Since nothing killed my spirit in the news today (or perhaps I’ve just become inured to the awfulness), my mind floated along peacefully during the short, sunny, steep walk and back up to our perch on the mountaintop. I felt like the luckiest person in the world! My gaze turned to another favorite book of Asian art, a book dedicated to Bada Shanren, to capture the peaceful thoughtfulness.
Chinese painter Bada Shanren (1626-1705) is the artist; born into the Ming imperial family, he fled and became a Buddhist monk before re-emerging into public life later, after 30 years. During the period when he created Lotus and Ducks, he was already a worldly man in his 70s.
Lotus and Ducks (pictured) is a hanging scroll of ink on paper, ca. 1696. It is absolutely hypnotic once you start gazing at it. “Yes, awfulness exists,” the ducks darkly gaze. But a quiet feeling of Zen awareness is also here for the taking–it flows through the lotus waving gently in the breeze (or is it rippling water?).
The last lines of the inscription capture the feelings perfectly, in their vague and hazy way of conjuring an image of natural beauty and hope amidst the wreckage caused by humans.
“Today we heave a sigh:
Wolves are besting tigers, bear gives birth to fox,
Long in dream, a butterfly comes fluttering along.” *
* Bada Shanren, trans. Stephen D. Allee, Lotus and Ducks, ca. 1696, in catalogue of In Pursuit of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings and Calligraphy by Bada Shanren from the Estate of Wang Fangyu and Sum Wai, ed. Joseph Chang and Qianshen Bai, Catalogue by Stephen D. Allee (Washington, DC: Freer Gallery of Art and Weatherhill, Inc., 2003), p. 66.
Thanks for giving us this beautiful book when it first came out, Steve! I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read it peacefully and enjoy discovering Bada Shanren in this quiet time (of quarantine).
Fyi: yesterday’s face mask production: