The Life of The Buddha
‘The Buddha’s Garden’
De Nieuwe Kerk
Dam Square, Amsterdam,
through 03 February 2019
Siebe Tettero, designer and guest-curator.
This article was included in the publication Het Leven van Boeddha, published by De Nieuwe Kerk 2018, p.9. Translated from Dutch.
Some 2500 years ago Siddhartha Gautama, who later received the title The Buddha, became aware of the idea that we create our own suffering by our judgements. He came to this insight as he sat under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya, India.
This exhibition is about that tree.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of meditation is the fact that when I sit down in a calm posture and do nothing for the moment, my body starts to breath in and out on its own. Sometimes deep and to the fullest, other times superficial, short, tense, depending on the needs and the state of the body. The body does not need encouragement, mediation or approval in this.
And then …, just after my conscious awareness of the inhalation, fed by my prejudices, comes from the brains the judgment: well done, or not, according to the judgment.
This exhibition is also about the moment before that judgment.
The famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), responsible for the cultivation of the famous Haiku poetic form, once wrote;
I’m not looking for the old men,
I am looking for what they were looking for.
The exhibition Buddha’s Life includes important works from collections of members of the Royal Association of Friends of Asian Art, the KVVAK, including important loans from The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. These works show the richness and diversity of the many different Buddhist cultures.
Yet this exhibition is not about the paths that were followed after the death of The Buddha.
From the beginning, Birgit Boelens and I had in mind to show his life as clearly and factually as possible, before judgments, before viewpoints, and especially before the statements that have jointly led to the plephora of interpretations that arose in the roughly two and a half millennia since his death.
We have also strived to tell his story on the basis of the most crucial object in his life; the tree. This tree, which often appears in the context of a garden or court, has been a strong guide through the whole life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, from his birth to his death.
In our concentration on the life of the Buddha, we thought we could divide this life into five stages; birth, insight; enlightenment; teachings and his death.
Undoubtedly there are many other possible segmentations, but in my opinion these 5 are the most basic, and the purest.
The moment before the judgment, before interpretation, still holds a beautiful quality; it can be seen as the moment of pure creativity. After all, creativity thrives where spontaneity and intuition get the freedom, and where criticism and prejudice are lacking. Uncensored it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
No artefacts have survived, as far as we know, the long period after the death of Gautama Buddha, as far as we are concerned, a great opportunity to support these 5 stages of Buddha’s life, together with the basic concepts of his experience and insights, with art from our own time. From the Here and Now, so to speak.
Read the associated posts The famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 and The Life of Buddha and contemporary Art