Note: in celebration of the solar eclipse, Dr. Paula Arai (Louisiana State University) shares the following from her forthcoming book, The Art of Enlightenment: Black Holes, Buddhas, and the Heart Sutra, on Japanese Buddhist artist Iwasaki Tsuneo.

“Whorling Wisdom”

Whorling Wisdom, (c) Iwasaki Tsuneo (140 x 74 cm. Painted July 25, 1995)
Iwasaki Tsuneo (140 x 74 cm. Painted July 25, 1995)

What obstructs your view?

Wreathed in flames of wisdom, Fudō Myō-ō is an agent of compassion. Iwasaki paints Fudō blazing in immense whorling convolutions of solar storm activity called solar prominences. Solar prominences are electrically charged hydrogen and helium atoms spewing out of sunspots along the magnetic field lines of the sun with heat searing around 6,000 degrees Kelvin and heights reaching hundreds of thousands of kilometers.[i] Fudō’s wrathful visage, accentuated by one fang pointing up and another pointing down, piercingly glares at planet earth and its moon. Gazing from the vantage point of earth, the moon appears large. From the perspective of the sun, however, the moon is miniscule. Yet, the meager moon has totally eclipsed the enormous sun from earth’s view!

Likewise, the slightest dualistic thought can obscure one’s view of the vast nondualistic activity of the universe. When viewed from their inherently narrow and rigid perspective, dualistic thoughts appear to loom large. Dominating one’s view, they prevent one from seeing beyond. Appearing big and solid, they block out the ever-changing interdependent flux of reality. But, when you expand your perspective, you can see they are paltry and weak compared to the vast power of transcendent wisdom and compassion. Just as the moon’s night glow is no match for the sun’s power to dispel all darkness, ignorance is no match for wisdom.

Like the nuclear fusion that generates the sun’s radiant warmth, Fudō’s compassionate activity is fueled by the intensity of nondual wisdom’s obfuscation-busting force: emptiness. Emptiness is a potent dissolving agent that removes even stubborn obstructions to nondual wisdom. Surgically precise, emptiness does not harm anything that does not hamper. Fudō is an expert marksman in wielding emptiness, the vital ingredient in being compassionate while wading in scorching pools of affliction. His lasso writhes with scintillating wisdom, like a cosmic solar prominence of super-heated electrified gas. Lasso in hand, Fudō unfurls it to fetter all obscurations of the vast interdependent activity of the cosmos, his eyes now set on lassoing the moon.[ii] Fudō holds his mouth tightly shut, so no words seep out to further impede.

From birth on, obstacles accumulate with each experience that generates a belief in separate self, a tormenting and tenacious dualistic thought. Isolation is felt with each pang of hunger and thirst, every ache from bumps and falls, and each interminable moment of misery from fevers and congestion. When tears and shrieks in an effort to be heard, understood, and loved are not met with conciliating comfort, the sense of being exiled and unworthy is amplified. When the cumulative feeling of desolation grows so strong that we despair of ever being loved or treated with kindness, violent actions might erupt in a desperate attempt to reach out and connect to others. Albeit maladaptive, in the extreme, rage, terror, killing, and rape are ways to make direct contact with others. Addictive behavior, too, is a flawed attempt to satiate the longing to belong, to feel love. Healing from abuse, addiction, and violence requires a fiercely focused force to burn off false beliefs of being unlovable, delusions of isolation, and fear of abandonment. Once these obscurations are removed, one can see that one is not really broken nor separate from the whole. Freed from false perceptions, you, too, can release the tremendous power generated when delusions are burned away; you can ignite flames of compassion to eradicate poisons and root out suffering.

Iwasaki offers a veracious and voracious image of the celestial phenomena of a total solar eclipse and a solar prominence erupting beyond the sun’s chromosphere to convey the power of the Heart Sutra as it flames incandescent wisdom and brandishes compassion to thwart ignorance and purify delusions, to transmute anger into luminous wisdom and incinerate all obstacles to enlightenment.

Text (c) 2017 Paula Arai; image (c) 1995 Iwasaki Tsuneo


[i] Astrophysicist, Geoff Clayton, Ph.D., provided the necessary and precise scientific information required for me to more fully understand this painting.

[ii] In this painting, the moon symbolizes obscurations to enlightenment, whereas the full moon is a common symbol for enlightenment in Japanese culture. Juxtaposing “Whorling Wisdom” with “Moonbeam” intensifies the warning about mistaken assumptions of enlightenment as it accentuates the teaching that nirvana is samsara and samsara is nirvana.

Whorling Wisdom: in celebration of the eclipse

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