Four leaves from a Gandavyuha Manuscript

Thakuri period, late 11th-early 12th century
Ink and opaque watercolor on palm leaf
Each 2 x 21 1/2 in. (5.1 x 54.6 cm); 1979.54.1-4

Artist Comments

Bill Viola

Hungry, empty, dissatisfied, incomplete. Sensing the absence of something essential. Knowing what we lack; feeling what we do not know. These are the precious jewels of our experience as human beings, for they lead directly to the path of knowledge and perfection.

If you engage in travel you will arrive.
-Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)

When the need to know becomes stronger than the need to be, when our immediate surroundings cannot fulfill our desire to see beneath the world of appearances, when the comforts of home become oppressive and counter-productive, we have no choice but to engage in travel. The four pages of the book on display here describe such a journey. It tells the story of a young man named Sudhana who is compelled by the very source of Wisdom (personified by Manjushri) to set out on a path that takes him through a series of encounters with various teachers and spiritual guides, eventually leading to enlightenment. It has functioned as a source of inspiration and motivation for Buddhists and spiritual seekers for the past two millennia.

In the end, none of his teachers have the ultimate answer for him, forcing Sudhana to continually move on and reminding us that incomplete efforts and even failures are priceless elements in an accumulated whole, and that living with a sound question is more important than possessing a temporary answer. The path is always more valuable than the destination.