Yao Jui-Chung Solo Exhibition
Date : Nov. 12, 2022 – Dec. 17, 2022
Opening : Nov. 12, 2022 (Sat.) 19-21pm
Artists : Yao Jui Chung
Venue : VT Artsalon
The artworks showcased in the exhibition based on Yao Jui-Chung’s newest photographic project. In this project, Yao Jui-Chung takes a long time to visit temples all around Taiwan and do a lot of research for Taiwanese traditional faith.
“ I try to make heaven like hell, and makes hell like heaven.” Yao Jui-Chung mainly take the pictures of Taoism statues and the statues that mix the feature of Buddhism and Taoism. Instead of the aesthetic sense of typical sculpture, these statues present a unique beauty and value of Taiwanese cultural.
Yao Jui-Chung covers more than hundreds of temples, cemeteries, public gardens, and amusement parks. He elaborated the beautiful of civic culture by a sense of distance and the concept which similar to field investigation. Also, in order to highlight the unique Taiwanese interpretation of religious between hell and heaven, he use Polaroid with Wide-Angle Lens to create the entire art works.
I have been living recklessly in Taiwan for more than fifty years. According to Zi Wei Dou Shu (Purple Star Astrology), Tan Lang is the sole star in my house of Self. This star, which represents xxx, forms an equilateral triangle with that star Qi Sha and Po Jun on the square chart and constitutes a Sha Po Lang pattern. The pattern indicates a kind of turbulence and change, a life of wandering with ups and downs and it tells a lot about my life. After my ill-fated youth, I started from scratch and traveled around the world with exhibitions that I participated. Like a flaneur, I wandered around ruins, nature, and temples with every type of film camera obliviously. Thus, I founded the Hall of Illusion and claimed to be the master of the hall. Several times a day, I pondered a quote from the Diamond Sutra, “Everything with form is unreal.” In addition, I usually stayed in the darkroom developing film and enlarging those negatives overnight. However, I treasured the simplicity of the black and white world. The earthly, gaudy, garish, phony and pleasing qualities within colored photos make the images even more realistic than the real world. It is not my cup of tea, so I seldom took colored photos. In Confucian thought, the age of fifty marks the stage knowing the mandate of Heaven. I am now at my fifties and realize how ephemeral human life is. However, I am not an immortal, nor having sagelike characteristics. I just learned that the stage of stainless (the second bhūmi) and develop a pure mind that is free from doubt and defilement. However, I’m still far from the immovable state and need to practice.
In the summer of 2017, after filming the work Incarnation, I experienced a severe heart rhythm problem which almost triggered myocardial infarction and could have killed me. Consequently, I realized that death was waiting for me and the life is too short to figure out how I can liberate myself from the cycle of Birth and Death. I couldn’t comprehend how to be free from all afflictions and worries and how to avoid delusive ideas. I wept for three days and nights after being enlightened by Shakyamuni Buddha. Up to the moment, I felt ashamed that I failed to realize that the self is as insignificant as dust after these years learning and practicing Buddhism. Since then, I have visited famous temples and monasteries in my spare time, worshiping Buddha, Bodhisattvas, arhats, and all the deities and immortals. Taiwan’s temples are myriad with a enormous number of sects, including Buddhism, Taoism, Yiguandao, Catholicism, Christianity, Chinese religions of fasting, Islam& Baháʼí Faith, Confucianism, Tiandiism& Tian-De Teachings, Xiwangmu cult, Yellow Emperor Sect, Precosmic Salvationism, Liism, World Wide Ethical Society, séance cult, etc. Some people even claim that they can mediate communication between the deities or spirits of the dead with human beings, having their believer rely on themselves instead of the orthodox dharma or dogma and pay excessive respect and admiration for the mediums or objects, accumulating wealth through such an unfair means or even harassing their believer sexually. Due to Taiwan’s historical changes, social turbulence, political struggles, and ideological issues, Buddhism and Taoism are somehow mixed. However, there are few emphases on the concept of the hell. As I took photographs of Yama of each court, judges, wardens of the underworld, jailers, General Fan and Hsieh (the ghost escorts) and all sinners, I found few temples cleverly created hellish scenes that are intriguing, exaggerating, and extraordinary. However, the creations are unparalleled unique. I have been studying Western arts for decades and then I came to realize that simplicity makes the most beautiful works of art. These hellish scenes can even compete with works of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) and Michelangelo Di lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564).
