"Dragon Emperor on Lotus"
Taoism began in China around 3000 BC, during a Golden Age that lasted for about 500 years. It has been described as a time of peace when the different Dragon Kingdoms of China joined forces and became a united empire. The Dragon Kings who governed China were descendants of early Lung (Dragon) Shamans. The kings inherited the ancient wisdom of alchemy and meditation from their forefathers, many of whom were sages, mystics and priests.
Historical records from the Golden Age of China show that there were five famed Dragon Emperors. They represented the five elements of metal, wood, fire, water, and earth. The one who most influenced the development of Taoism was Huang Ti, or the Yellow Emperor. He personified the earth element and hence, his royal robes were yellow or yellow-gold. (In Taoist philosophy, colors such as yellow, tan and brown are associated with the earth element.)
During his reign, Huang Ti solidified the knowledge of Chinese medicine. The transcripts that were written under his direction became "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine," which is still considered the most authoritative book on Chinese internal medicine today. Inspired by this venerable Taoist figure, Chi-Jen Liu painted "Dragon Emperor on Lotus." To convey wisdom and purity, the artist encased the king's head in a halo of molten gold. He is portrayed emerging from a giant lotus to symbolize his enlightenment and peaceful political mission. The lotus itself is also known for having numerous medicinal qualities (see Lotus Series). By adding soft, wavy brown roots in the water, Chi-Jen Liu implies the correlation between the healing lotus and the Yellow Emperor's pervading earth energy. Mantra charms for great fortune and power are painted to simulate the warm rays of a rising sun, and the illumined horizon emphasizes the progress of Taoism under the Dragon Emperor's rulership.
The founder of Buddhism can be traced back to a young prince, from around the 5th century BC, called Siddhartha Gautama. He renounced his royal life, leaving behind his home and family, in search of the way out of worldly suffering. After years of austere meditative practice, Siddhartha reached self-realization and paved the way to liberation – freedom from the repeated cycles of birth and death (reincarnation) – and became the "Buddha." In Buddhism, it is believed that anyone can achieve the state of perfection (Nirvana) by following what is called "The Noble Eightfold Path." Hence, "Buddha" is the hard-earned title bestowed upon individuals who have dissolved their material desires, who have reached the highest states of self-awareness, and ultimately, who have freed themselves from all earth-binding karma. They become incarnations of universal understanding, compassion, and right conduct.
When Chi-Jen Liu describes his art, the term "buddha" is synonymous for any Eastern god or deity. As a lifelong practitioner of Taoism and Buddhism, he has painted divine personages throughout his career. For him, they embody the qualities we need to cultivate and the truths we need to grasp in order to find happiness. Taoist figures can range from legendary sages or powerful leaders with holy stature to personifications of Nature that have the power to reward man for his good deeds. Buddhist-related gods include heavenly guardians and bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who return to earth to help others) who are revered for bestowing grace, peace and enlightenment to man.