This painting is based on a series of seashore scenes that Chao Shao-an sketched during the summer of 1960. On the painting Chao records his motivation for this work: “In 1960 I traveled throughout the United States. I especially enjoyed China Cove and Bird Island at Carmel, California. At that time I made numerous quick sketches. This was one of the scenes. I completed this after my return home. Summer, fifth month, Guimao year . Shao-an at Hong Kong.”
The painting’s subject reflects the prevailing taste of Hong Kong–based artists for seashore scenes. The work also reveals Chao’s ability to organize and structure the rocky coasts with various brushstrokes, conveying the rocks’ texture and the movement of white seabirds in flight.
Padmasambhava, the “Precious Teacher” (Guru Rinpochey) who transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the ninth century, sits at the top left of this thangka. Guru Drakpochey, the Great Fierce One at the center of this painting, is a visionary form adopted by Padmasambhava to overcome obstacles to meditative progress. Opposite Padmasambhava sits Pema Lingpa, a lama from Bhutan who rediscovered the Drakpochey visualization in the 16th century.
On the back of this thangka a golden inscription praises a text called Lotus Skull Rosary. This is the precise text from which the Guru Drakpochey visualization derives, and its composition is attributed to Padmasambhava. But the Lotus Skull Rosary did not appear in public until the fifteenth century, when it was “discovered” by the lama at the top right of the thangka, Pema Lingpa. According to the story, Pema Lingpa awoke from a prophetic dream to meet an old monk who offered him a scroll. On it, he found the cryptic letters called khandro. Merely seeing these letters allowed Pema Lingpa to find and decode a text hidden five hundred years before by Padmasambhava. Texts hidden and discovered in this manner are called “treasure” (terma).