Jingang Temple Shimen District, founded in 1986, overlooks the beautiful North shore. Although the temple is mainly dedicated to Phra Phrom (the Thai representation of Mahabrahma), spirits of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism can also be founded in the temple. The worshipper can go cross the Seven Star bridge to relieve bad luck, walk along the five hundred arhat statues and knock on the gong to affirm one’s Buddha nature. Furthermore, the worshipper can also prostrate themself before Asia’s largest statue of Buddha in Nirvana (the Reclining Buddha statue) and pacify the Taoist Tai Sui deity of the year. I was impressed by the Jia-Zi Tai Sui General that a pair of palms grow out of his eyes. In 1994, the biō-kong (the person taking charge of the temporal affairs of a temple) received a divine inspiration from Yama (the King of Hell) that he had to build a sacred hall in the shape of a divine dragon, with the interior designed according to the World of Ultimate Bliss and the Underworld. When the visitor walks in the dark hallway, they will see the tortured people (dioramas, of course) scrunching their faces and crying bitterly and loudly in excessive grief as the visitor triggers the mechanism. One will even find them in the midst of flesh, body liquid and blood, mutilated limbs, and rotten corpses. While each of the ten Yamas are focusing on their own duties, showing their sacred dignity that collect visitors’ attention. The Baogong Temple in Linkou District, New Taipei City exclusively features colorful depiction of hellish scenes in relief in Taiwan. With its pastel shades and cartoon-like style, the relief is both grotesque and adorable at the same time. This temple is dedicated to Bao Zhen (also known as Justice Bao) representing the incarnation of Yama. Living people who have been treated unjustly can come worshipping Bao Gong and receive exorcism. Therefore, many people come here for seeking to solve unsolved cases. In Zhongyuan Festival (the ghost festival), the temple will burn the Zhizha (paper craft) boat to ferry the ghosts to the other shore, which is the shore of enlightenment. The only giant statue of Yama in Taiwan is still in the making. The temple is surrounded by a cemetery, suitable for meditating on the loathsomeness and impurity. Nantian Temple (1971), located next to the Eight Trigram Mountains Buddha in Changhua, features the first animatronic underworld. Despite the small size, the animatronic underworld is intensely shocking. Though it’s slightly worn, the colorful dioramas are still brutally ferocious. The creator was the late venerable Dao Zhang (Taoist priest) Jing Deng-fu while the origin of animatronic deities can be traced back to the 1960s Beigang Chaotian Temple. On the contrary, the Whiteman Toothpaste Tourism Factory in Shuishang Township, Chiayi, features ten Yamas with individual booth. The place is unexpectedly clean and polished yet keeps a simple and modest tone. Then, the Dragon Pagoda of the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at Lotus Lake in Zuoying, Kaohsiung, holds the only relief of hellish scenes made of Kochin ceramic. All the figures are vivid and life-like. If one goes further into the pagoda, they will see a relief tunnel of the thirty-three incarnations of the white-robed form of Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara) on a white lotus, with a lovely and interesting design. Another Hall of Yama is built in the 1970s next to the entrance of Dagangshan Chaofeng Temple, located in the Alian District of Kaohsiung. Visitors will also see three statues of the Three Holy Ones of the Western Pureland (Amitābha, Avalokiteśvara, Mahāsthāmaprāpta) which assemble at a lotus pond. Although the hellish scene looks somewhat antiquated, you may still find its previous charm. If one goes further, they will reach the sculptural garden of “Attaining the Bodhi Way: the Incarnation of Sakyamuni Buddha,” where the visitor can see the essence of Bhagavato’s (meaning the Blessed one, one of the common epithets for Buddha) life. When Tathāgata (another epithet for Buddha) was old, the king of Kosala wanted to avenge the arrogance of the tribe of Shakyas who had long despised him, regarding him as a son of a maiden. Although Buddha has sat in lotus position alone three times to stop the army from attacking his tribe. However, one can never reverse the cause and following karma. The prince born of a maiden was so furious that he eventually destroyed his homeland. Maudgalyāyana (one of the Buddha’s closest disciples), who is said to have had supernatural abilities that surpassed the other disciples, could not bear to see the slaughter of innocent people. Thus, he saved five hundred people of his tribe with a pātra (an eating utensil of Buddhist monks). Unfortunately, everything he did was in vain, those who were saved eventually turned into a puddle of blood. The Buddha said that the supernatural abilities cannot surpass the power of karma. The cause and effect work all the time. When Maudgalyāyana’s mother fell into the path of hungry ghost, he used his supernatural abilities to save his mother from hunger. However, all the food turned into fire before being fed to his mother. Later, the Buddha commanded the monks to put nectar and dishes in a basin on the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar for the monks from all directions to free his mother from reincarnation. In later times, the Ullambana Dharma Service, the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance, and the Yoga Collection for Feeding the Searing Mouths Dharma Service are rituals to eliminate karmic hindrance and to cease to worldly delusions. Through such practices, one can free the dead as well as confess their repentance.
