Designing for Wisdom | Behind our 2021 Edition of The Hundred Deeds
This past Saga Dawa, we enlisted the pro-bono help of Li Yijing (李一静) to design the layout of a special edition publication of one of our favorite sūtras, The Hundred Deeds. As an expression of the ways in which we collaborate to make the words of the Buddha as accessible as possible for future generations, we commissioned over 120 illustrations – one for each story in the sūtra – from children around the world. The result was an elegant layout that takes inspiration from the traditional Chinese sūtra format. Here, Yijing shares her experience of coming into the Dharma, getting creative with the sūtras, and the challenges of spearheading a truly global project in the middle of a pandemic. Please join us in thanking Yijing and her team for their beautiful offering.
Note: The following reflection was originally shared in Chinese. Below is an English translation.
When 84000 first contacted me about an idea to create an illustrated publication of the sūtra, The Hundred Deeds, involving more than 120 children from all over the world, my first reaction was: “What an inclusive, vast, romantic, and cool aspiration this is!”
However, a couple weeks into it the Covid-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt. Despite the fear and uncertainty of those early days, our design team continued their work as best as they could. But families in quarantine had no way to scan their children’s illustrations and much of the proofreading was undertaken impromptu through the kindness of volunteers all reading various parts remotely. But the commitment, the resilience of the participating families was immensely reassuring. And I found the drawings we received to be as beautiful and as inspiring as a rainbow.
Each and every child’s imagination and creativity exceeded the expectations of our aged concepts, and many of the illustrations allowed me to engage more deeply with these Buddhist scriptures. The children’s interpretations of these stories have made this edition a truly visual journey for readers. And as a team, we came away from this project feeling as though we had experienced a most precious teaching on the benefits of accepting all impermanence.
Personally, I was especially touched by five-year-old Marissa Ma’s abstract painting of the story, ‘Victory Banner.’ This is a very moving story of the strong-willed Kāśisundarī, daughter of King Brahmadatta. Six kings prepare for battle to win the hand of Kaśisundarī, and are effectively forcing her to choose a husband amongst them. Surprisingly, Kāśisundarī agrees to choose her spouse, but on the appointed day she takes refuge in the Buddha and attains arhatship.
I find Marisa’s use of colors pure and beautiful, and their rendering so delicate. I love how the pine yellow—which carries energy like the sun—breaks through the clouds representing Kāśisundarī’s heart of courage.
While I had had my first impressions of Buddhism at the local monastery at about the age of eight or nine, in 2011 I met Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. Not too long after that I had the opportunity to visit Rinpoche’s monastery at Dewathang, in the high mountains of eastern Bhutan. He was in the process of renovating the shrine hall and had asked me to help produce pendant lights in the shape of bodhi leaves. During my week there, I witnessed local villagers—many of whom had travelled on foot for up to three days—visiting to offer their harvested vegetables and sugar cane to the bodhisattvas at the main shrine. I was humbled by their devotion: These villagers had traversed mountains and rivers to be nearer to wisdom. They came with minds unobstructed by concepts of time and distance. They brought with them a good portion of all they had, and would return to their families with a sense of contentment and the abundance of hope. A year later, the pendants were successfully installed and since then I have had the opportunity to participate in a few other dharma projects, each of which moves me greatly and strengthens my aspiration to better understand the wisdom of the Buddha.
This The Hundred Deeds project prompted me to also think about what I could do if I had another opportunity to design the presentation of another sūtra. I thought about how I would like to use light and ice as media for its presentation. Of course, limited by time and place and the elements, this sounds quite impractical but, it could be presented through video and imagery that documents its changing form. I find that the process of witnessing such transformation can be illuminating in itself, just like a farmer walking thousands of miles to offer the bodhisattvas a piece of harvested sugar cane.
That said, I must admit that I don’t read very many sūtras. My favorites are the Heart Sutra and The Platform Sūtra. The former is short and, therefore, relatively easy to memorize. When I am stressed about work, feel insecure, experience physical pain, worry about loved ones, or witness the suffering of living beings, I recite the Heart Sutra. I don’t know quite why it calms me down but I feel my mind more at ease through its recitation. Actually, I love the Heart Sutra—“Form is emptiness, emptiness if form, form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form”—I often contemplate its meaning, and it really reduces the strength of my mind’s grasping habit. The last sentence of the Heart Sutra— GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA [Hurry up, hurry up, go to the other side of the shore]—is also a reminder for me to cherish this precious human rebirth and to not put off until tomorrow, that which I can do today.
But to return to this The Hundred Deeds project, I have to say what a real blessing it was to work with such innocent renderings of the sūtra’s many stories. I myself have a six-year-old daughter. Her name is May Flower Pancha Shirisha. Since the day she was born, I set many standards for her and for myself as a parent: how much I should read to her daily, how many hours of sunshine should she be exposed to and how many should be spent developing her hobbies, or refining her manners, and so on. And when performance fell short of my expectations, I often let her know how disappointed I was out of anxiety for her future. But then I realized that May looks at me—her mother—with no expectations, requests, demands, or complaints. Whether I’m barefaced, whether she has to decipher my ugly handwriting, whether I’m wearing her favorite color or not. No criticism, no expectations, no dualistic thought: She just accepts me with love.
As a follower of Buddha’s wisdom, I must admit that children are our best teachers. The process of one’s practice must be, in part, to return to the authenticity that children possess.
Therefore, I pay tribute to all the teachers, children, and fellow practitioners who made aspirations or otherwise contributed to this publication of The Hundred Deeds. And finally, I must also mention the very patient and supportive design team for this project, that includes: Haishu, Xiaomei, Dong Liang, Jiang Ting, Jia Qi, and Mr. You from the United States.
Yi Jing graduated from Qingdao Univeristy and The City University of New York major in fine arts. She has worked as a Graphic Designer – Dentsu Inc, Japan; at Lois Hill Jewelry (USA); and as an independent curator at Yijing’s Art Space (New York).
Visit our illustration gallery and read a short synopsis of each story.
Download the illustrated publication as a PDF.
Posted: 28 Dec 2021