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Thread: WHAT IS ZEN? - Chap 13 - Zen and Art

  1. #1

    WHAT IS ZEN? - Chap 13 - Zen and Art

    Hello All Artists,

    If there is any proof necessary that practicing Zen does not also make one a gifted painter, poet, musician, calligrapher and the like ... I am it. I come from a musical family, and I am tone deaf. My calligraphy after years in Japan still looks like chicken scratchings, and my best paintings were done with my fingers in kindergarten.

    That said, we have many many gifted artists, musicians and poets around this Sangha. Check out our Art Circle if you have not done so ....

    Including Kokuu's Haiku Club ...

    ... and the other poetry thread around hear led by Taishi and others. I would love to see more and more of that.

    How do you feel about "Zen and the Arts"? Anything resonate with you in the words of Norman Fischer, who is himself a gifted poet ...

    Gassho, J


  2. #2
    Thank you Jundo. =)



  3. #3
    I think that Zen practice allows an artist to get out of the way of their creativity. It also teaches an uninhibited "seeing" of the subject or project. It does not necessarily beget skill, but that is pretty subjective. The art lies in the sincerity.

    Sat today, lah
    求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  4. #4

    about to sit now
    Kaidō (皆道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything that I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Geika View Post
    I think that Zen practice allows an artist to get out of the way of their creativity.
    I like it I agree sometimes artists think too much about their art and the meaning of their art. (I am just as guilty of this as others).

    Just do it.

    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  6. #6
    Tairin, I do that as well. Most of my "portfolio" is a series of stepping on my own toes. There's a few in there, though, in which I can see that I let go.

    Sat today, lah

    Sent from my SM-G950U using Tapatalk
    求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  7. #7
    Me speaking about art would be like a sea urchin speking about flying.
    But there was something else in this chapter I just need to put up for discussion.
    On page 170, Norman Fischer claims:
    "Zen has so pervaded Japanese culture that for a Japanese person, being Japanese is being Zen, regardless of whether your religion is Christianity, Buddhism, or no religion at all."

    With this statement, I just can not agree. My experience while staying in Japan was that the vast majority of the Japanese had about as much connection to core Zen values as my average fellow Germans have to the ideas of Kant, Schopenhauer or Hegel. We know it is part of our culture, but we rather watch game shows on TV than trying to understand the philosophy.

    As a university student I spent a year in Japan and have twice returned for periods of 2-3 months, not just travelling but also doing an internship in a Japanese company. I know there are some Treeleafers (not just Jundo Sensei) who have spent much more time in Japan than I have. My question to you is: do you feel that everyday life in Japan is shaped and defined by Zen?

    Gero (sat and lah)

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Gero View Post
    I know there are some Treeleafers (not just Jundo Sensei) who have spent much more time in Japan than I have. My question to you is: do you feel that everyday life in Japan is shaped and defined by Zen?
    I will tell this story: Much of the care, attention to detail, emphasis on proper form and "throwing oneself/mind," aesthetics etc. was dominant in higher Japanese culture long before Zen came here from China, and Zen was mixed with those cultural tendencies, not really the other way around. That is my conclusion.

    For example, yesterday, Ensho and his wife were visiting Treeleaf Tsukuba, so I took them to a fairly ordinary local restaurant where one sits at the counter and watches the chef and his assistants work in front of you. It was a ballet, the care and grace of each gesture, the ritual and coordination, the art of presentation. It has nothing particularly to do with "Zen" (I have no idea if the chef has any formal Zen practice, and it is very unlikely. I doubt that he would even associate his actions in his own mind with "Zen." ). It has everything to do with Japanese culture in general.

    Now, one sees similar actions and ritual here in countless other places, from train and bus drivers, to nurses in hospitals, to elementary school teachers to artists to house painters to master carvers to ordinary carpenters. (It can sometimes be a weakness too, by the way, because over-emphasis on "proper form" sometimes results in inflexibility toward the unexpected ... but that is another story). In that way, yes, "Zen" pervades the culture, but I don't think that most Japanese would think of it in such terms.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-20-2019 at 09:33 PM.

  9. #9
    thank you.

    Regarding Art, making and 'consuming', I am interested in exploring it's ability to transfer a message, that cannot easily be put in usual words. I like art, that seems to unite seemingly contrary ideas.

    What I am searching in Zen, is somehow compatible with what I am seeing in art.
    For me, it's (besides other things) about experiencing the unsayable and uniting the seemingly conflicting.

    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  10. #10
    Hi all

    I very much like that Norman and Susan include this chapter. For me, other Buddhist paths feel lesser for not including creativity so implicitly as part of the path.

    Reading Shobogenzo Zuimonki this morning, however, I am reminded that, despite writing poetry himself, Dogen wasn't always of the opinion of its relevance:

    Impermanence is swift; the problem of life and death is a great one. when you are alive for the time being, if you practice some activity and are fond of study, you should only pracitce the Way of Buddhas and study the teaching of Buddha. Because composition, poetry and songs are worthless, it is right that you should abandon them

    -- Shobogenzo Zuimonki 1:11 (tr. Thomas Cleary)
    Also Dogen:

    To what shall
    I liken the world?
    Moonlight, reflected
    In dewdrops,
    Shaken from a crane’s bill.

    You can read more of his poetry here:

    Last edited by Kokuu; 04-22-2019 at 10:55 AM.

  11. #11
    I can't speak to poetry, as I left that behind in high school. I play all kinds of styles, and have noticed that when playing jazz piano there is sometimes a point during improv that feels like zazen - it's like the deciding/directing what to play and the non-judging of allowing anything to come out is happening both at 100%, both at the same time. It's much like the feeling of maintaining correct posture, hand position, gaze, etc., yet not judging actions or thoughts. Both are happening 100%, both at the same time. It's a liberating feeling, and I'm often surprised by what comes out.

    Shinshou (Dan)
    Sat Today

  12. #12
    Thank you all for the interesting posts.

    Pg 171 D. T. Suzuki said "The arts of Zen are not intended for utilitarian purposes, or for purely aesthetic enjoyment, but are meant to train the mind, indeed, to bring it into contact with ultimate reality."

    Using Japanese calligraphy as an example, there does appear to be an inherent degree of mental discipline, which attempts to provide the audience with the same subjective entry point for experiencing these arts.

    Mind you, I am no expert on any topic of the arts, regarding myself as a novice spectator at best. I would imagine there is a large grey area when classifying 'how Zen' any given artwork might be.

    As for Zen arts being part of the Japanese culture and mindset, I would certainly agree with that. There is a certain emphasis of taking work and engagements seriously, with attention to finer details, which is somewhat different in the west.

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