The Right Speech


Artist’s film (‘The Right Speech’, approx 5 min HD); watercolour paintings on cartridge paper and archival giclée prints (dimensions variable)

(…) ‘like scar, like skin, like sheath and sword, / like twists in our umbilical cord, / like fish that leap out of the sea, / like seed makes bulb makes shoot makes tree’ (…)

The Right Speech borrows its title from one of the Noble Eightfold Paths of Buddhism. It is the first part of my Triple Enlightenment trilogy, and presents a meditation upon emptiness and growth. The piece draws on contemporary perinatology and my own historical speculation about the two months before the birth of Siddhārtha, the Lumbini prince who became the Buddha after he achieved Enlightenment. We are taken into the womb of Queen Māyā of Sakya, Siddhārtha’s mother, whilst she speaks to her unborn child. Amongst nursery rhymes and gentle wishes, she recites to him the Creation Hymn of the Rigveda. This ancient Hindu text profoundly influenced the core teaching of Buddhism, dependent origination, which explores causation and the ontological status of phenomena. 

Recent research in brain wave patterns has shown that unborn children recognize words in the womb from ten weeks before birth. It is therefore perfectly possible that this event took place historically and did affect the young Siddhārtha as he grew up in his family home and later both distilled and broke from what is now recognised as Hindu doctrine in order to create Buddhism. In the project’s centrepiece, a short film, imagery of the Buddha in utero is spliced with some of the 11 million other species with whom we currently share the planet.