Madou Daitian Temple is a magnificent and colorful temple in Tainan. Not only can the worshippers visit the eighteen levels of Hell but also the Heaven (it was built in 1979 and inaugurated in 1983) here. The lighting and sound effects are stunning and frightening. When walking alone in the space, one may feel like taking a Guan Luo Yin trip (a Taoist necromancy which leads people’s spirits to hell and communicate with the dead ones) to visit the underworld prison. Before arriving the first court of the underworld, the visitor will walk through the Mountain of Heart Summit, the Pure Heart Pond, the Frontier between the Living and the Dead Realms, the Soul Registry Hall, the Portico of Demons, the Center for Complementary Teaching of Canonical Books, the Citadel of Premature Death, and the Bridge of Vanity. When one arrives at the first court, they will see King Chin-guang, who is in charge of the court, using the Mirror of Retribution to show the earthly form of evil creatures and also witness the sub-hell of Pillar-Holding and Fire Bed, etc. At the second court, King Chu-jiang collates the register of sins the souls of the dead have committed to impose the punishments. Here, you will see the sub-hell of Excrement and Urine, Hungry Ghost, Burning Dance Floor, Ice, Pus and Blood, Whipping, Tongue-Raking, Sword Blade, Stomach-Piercing, Chopping, etc. Next, the dead at the third court, ruled by King Song-di, will receive the punishments including inversion tortures, face-skinning with steel and copper knife, eye-wrenching, pounding, blood-sucking, rib-piercing, roasting, tendon-taking, being eaten by maggots. The visitor can pay a visit to the Palace of Soul-Resuscitation for the Four Forms of Creatures (birth from an egg, birth from a womb, birth from moisture, and birth by transformation). King Wu-guan is in charge of the fourth court. There are sixteen sub-hells at the fourth court including Waist Chop, Tongue Removal, Boiling Pond, Mouth-stabbing, Skin-peeling, Sword Tree, Burning Wheels and Cart, Eye-shooting, etc. Next, at the fifth court, sinful souls are allowed to ascend the Tower of Hometown-Viewing to take a final look of their family. The visitor will witness sub-hells of Knee-striking, Heart-slicing, Blade Mountain, Flying Swords and Burning Stones, etc. The King of Bian City takes charge of the sixth court, which is also known as the “Great Hell of Screaming,” with sub-hells including Fire Cattle, Tiger-Biting, Kidney-Eating, Mouth-Poking, Throat-Nailing, Iron Mill, Decapitation, etc. The King of Tai-shan is in charge of the seventh court, the “Great Hell of Heat and Fire.” The sixteen sub-hells at this court include Finger-Searing, Bowel-Hauling, Stone-Bearing, Boiling Oil, Tongue-Removal and Cheek-Piercing, etc. Next, the King Du-shi is in charge of the eighth court, the “Great Hell of Intense Fire and Heat,” and the sub-hells including Fire Dogs, Molten Iron, Iron Snakes, Dismemberment, Steel Spikes, Burning-Marrow, Iron Ball, Scale, etc. The ninth court is ruled by the King Ping-deng. It is known as the biggest court, Avici Hell (the Hell of Incessant Suffering), which if the lowest level of the hell realm and the interior is gloomily and terrifyingly dark. Those who committed the most serious evil deed will be sent to the Avici Hell. Sub-hells such as Poisonous Snake, Brain-Removal, Crow-Gnawing, Raining Needles, Wasps and Scorpions are included at this court. After arriving the tenth court, ruled by the Great King of the Reincarnation Palace, one can visit the “Observatory of Life on earth” and the “eight bureaus of the Reincarnation Palace” (including the Bureau of Judicial Control, the Bureau of Good-Actions, the Bureau of Bad-Actions, the Bureau of Debts, Gratitude, and Vengeance, the Bureau of Longevity and Destiny, the Bureau of Familial Ties, the Bureau of the Reincarnated, and the Bureau of Birth). The sinful one will be sent to the Pavilion of Mengpo and made to drink the Soup of Forgetfulness to forget all past affairs. According to the sinful one’s merits of previous life, they will go across one of the six bridges (gold, silver, jade, stone, wood, bamboo) to the “Reincarnation-Wheel (Wheel on the Crimson River).” Finally, one is able to reborn in the six realms. According to the Aṣṭadaśa nāraka sutra ( the Eighteen Hells Sutra), after one passes away, they will enter an intermediate and transitional state between death and rebirth, known as antarābhava in Sanskrit, for forty-nine days. The being will be evaluated by Yama, who will decide if one should get reborn or get punished at the hell. Those who committed the Five Grave Offenses (killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and creating a schism within the community of Buddhist monks and nun who practice for attaining enlightenment.) will be sent to the Avici Hell and stay there eternally. Kṣitigarbha is the Lord of the Nether World, ruling the ten court of Hell. The lord will set up the “Hall of Teaching” at each court to salvage those sinful ones who still obtain few merits at the offering rituals.
