ji Temple Rock Garden
Ryōan-ji, translated as Temple of the Dragon at Peace, is a Zen Temple in Kyoto, Japan. The Temple, built somewhere around 1488, is home to what is believed to be one of the best examples of a kare-sansui, or Japanese rock garden, believed to have been built between 1618 an 1688. For this commission, the focus of the subject was to be a small water basin used for the ritual washing of the hands. Ultimately, the basin is a word puzzle and the meditator is required to reflect up the puzzle and ultimately resolve a solution from the inscription. And like those pilgrims, but from a far, with this commission I set out to explore what secrets this Water Basin holds for those willing to delve into the deep of the knowledge at hand.
Water Basin at Ryoan-ji Temple
Ryōan-ji also has a teahouse and tea garden, dating to the 17th century. Near the teahouse is a famous stone water basin, with water continually flowing for ritual purification. This is the Ryōan-ji tsukubai, which translates literally as “crouch;” because of the low height of the basin, the user must bend over to use it, in a sign of reverence and humility.
The flowing water represent the continual flowing of ideas or energy. Viewed from above, the water basin also has a fascinating inscription. Read clockwise from the left side, the characters mean arrow, five, short-tailed bird.
The final character, at the bottom, has no meaning on its own—and that’s the clue. In combination with the square opening of the basin, it forms the character for sufficient. In fact, the mouth of the basin is an integral part of the inscription. Each character combines with it to form a completely different one. If each is read in combination with 口 (kuchi), which the central bowl is meant to represent, then the characters become:
ware tada taru wo shiru
Roughly translated as: “I know only satisfaction” or “I am content with what I have.”
(吾 = ware = I, 唯 = tada = merely, only, 足 = taru = be sufficient, suffice, be enough, be worth, deserve, 知 = shiru = know).
This commission came to me at a very synchronous time in my life, struggling to be content with all that I have created and succeeded at manifesting in my life. Sometimes we get caught up with survival so much that we just want, want, want and we push to meet those expectations. After 6 years of pushing hard to try and start my Artistic career, trying to reach this or that, it never occurred to me, nor did I see that I was already there. Life has a funny way of bonking you on the head like a Zen Monk with a broomstick.
Through my artwork, this Dragon has found peace of mind.