up in the morning, have our breakfast, go to work and finish the day with
dinner and perhaps some amusement. We have learned the tools of how to behave,
how to do the things that are valuable to others so that we can make a living.
After waking up on this planet one day we are thrust forward by our bodies
and their needs, our parents and their needs, and the needs of our friends
and the society that we live in.
it seems that we should take a half an hour and just sit down and figure
it all out and by that, get some control and sense of place. We would of
course make quiet the computer that is running in the head which is always
calculating the electric bill and the late fee and whether he or she really
meant what they said, or was it our bad day or maybe it was their bad day.
does this have to do with Zen and Painting? When things are going well, there's
no particular reason to figure it out. But, everyone finds that the world
is not a place that is made just for their needs and desires. For many this
is the beginning of the spiritual quest. The adversities of life force us
to think about ourselves in terms of a larger perspective. This is where
the cosmologies of religion, magic and art enter.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism came together to form a philosophy
and religion called Zen. In the sixth century a great Indian teacher, named
Bodhidharma, traveled to China to teach what later became known in Japan
as Zen Buddhism.
derived from Buddhism in India. The center of his system of enlightenment
was utterly simple, meditate. In meditation the mind will free itself from
the attachments to hope and fears and calculation and discover the nature
of mind itself. One metaphor asks, "How can one clean the inside of an ink
bottle?" The answer is simple, let clear and clean water flow constantly
into it -and little by little it will become crystal clear. The water in
this example is the purity of consciousness undistracted by sequential
calculation or the fantasies of how we are surviving.
In less poetic
form the intent of this metaphor is trying to tell us that, "The necessities
of living, have obscured the intimacy of our harmonious and joyous relation
to everything around us." The Buddha originally taught that everyone will
eventually achieve perfection. This may take many lives and great struggles
but the Zen school believes that enlightenment can come suddenly and completely.
The seeker finds a teacher that has already achieved enlightenment and intensely
follows his direction and he too will know this reality.
a phrase in speaking of spiritual reality called, "one with the universe".
We may have a sense of what this might mean but for those of us that have
not experienced this state it remains an idea that can be talked about only
as a concept. Zen can be analyzed, it can be described, it can be sensed
but it is a vague image with no substance until it is experienced. How do
we know that it really exists? Aside from the testimony of many who seem
to know, there are the paintings of the Zen masters.
of Zen sometimes also had the gifts of calligraphy and painting. In those
paintings the force of their enlightenment seems to emanate. The majority
of Zen paintings are in sumi-e (black ink on paper). The lines are very spare.
The aim of these paintings is to suggest rather than to describe. But the
Zen masters' intentions were not to amplify mystery but to reveal it. Zen
ecstasy is that realization - I am alive and free of all bonds! Therefore
there is great good humor in the paintings and stories of Zen.
is called an "Enso". When practicing Zen calligraphy, it is recommended that
during each session an "enso" be created. Each time it will be different
and will reflect the state of mind behind the brush. It is the "circle of
infinity, symbol of simplicity with profundity, emptiness with fullness,
the visible and the invisible." This is part of the explanation of the meaning
of this enigmatic single stroke as interpreted by Prof. John Stevens. This
painting is by Inaba Shinden (1906-1986), Abbot of Kokutai-ji
is by Ikkyu and is a famous poem.It reads: "This simple rough skull, what
a treasure! There is nothing more congratulatory than this." In Buddhism
and Zen, death is a passage on to a cycle of lives that will evolve into
a perfect state of being. That is Buddha nature or nirvana, the end of the
separation from the entirety of the universe. A person who has passed on
is just one who has passed on and is to be congratulated much as one would
say, "Bon Voyage". This painting is by a great teacher named, Yamaoka
This is Daruma
(Japanese name for Bodhidarma) by Matsubara Banryu (1848 - 1935). For a Zen
master he started painting only in his eighties, yet there is force and energy
in his strokes. The heavy dark lines under the face represent Daruma's robe
and the Indian nose tells us of his origin and the great wide open eyes allude
to the lesson of severity that he taught. He cut off his eyelids during a
nine-year meditation in front of a cave wall when he was about to fall asleep.
This story is nothing more than trying to show the intensity and devotion
to the single goal of enlightenment.
Japanese and Chinese calligraphy seem impenetrable for Westerners. And many
times they are. They are forms that have meaning in a culture that is rich
in thousands of years of experience. Yet, anyone can see that this calligraphy
in three characters by Chuho is forceful without reservation. It is the
personality of a person who has something important to say. It is the admonition
that we all need regularly, "Look at Yourself".