Human beings live the Sahā world (sahāloka in Sanskrit, meaning “endurance of suffering,” a concept of mundane world in Mahāyāna Buddhism) where they share with other reincarnations (including beings of the hells, of the preta, and of malevolent nature spirits) with five turbidities (the Kalpa turbidity, the view turbidity, the affliction turbidity, the living beings turbidity, and the life turbidity). Those who commit the ten evil deeds (killing, stealing, adultery, lying, using immoral language, slandering, equivocating, coveting, anger, and false views) must fall into the three evil paths (animals, preta, and hell). However, how can one escape from the three realms/ twenty-eight heavens (including the six heavens of the desire realm, the eighteen heavens of the form realm, and the four heavens of the formless realm)? Worldly people who don’t have such an awareness cannot leave the cycle of the twelve nidanas (meaning causes or motivations), let alone eliminate the eighty-one afflictions (that have been produced due to misunderstanding regarding reality) and the eighty-eight illusions (including five afflictions of advanced practitioners, also known as five views: view of self, extreme view, evil view, view of attachment to views, and view of morality; and five unintelligent temptations: desire, anger, stupidity, arrogance, and doubt) of thought within the three realms and four Arya satyas (noble truths, including suffering, arising, ending, and path). They cannot realize that the essence of the five skandhas (referring to aggregates of clinging, including the matter of form, sensation, recognition, mental formation, and consciousness) , the twelve ayatana (meaning sense base, including six internal bases: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind and six external bases: visible objects, sound, odor, taste, touch, and mental objects), and the eighteen dhātavah (meaning compositional elements of human existence, including six consciousness, six faculties, and their objects) are the emptiness and the void. Furthermore, they cannot dispel the two reasons for clinging to the idea of the self and the attachment to elemental constructs and even believe in the two (false) tenets that that karma and nirvana are not real and that the ego and phenomena are real. As a consequence, they fail to develop the eleven wholesome mental factors (faith, energy, conscience, being ashamed, non-attachment, non-aggression, non-delusion, calmness, equanimity, conscientiousness, and non-injuriousness) and cease the sixteen unwholesome mental factors (desire, greed, anger, delusion, arrogance, doubt, wrong view, wrath, enmity, hypocrisy, vexation, jealousy, parsimony, deceit, flattery, harming, ambitiousness, stupidity, lacking of faith, idleness, being unrestrained, forgetting, distraction, non-discernment, ). One must bear in mind that once all our virtuous roots are discontinued, they will be trapped in the never-ending reincarnation and the suffering of infinite continuity.
Is it possible that the hell will be empty one day? If the beings in hell will become extinct while evil spirits inhabit the mundane world, the world could be considered as a pure land. If we could witness the nature of the void, then hell will exist no more.
Since ancient times, the concept of hell has been widely spread among all tribes. Aging, death, beginning, and end are the basis of nature and the core of cosmic consciousness. However, the prosperous civilization as our island is not a place where desire can be eliminated. It’s impossible to eradicate evil nature. Since fetters brought by the constitution, the state, the law, society, the military, corporations, schools, families, and groups are not less than the eighteen levels of hell, the mortals repress themselves, bury their feelings. Day after day, greed, anger, stupidity, arrogance, doubt, and resentment are stacking. However, since the six dust (visible objects, sound, odor, taste, touch, and mental objects) has not yet been extinguished, people in the mundane world are still full of delusions. The demons, devils, evil spirits, and the wondering dead exist in the wilderness, while only advanced practitioners with transcendent would attempt to make contact with the dead in the wasteland and forest. Worldly people like us trespass in Disneyland-like man-made hell. It is absurd and ridiculous that the hellish scenes cannot stop us from perpetrating evil deeds, but the horrific and cruel scenes yet satisfy our self-righteous shame.
The pandemic has been boiling over for more than a year and a half. The number of infected patients worldwide is nearly a hundred and eighty million, and the death toll has risen to four million, which is equivalent to a war crisis. I hope that we can all be compassionate, give peace to the dead, treat all sentient beings well and equally. The hell is innately empty; however, deluded and misleading thoughts would give rise to all jealousy and hatred and then manifest the hell before us. This book merely serves as a memorandum of conscience for dictators of the world’s new cold war, supporters of unrestrained warfare, dark web hackers, and those who are cunning and contemptuous and maltreat others when knowing they have problems.