By Iona Mccombie Smith | The BL

When people mention the word ‘cultivation’, often images of mysterious Eastern practices and various kinds of mysticism related to Oriental philosophy come to mind. In reality, cultivation means to practice self-reflection to improve one’s character.

For thousands of years, cultivation has been practiced across Western religions. In fact, there is a huge collection of art depicting the cultivation practices necessary for one of the most strived for goals in life, the ascendance to heaven, as well as countless miracles from around the world.

Here, we would like to introduce you to a series of historical paintings on this topic.

Perhaps, the most referred to examples in Western cultures are found in the images depicting the time when Jesus descended to Earth to preach his teachings.

Western civilization, at the time of Jesus Christ, had to overcome numerous challenges to obtain the righteous teachings that Jesus preached. This took cultivation.

For hundreds of years, both Jesus and his disciples demonstrated to human beings the greatness of cultivation, and the realm of thought people could achieve if they righteously followed Jesus’s teachings.

The Sermon of Jesus on the mount. Fresco by Franz Xaver Kirchebner in the Parish church of St. Ulrich in Gröden-it:Ortisei build in the late 18th century. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

To gain a deeper understanding of religious paintings throughout history, let’s review the messages that showed that later generations were becoming more conscious of the meaning in each painting.

From the Christian perspective, there is a deep belief in God being the creator of us and the world around us.

The Bible asserts that God created Adam from mud, then Eve from one of his ribs. He then created the Garden of Eden with countless plants, flowers, and animals to live harmoniously with humans. Adam and Eve lived there happily without sin.

‘The creation of Adam’ (1512) – Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine chapel’s ceiling. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Living in the Garden of Eden meant living alongside God, intertwined with his vision and creation. Adam and Eve are part of His soul and body. Their souls are pure.

Their innocence and compassion are maintained through God’s daily education and the showering of their souls with righteousness. To meet the standard of enlightenment necessary to live beside Him, there are requisites and high standards of behavior and self, expected of each human.

The mud and dust that God created was not worldly mud. It was the mud of heaven, within which the spirit and essence of the world were held.

However, despite living in the peaceful and happy world that God created for them, in the blink of an eye, temptation grew so much that Adam and Eve forget their teachings and eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Together they chose to commit sin; proving that they were not as innocent as God had created them to be in the beginning. Their nature had not remained the same, they had become corruptible.

Certainly, the degenerate cannot co-exist with God and the divine, since the godly world is the purest place, without any trivial temptations. They are in a better realm. Once humans commit sins, they deserve punishment for their wrongdoings.

Adam and Eve in paradise (The Fall), Eve gives Adam the forbidden fruit, in 1533, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Humans and their offsprings are banished from the Garden of Eden, and exiled to Earth, without the beautiful memories of God and the Garden of Eden, where they used to live.

After falling to the Earth, a filthy place in the eyes of the Gods, Adam and Eve were now to live in delusion, committing sins. And their innocent nature bestowed by God gradually disappeared. Replacing their innocence was malice, formed through years of survival, lies, competition, and theft; wickedness altered their pure nature.

The Forgiveness and
Foresight of God

When humans inevitably face the danger of pushing themselves to the edge, due to their evil thoughts and actions, once again God feels pity for them and believes that they could cultivate a better way of being and come back to the wonderful state attainable through God’s grace. God supposes that humans are only being delusional; once they are awakened, they could be saved.

He opens up the heavenly realm so that those who believe can come back to their origin. For those who have faith in God, are living by his teachings and have given up their wicked desires, the door to heaven will always be open.

It is and has always been a deeply rooted, almost forgotten, urge that many humans experience, the desire to return to heaven. It is seen as an escape from suffering and the only way to go back is through cultivation. Humans must purify themselves in order to come back to God.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, (1509–1510) by Rafael. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The turning point: Humanity was once again capable of cultivation

The last steps of human suffering before God descends to preach his teachings to save mankind…

More than 2,000 years ago, amongst the many making pilgrimages to Bethlehem, a child was born and placed in a manger. At that moment, the angels spread the good news of the birth of the Baby Jesus. A strange star led the way for wise men to find the place of his birth.

There was a prophecy that foretold the birth of a special child who would possess the power of the Lord and could preach the word of God to mankind. He was destined to reign over mankind and would be known as the King of Kings.

Nativity of Jesus, 1473-1475, by Botticelli. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The King of Kings was not a king who would sit on a throne and reign over his people. This king would reign within people’s hearts and would enlighten humankind. He was born to teach humanity the eternal truth of enlightenment and the heavens – humanities homeland. He was also the King who would awaken the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of lost souls. Jesus’s goal was to preach cultivation so mankind could return to heaven, not to descend to Earth to gain power or a throne.

However, the evils of Earth were scared and tried to hold on to their power and influence. They feared the eternal collapse of their empire and became afraid that the Gods would take over.

When the news of the holy birth reached King Herod the Great, it made him, cruel and greedy as he was, feel threatened and afraid of losing his power. He ordered the execution of all the baby boys born in Bethlehem in order to prevent the arrival of the great King into the world. (The image of King Herod is often considered to symbolize those who are narrow-minded and possess an evil soul. 300 years later, that evil still attacks the eternal faith with painful disasters.)

Christ in Gethsemane in 1886 by Heinrich Hofmann. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This was the beginning of Jesus’s missionary life in the world and it marks the turning point of when humanity was deemed capable of heavenly cultivation.

Jesus chose to descend while society was chaotic but stagnant, while religious faith was gradually growing, while people were ready to receive the good news. People were trapped in intimate suffering and desperation, without faith to hold on to.

At that particular moment, God understood that humanity still embraced the desire to return to themselves. Despite being stuck in such suffering and harboring such delusions, people could still trust in Jesus Christ and were ready to be saved. God the Father sent his only son to the Earth to preach his teachings to save his people.

(The cover photo: Sermon on the Mount in 1877 by Carl Bloch. (Wikimedia Commons)