Eight Scenes of the Life of the Buddha
Paintings of the eight scenes of the life of Buddha can be found in the Palsong-jon, the Eight Pictures Hall, or on the outside walls of the Main Hall of Buddhist Temples. When inside, they are skillfully artistic and colorful as well as quite complex. In addition to the specific episodes, associated ones are shown and the back-ground of the scene is elaborated. When on the outside walls, they are of simple design in a more naive style.
In either case, there are eight clues by which each can be identified: (1) elephant; (2) baby; (3) sick or dead man; (4) white horse over a wall; (5) starved figure; (6) tempters; (7) halo; (8) bier.
i) (Elephant)–Announcement of the imminent birth
A white elephant is a sacred, auspicious symbol in India, where the Buddha was born, and is depicted as the vehicle that brought to earth the Buddha-to-be. Between the right ribs he entered Maya’s womb.
In more detailed indoor paintings, the background is of the palace in which he was born with many people in the rooms and gardens. A whole host of heavenly beings surround the ele-phant and the Buddha-to-be in a cloud that trails to earth above Maya’s head.
ii) (Baby)–The birth
The well-developed babe emerged from the right side of a fully clothed mother and began walking immediately after birth. He was born into a royal family and bore the title of Prince. He was named Siddhartha; Gautama was his family name. Seven days after his birth his mother died. At sixteen he married and had a son. His life in the palace was one of comfort and luxury.
In compound pictures there are nine dragons washing the baby with many earthly attend-ants.
iii) (Sick/dead man)–The world outside the palace
Eventually Siddhartha began to see, out-side the sanctuary of the palace, sickness, old age and death. Then he saw a recluse and realized that the only way to overcome sickness, old age and death was to leave home and attain enlighten-ment. Siddhartha decided to leave his family and home for solitude and meditation.
In the simple pictures one emaciated body tells the story. In the complex ones, life goes on as usual in the palace, but outside the walls in the lower right can be seen illness and in the lower left, death.
iv) (White horse over wall)–Renunciation
His father, learning of Siddhartha췷 intentions to leave the palace, placed extra guards by the gates and others to watch over his son at all times.
But Siddhartha, with the aid of the four guardians and other spirits, was able to escape over the wall on his favorite white horse.
A white horse taking to the air, with his master astride it and the groom hanging on to the tail, represents renunciation.
v) (Starved figure)–Asceticism
For six years he studied and meditated. As was the custom in those days, he punished and disciplined the body until he was nearly dead. Finally realizing that this was not the right way, he began to live moderately and to maintain a healthy body in order to practice in his quest for understanding and enlightenment.
The demon Mara sought to break the spirit of the meditating man and sent various lures away from the path Siddhartha had chosen. First he sent worldly pleasures. When these failed, he sent his army-cum-monsters but the power of the nearly enlightened Buddha was able to stop them and turn their weapons into lotus blossoms. Evil, in the guise of Mara and his tricks, was defeated and righteousness prevailed.
The three voluptuous women trying to seduce him leave no doubt that this is the tempta-tion scene!
After overcoming temptation, enlighten-ment is complete. Siddhartha had become the his-torical Buddha, Sakyamuni. For forty-five years, he wandered and taught anyone who was interested in his understanding of reality.
In addition to the halo there are disci-ples at his feet, but in the complex pictures this scene is subordinated by a confusing array of celestial and worldly beings and structures.
At the age of eighty the Buddha died. His disciples and many animals gathered around the bier to mourn his passing.
In elaborate paintings, there is a color-ful shower of relics from the burning casket. Around the body are crowds of both heavenly and earthly mourners.