Monday, October 22, 2012


Many times I have said the aim of Zen practice is awakening, also known as enlightenment. In simple terms, awakening is becoming aware of one’s true self.

Awakening has been reported as an instant flash of lightening. Or it may occur gradually. Or it may take place several times over. But awakening is not merely a passing phenomenon. It is the realization of freedom in all senses of the word. It is a physical release, a spiritual release, an intellectual release.

          In such freedom, one’s mind is clear and one no longer was or will be. One is.

Right now.

          When one lives in the immediate present, free of the whims of the intellect, one discovers all sorts of meanings and values that have always been within one but have never blossomed. This unfolding is central in one’s everyday life.

It is even more significant if one’s daily life involves the creative arts.

          I’m speaking of such individuals as writers, painters, sculptors, potters, musicians, and photographers. Even individuals in the performing arts such as dance, music, and theater.

          D.T. Suzuki wrote: “The artist’s world is one of free creation, and this can come only from intuitions directly and immediately rising from the isness of things, unhampered by senses and intellect.”

          There’s that word isness. It isn’t in any dictionary, so what is isness?

          Isness is the way something is, right now.

          An artist works in isness. Because an artist actualizes forms and sounds out of no-form and no-sound, his or her world is isness.

And Zen is isness. Awakening.

          Artists—whatever their practice, whether it’s music or painting or writing—depend on some mechanical intermediate to fulfill themselves. It might be a flute, it might be a brush, it might be a word processor. Zen needs nothing external except—as Suzuki implied—the body that personifies the Zen person.

          One’s Zen-nature expresses itself in the world without one having any idea of doing so, and the world mirrors one’s Zen-nature just as unwittingly.

          A haiku expresses this concept:

                    Shadows of the geese
          On the pond. They know it not,
                   Nor does the water.
          An artist brings forth the potential essence of a jumble of words or a block of stone. The life of a Zen person is the ongoing work of such conception.

          I think it was Michelangelo who was once asked how he could start out with a shapeless chunk of stone and end up with a real-looking elephant.

           “All I do is get rid of everything that doesn’t look like an elephant,”
he answered.

          It is interesting that most schools of Buddhism—Jodo, Tendai, Shingon, Nichiren, Tibetan—concern themselves with a person’s spiritual life.

          They speak of behavior, of one’s duty to other people, of morality, of a higher authority in the cosmos. Some even speak of worship, or paying homage to a person, place, or thing.

          Zen goes beyond duties and worshipful attitudes. Zen—especially in Japan—figures into virtually every aspect of life. Especially cultural life:
          Painting: Sumi-e

          Poetry: Haiku
          Drama: No theater
          Landscaping: Small-space garden
          Bonsai: Dwarf trees
          Ikebana: Flower arranging
          Chanoyu: Tea ceremony
          Music: Shakuhachi flute
          Kyudo: The way of the bow
          Shodo: Calligraphy
          Budo: Martial arts

          The art historian, Georges Duthuit wrote, “He who deliberates and moves his brush intent on making a picture, misses to a still greater extent the art of painting. . . . Draw bamboos for ten years, become a bamboo, then forget all about bamboos when you are drawing. . . .”

          D.T. Suzuki, in Zen and Japanese Culture, page 31, followed these lines by writing:

          “To become a bamboo and to forget that you are one with it while drawing it—this is the Zen of the bamboo . . . Zen . . . has given expression to it in the following phrase: One in All and All in One.”


Blogger Sarah Ashley said...

Rover Jack,

I thought this post was really fascinating. I thought it was really interesting how you described the aspects of art and zen, and how they interrelate. I can really relate personally to how each of them intertwine, and I hope to write as well as you one day.


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