Room A
Illustrations for Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories by Mark McGinnis

Our featured artists:

HALL ONE: Thomas Shields
HALL TWO: Mark W. McGinnis
HALL THREE: Carl Grupp
HALL FOUR: Joel Strasser
HALL Five: Eyob Mergia
HALL SIX: Robert Aldern
HALL SEVEN: Jerry Aistrup
HALL EIGHT: Dick Krueger
Coming Soon: Mary Selvig, Richard Bresnahan

Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories: Artist's Statement

Left: The Beetle and the Elephant

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My first knowledge of Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories came to me when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in the early 1970's. Along with my major study of painting, I also pursued a minor study in Oriental art history. In those studies I first encountered Buddhism and was immediately drawn to its gentle, introspective spiritual path. I can recall my professor's lectures on the Indian relief carvings that depicted some of the Jataka Tales, the stories of the Buddha's previous reincarnations in various animal forms.

Right: The Falcon and the Waterfowl

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This stimulus lay dormant for twenty years until in the early 1990's when I was working on a body of paintings based on Lakota and Dakota Animal Wisdom Stories. This project was undertaken as part of a reconciliation effort between the native people of South Dakota and the dominant white culture. As I was working on this series I recalled the Buddhist stories and decided to do a project based on the Jataka Tales. I had since become a practicing lay Buddhist and wished to use my talents to express some of the qualities I had found in my studies of Buddhism.

Left: The Fearful Elephant

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But the decade of the 1990's became filled with other projects dealing with world religions and two series of portraits and interviews with religious elders. When I was finishing the last group of portraits in 1999, I began to research the Jataka Tales and prepare for the long delayed Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories project. I found that the Jataka was a body of ancient Pali Buddhist scripture that described 550 previous lives of the Buddha before he was born in his final human form. When this happened in the late 6th century BC, he found complete enlightenment that released him from any future rebirth. This is in accordance with the widely held Indian belief in karma which in its simplest form is cause and effect everything we do in this life shapes our current existence and the kind of life we will be born into in our next life. In the 550 previous lives of the Buddha, he had taken on a multitude of animal forms and human roles. In each life his noble and compassionate deeds moved him higher and higher toward his final greatness.

Right: The Fish and the Tortoise

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I searched for any and all published versions of animal Jatakas, sometimes finding four or five versions of the same story. To conclude my research at the end of 1999 I made a three-week research/pilgrimage trip to India. My intent was to travel the Buddhist pilgrimage path for my personal spiritual growth and to search for more Jataka tales. I also planned to do sketches and photographic research to aid me in creating the illustrations in my studio at home. All that I had planned happened, but not at all as I had planned. I rapidly learned that India is immune to Western planning and will shape and teach the visitor as she wishes.

Left: The Jackal and the Crow

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In Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment, I had a remarkable find, a late 19th century compilation by E. B. Cromwell of the complete 550 Jataka tales. During the trip I produced about 70 sketches and took hundreds of photographs that were to prove invaluable in creating the paintings. While the trip was extremely demanding and difficult it was a great success in preparing for this project.

Right: The Lion and the Woodpecker

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Back at the studio, I began the task of selecting which stories I would work with in my series. It was a difficult job but I finally arrived at a choice of 37 stories that were selected for their moral teachings. The original tales were told in a rather stiff and somewhat difficult style of writing for today's reader. I have chosen to retell the stories in a voice that speaks to contemporary Americans. I look at the stories as teaching lessons to the monks who were following the Buddha. He used parables to teach morals and virtues in much the same way that Jesus of Nazareth used parables to teach his disciples and followers. Monastic groups, even the Buddha's, struggle with the same problems any group of people encounter when trying to form a community. The Buddha used these stories as one way to teach his monks how to live together harmoniously and learn the virtues that were at the core of his teachings.

Left: Mother Mouse

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How many of these stories were original creations of the Buddha? How many were traditional folklore? How many were added after his death? We will never know the answers to these questions. We do know they are stories that deal with compassion, loving kindness, avoiding trickery, the importance and responsibility of leadership, harmony, the evils of intoxication, ungratefulness, greediness, the danger of addiction, the certainty of change, the price of deceit, the importance of education, the respect and care for elders, tolerance, generosity, false holiness, overcoming fear, the safety of familiar ground, the care needed in delegating duties, the danger of false praise, the consequences of talking too much, the necessity of looking ahead, the cruelty of hunting, the relative nature of beauty, the joys of friendship, knowing one's limits, and many more. They are stories using animal parables to deal with the basic human condition, and they are every bit as relevant today as they were 2,500 years ago.

Right: The Otter and the Jackal

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You will find some tales that have a very close resemblance to stories you have heard from other traditions, especially the Greek. The tale of The Jackal and Crow is very similar to The Fox and Crow in Aesop's Fables. The Golden Mallard has many similarities to The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, and there are others with resemblances. I do not know who borrowed from whom. Alexander the Great invaded India in 4th century BC and there was considerable cultural exchange. Stories certainly could have, and probably did, flow in both directions. In the early 1990's when I was researching Lakota and Dakota Animal Wisdom Stories I found a nearly identical tale to The Talkative Tortoise listed as a traditional Dakota story. How did it get there? The mobility of wonderful animal stories seems to naturally flow from one culture to another. It is a tribute to the similarity of the human condition regardless of specific culture.

Left: The Partridge and the Hawk

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My hope is that you will enjoy these stories and illustrations as much as I enjoyed researching, painting, and bringing them to you.

Mark W. McGinnis

Right: The Weak-Willed Wolf

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Recent Showings--2002- Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories, Isaac Lincoln Gallery, NSU, Aberdeen, SD; 2002 -Designs of Faith, paintings & essays, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN; 2001 -Designs of Faith, paintings & essays, Mizel Museum of Judaica, Denver, CO; 2001- Elders of the Benedictines, portraits and interviews, Bede Gallery, Mount Marty College, Yankton, SD. Mark W. McGinnis - 1980-2000 - Major Projects showed at the Visual Art center, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls, SD.

Other shows in 2000 included Designs of Faith, paintings & essays, Steensland Art Museum, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, Elders of the Benedictines, Isaac Lincoln Gallery, NSU, Aberdeen, SD, Studies for Designs of Faith, watercolors, Nobles County Art Center, Worthington, MN, Watercolor Sketches from India, Student Center Gallery, NSU, Aberdeen, SD.

Call Mark W. McGinnis at 605-229-5898 or 605-626-2515. Fax: 605-626-2263. E-Mail: mcginnim@northern.edu

Left: The Wind Antelope

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Right: Granny's Blackie

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