Zen Sculpture Park (Lotus Island)
Zen Buddhist Sculpture Artwork
Because the world’s largest Guanyin Buddhist site –– Mount Putuo, is located just 1,600 meters to the east of Lotus Island, when the largest statue of Guanyin (Buddha) in the world is installed, the rich Buddhist atmosphere and communal spirit must be included in the project. Buddhism generally believes that: the Buddha —— Bodhisattvas —— Arhats (saints) —— Buddhist monks and nuns —— lay Buddhist scholars —— believers, comprise a hierarchy of commitment (on a spectrum of enlightenment--acceptance), therefore if there is a Buddha, there must be a Bodhisattva, and if there is a Bodhisattva, there must be arhats. When we did not successfully obtain the requisite construction permit for the Lotus Island Grand Guanyin statue, erecting the 500 arhats on Lotus Island was the only way forward. He can not only continue the project, completing the important parts of the original proposal, but can also enrich the Buddhist holy sites of Mount Putuo. Because Mount Putuo does not have a large number of arhat groups, he can also contribute to the construction goals of the local Thousand Buddhist Islands. When these 500 arhats were constructed, we couldn’t build a grand statue of Guanyin, so we set up a small Guanyin temple on the island. Due to the suspension of the overall project, and the fact that the 500 arhats were not a part of that suspended content, all we could build here was the 500 Arhats Marine Sculpture Garden.
This project is based on what we know of the group of 500 arhats, currently the largest in the world. It is located in an area prone to typhoons, where tidal fluctuations greatly vary. Seabed piling and the development of religious tourism both present important challenges for this project. Thanks to Lotus Island’s smooth, flat continental shelf, we have been able to extend into the sea a few hundred meters. At high tide, the difference between the seabed and the sea surface is 2-4 meters. When the tide is low, the sea surface is completely exposed. The 500 arhats have been set up here, which gives the sculptures a dynamic sense of movement, as the waves rise and fall around them. When traveling here people also engage in religious activities, worshipping and seeking out their zodiac signs. The atmosphere is extremely participatory and fun, engendering a sense of belonging. However, when we built the pilings on the sea for the arhats, we were subject to limitations due to seasonality and timeliness. Every day the tide fluctuates four times, with two high tides. We had to make good use of time and use the highest grade of cement.
Because there were no wharfs, shipping routes, or transportation on the island, we had to increase the budget substantially. Accounting for all of the construction, we would need 5-8 times more funds than if we built the same project on the mainland. Before we could get approval for the wharfs and routes, we basically had to rely on primitive methods to work, using logs as wheels to move objects. We had just started the installation process when we came up against the local government policy to reclaim land from the sea in order to expand the city. The island was filled, and the 500 arhats at sea project ended. We had no choice but to install them instead on an 800-meter long embankment. However, this turned out to be fortuitous. It became the world’s only 800-meter long embankment with 500 granite arhats, and a unique representation of maritime Zen culture. The embankment is permanently free to all who wish to visit and worship. This has become an important part of the Lotus Island Zen Buddhist Sculpture Garden. (Due to the additional construction of the embankment the 500 arhats are not yet complete. At present, 230 are temporarily in place).
Art and Design Strategies
These 500 arhats are the Buddha Sakyamuni's attendants, believers who have attained enlightenment. Historically, arhats have been worshipped at various temples, especially the groups of 500 arhats found in Suzhou, Yunnan and Beijing. These have provided a kind of prototype for arhat worship and design throughout the entire country. However, when the designer is an artist, he should have a strong sense of historical responsibility and leadership. The Zen Buddhist art forms of each dynasty have exhibited distinct historical characteristics. Today, the development of Zen Buddhism should be more integrated with society, art, and philosophy. In this way, it can become a major vehicle for leading the people and promoting goodness. As I wrote on a copy of the project communications, “I am the Buddha, the Buddha is me. Cultivating a vast domain of virtue, I reside permanently in the Western Paradise.” "Art is Zen, Zen is also art. Precisely grinding the ink into a pool, Art shines with the glory of the “Three Jewels”-- the Buddha, the Dharma (law) and the Sangha (the community of monks)." "Starting from the purpose of this design, I moved the Buddha and arhat statues in the temples to the sacred altar, in order to provide an enjoyable experience for the people, and to keep up with the times. The public should not worship the Bodhisattvas with fear." I certainly did not want to charge admission to view the Bodhisattvas and arhats. Instead, the site is permanently free to enjoy and worship. In this way, I started to create for decades. Because I acted as both designer and creator of these sculptures, this work took me more than 18 years.
In order to create this batch of arhats, I must build a specialized sculpture studio. Also, because of price issues with stone materials, I must go to a stone production site in Fujian to create these sculptures. This way when there is money I can create more works. When there is no money I usually halt that stage of production. All together, this project has taken more than 18 years. The difficulty of the project was constrained by the natural elements, the rough winds and waves, hydrological and meteorological issues, geographical location, financial circumstances, and political conditions. Because each granite arhat is extremely heavy, it is very difficult to transport them the long distance to the island, unload them, and transfer them. This is exacerbated by the lack of any water and electricity, and so the project depends on the most primitive methods for transporting, installing, and setting up the statues. Each 20-ton flatbed truck can only hold 15 statues. It takes a great amount of time and many difficulties for the 500 arhats to be loaded. Moreover, they must be taken from the hilltop through the fields of local farmers, and down to the sea. Due to the steepness of the hills and the ownership rights to the land, it is impossible to build transportation routes. For more than a dozen years, this has depended on four-wheel drive jeep trucks, dragging flatbed trucks down the hills little by little towards the sea. For more than a decade, the island had no traffic or docks. Installing these arhats on the island could be considered a personal miracle.
Because the arhats were my own designs and creations, I spent a lot of time researching arhat models. Based on the differences between the materials of bronze and granite, I produced two types of arhat, indoor ones and outdoor ones. This was also due to their size and weight, and the degree of difficulty in transportation and installation. On average, each arhat costs around 30,000 RMB to construct, amounting to about 15 million RMB in total.