On my recent trip to China I was hoping to see a flowering Peony. As they featured in my animated ballpoint pen drawings projected onto the ceramic installation. Not that it was high on the agenda. Spring had come and gone, it was almost summer and to my surprise the lotus flower was an unexpected alternative. These images were taken at Ditan Park (Alter of the Earth and home to the Peony Garden) in Beijing, after a visit to the Lama Temple, situated across the Andingmenxibin River.
In the three-storeyed section of the 5th hall is a 23-meter high statue of Buddha, carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. We do associate the Lotus flower with Buddhism. It grows in muddy waters – it’s stems rising above the water, symbolizing the rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment (rebirth). The Buddhist culture stems back to 563 B.C. when its leader Siddhartha was born in Nothern India – a fertile strip of land amongst the foothills of the Himalayas. Overcoming personal frustrations and pain – desires, that inhibited spiritual enlightenment, he experienced the earthly foretaste of Nibbana (Nirvana). From now on he was the Buddha, the enlightened one.
The first phase is when the flower is closed – represents the time before the Buddhist finds spiritual rebirth. The final phase is a fully bloomed Lotus representing full enlightenment and self-awareness. Hence the fact that most sculptures of the Buddha, features him seated on a flowering Lotus (image above). The first time I saw a flowering lotus was at Hylton Nel’s garden, when he was still living in Bethulie.
It was a welcoming surprise after a long journey from Johannesburg, on route to the Cape (annual recess excursion). It was beautiful to say the least – the flowering lotus is a rare sight in this part of the world. Making my first encounter a double blessing if you like. Hylton has green fingers – but even he was overjoyed at his success - to grow the plant and get it to flower.
For me the annual stop over (almost half way), presents a turning point in more ways than one (the end of another year) – the journey and stay at his home always has a wind down effect (hectic Jozi city life). It is also generally a time to reflect and contemplate life’s opportunities and for me to consolidate creative prospects for the next year or two (if need be). At the time, the flowering lotus plant made the experience that much more special.