Painting Enlightenment: The Art and Science of the Heart Sutra

Paula Arai discusses the paintings of Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002) whose work expressed the resonances between Buddhist and scientific investigations about the nature of reality. Iwasaki’s originality lay in melding insights from his scientific expertise with a Buddhist tradition of contemplative calligraphy. Integrating sacred words of a Buddhist text prized for liberative power with images both microscopic and cosmic, the Zen ink paintings on exhibit offer visual counsel on how reality can be perceived through the lens of wisdom to see the realm of compassion. The paintings encode metaphysical content into images drawn from scientific insights, nature, and Buddhist symbology by shaping the Chinese pictographs of the Heart Sutra to communicate the wisdom that pulses through daily life. With the compassionate aim of relieving suffering, these paintings offer visual wisdom for a multicultural, scientifically informed, image-driven world.

Paula Arai is currently writing a book about Iwasaki’s oeuvre, entitled Seeing the Wisdom of Compassion: A Scientist’s Vision into the Heart of Reality. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University and is the author of Women Living Zen: Japanese Buddhist Nuns (Oxford University Press, 1999) and Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Buddhist Women’s Rituals (University of Hawaii Press, 2011), She has also published her research on Japanese Buddhism in numerous journal articles, chapters in edited volumes, and regularly presents at national and international venues. Her research has received generous support from Fulbright and American Council of Learned Societies Fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, Reischauer Institute of Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Carleton College, the American Academy of Religion, and ATLAS (Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars). She is an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Louisiana State University.

Free and open to the public. Sponsored by the religion department.

Monday, February 12 at 5:00pm to 6:30pm

Psychology, 105
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97202-8199

Event Type



Faculty, Students, Alumni, Open to the Public





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