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Buddhist Art of Korea_
A Tree on the Cliff and a Wisteria Vine into the Well (岸樹井藤圖; Ansu jeongdeung do)
The following tale is from the Sutra of Parables (佛說譬喩經) and is a Buddhist parable about human life. Once upon a time there was a man running away from an angry elephant across an open field. Eventually, the man came to a cliff. A tree was rooted perilously on the edge of cliff. From the tree trunk a wisteria vine was trailing down into a well under the cliff. In order to escape the elephant, he climbed down into the well holding unto the vine. Before he could utter a sigh of relief with “Now, I’m safe,” he looked down at the bottom of the well only to find a fierce dragon, with its jaws open, waiting for him to fall. Around the dragon four snakes were flicking their tongues.
With the angry elephant prowling up above, the man couldn’t leave the well. As he held tightly onto the vine, suddenly two mice appeared, one black and one white, and they began gnawing at the vine. At that moment, drops of nectar fell from the flowers into the man's mouth. Intoxicated by the sweet taste of nectar, the man completely forgot about his precarious situation.
In this story, the open field represents the six realms of existence through which our spirits transmigrate. The man represents life in the mundane world while the angry elephant represents “destiny of death” that can take our lives at any moment. The well represents the world we presently live in and the four snakes represent the four great elements which constitute human body. The dragon symbolizes death, which inevitably awaits us all, while the vine represents the frailty of our lives. The black and white mice represent night and day, which slowly but inevitably wear down our lives and the nectar represents the five desires which distract people from the peril they are actually in.
- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism