Guanyin's Gaze and Awareness of Sentient Beings

Early Chinese Buddhist monk and disciple of Kumarajiva, Sengzhao(僧肇, 383~414), argued the theory of Wondrous existence in true emptiness (眞空妙有) to advocate his idea of Emptiness (Sunyata, 空) in his collected treatise, Zhaolun (肇論). Inheriting the ontology of the Middle Way (中道) from Nagarjuna (龍樹, 150?~250?), Founder of Mahayana Buddhism (大乗佛敎), Sengzhao could develop innovative ideas like Neither Existence Nor Non-existence (非有非無), which means that things are not existing as they follow yuan qi (緣起). Things are not non-existing as they arise from yuan qi. Therefore he could put an end to an old debate of binary thinking for being and non-being because he came to reinterpret the Dharma (佛法大意), such as Emptiness and Yuan Qi, by articulating them with the Laozi's (老子, BC 571~? ) idea of Dao (道). He asserted ultimately that all the phenomena of the universe are beings in the incessant process of becoming through yuan qi (緣起的生成).

In the sense that Sengzhao could reformulate the fundamental ideas of Mahayana Buddhism in the light of Laozi and Zhangzi's (莊子, BC 369~289?) philosophy, he could be taken as a forerunner of Zen Buddhism (禪佛敎). As the nature of Zen Buddhism consists of negating substance, self-identity and even the idea of self, the Zen masters attempted to destroy the ideas of Non-self (無我) and the Law of Yuan Qi (緣起法) in a more radical way. Under the influence of Zen Buddhism and Zen painting tradition, Yahon Chang had in mind the belief that seeking enlightenment for the benefit of every sentient being (上求菩提 下化衆生) is the Mahayana path (大乘佛敎的道). That is precisely what the mindset of Bodhisattva (菩薩心) means.

The originality of Yahon Chang's painting resides in his way of understanding sentient beings. For him, a sentient being is not the object of neither reforming or saving. His idea of a sentient being seems similar to a sentient equal to Buddha (衆生佛). In other words, the fact that dependent on others, all sentient beings as phenomena of the universe are in the process of becoming through yuan qi is the Buddha's truth, True emptiness. Regarding Yahon Chnag's painting, yuan qi, the order of the universe to which sentient beings are subject might be understood as true emptiness with the wondrous movement of becoming and change. The idea of metamorphosis as ontological migration is so crucial to explore Yahon Chang's painting: not only Arahats (羅漢) but also animals depicted in his painting undergo certain types of transformation to express the vital force of nature per se.

For Yahon Chang, the painter's task  is not to depict Guanyin's gaze caring about all the sentient beings but to make his painting itself Guanyin's gaze. Each painting of his work is an aesthetic event where a sentient being appears to exist in illusion.

2023/03/26 - 2023/07/02