Master artisan - Embroidery

"The essence of embroidery cannot be taught with books or words. It takes thousands of hours of sewing to get just one step closer to the essence of embroidery. I haven't given much to Buddhist monks or practiced the Buddha's teachings well, but I believe the essence of the Buddha and embroidery are inseparable. With each stitch, I get closer to truth."—Yu-hyeon Choi, in an interview with Busan Ilbo (2010).
Picture of Nirvana under Two Trees of Shorea Robusta
This is Entering Nirvana, the last of the 8 Scenes of the Life of the Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, left home to meditate on how to overcome the 4 pains of life. He then went on to teach a lot of people about spiritual enlightenment before he entered Nirvana. The 8 Scenes of the Life of the Buddha depicts the 80 years of Siddhartha Gautama's life. Entering Nirvana is the last of the 8 Scenes of the Life of the Buddha, in which he enters the state of "parinirvana" (nirvana-after-death) under twin sal trees by the Nairanjana River in Kushinagar.
The 8 Scenes of the Life of the Buddha by Master Artisan Yu-hyeon Choi includes more people than in other versions. Each of her scenes is composed of 5 to 7 smaller scenes that tell the story. The natural landscape and buildings from the time of the Joseon Dynasty separate and add variety to the complex scenes. This is a unique feature of the 8 Scenes of the Life of the Buddha at Tongdosa Temple.
The various moments of the Buddha's life, as well as the people and scenery, are very realistically embroidered. Master Choi personally dyed the threads and used them to faithfully represent each object. She used techniques known as "ieumsu," "jaryeonsu," "uryeonsu," and "jinggeumsu," along with her own creative approach to give depth, dimension, and weight. Master Choi's artistic passion channels Buddhist painting into her embroidery.

Picture of Nirvana under Two Trees of Shorea Robusta, 1987-1997, 236 X 152cm

On February 15, the Buddha entered Nirvana under twin sal trees in Kushinagar

Once the Buddha entered "parinirvana," a pair of trees from the east and the west came together and became one. Another pair of trees from the north and south then also came together, and they all covered the Buddha's body and bed.

On the day of his cremation, the Buddha's coffin was set on fire, but it didn't burn at all. When his disciple, Mahakasyapa, finally arrived and began grieving next to his coffin, the Buddha poked his feet out, showing that there was no difference between death and life.

People from the palace tried to move the coffin, but it wouldn't budge. But then, the golden coffin lifted itself. It circled the palace 7 times, and then set itself down on a cremation bed of fragrant wood.

Standing next to the golden coffin, surrounded by clouds, is a Buddhist monk holding a staff tightly with both hands

Queen Maya (the Buddha's mother) descends from heaven with her two maids and watches the cremation.

The enlightenment of the Buddha and many of his features during that experience are depicted over and over again in this scene.

This scene depicts the Buddha continuously reincarnating as the Buddha in different dimensions, and releasing light after entering "parinirvana."

The golden coffin burns as 5 colors float up into the sky and the Four Heavenly Kings descend on clouds.

Sarira (the word for the Buddha's ashes) is raining down like hail, and people are busy collecting it in bowls.

Master Choi twisted gold and 5 colored threads together, and finely embroidered large and small dots to represent the falling sarira. This is her newly invented embroidery technique.

The scene depicts people sharing their collected sarira and building sarira pagodas.

They then return to their countries and build what are known as the "8 Original Pagodas." These are later taken apart and turned into 84,000 pagodas by Emperor Ashoka

I have embroidered for decades but there was no me in it. I am only grateful that I was able to put my soul and heart into a thin thread and transfer it into artwork. Even when the color of Eight Illustrated Scenes in the Life of Buddha inevitably fade over the years, teachings by Buddha who elevated our mortal lives to eternity will never be lost. This sets me at ease and allows me to see eternity in ephemeral things. I hope my message harbored in each strand of thread unravels indefinitely until it reaches deep in your heart. -Choi you hyun
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가슴으로 품을 수와 공존하다 (2016) 자수문화연구소 중수원.

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