Chapter 2 Mountains and Rivers

As I spent time at Dai Bosatsu, I began to suspect that the key to the profound qualities I was seeing in Zen art was Zen practice, and that zazen – Zen meditation - was its foundation.


This is an inspiring chapter to read. It continues with John Daido Loori’s spiritual journey from lay photographer to Zen artist/priest. He is exploring how practice interfaces with creativity… His own and his students. How he uses Buddhist texts to inspire.

Once again JDL stresses his state of groundlessness, the not knowing what is coming next in his life. And what strikes me is his comfort in that place. He’s content and is confident that his path will be revealed.

He also is called to work in collaboration with other artists in other mediums interpreting Dogan’s Mountain and Rivers Sutra with art. He describes how working with other artists opened them all to the Zen teachings in a new, fresh and profound way. And opened their creativity in new expansive ways.

I find it comforting and inspiring that Zen Buddhism uses art making as a practice (traditionally calligraphy, zenga painting, tea ceremony, ikebana etc.). Meditation practice can enhance our artmaking. And artmaking can enhance our meditation practice.

Lots to talk about in this 2nd chapter but here are some possible discussion points:

-When we are in a state of groundlessness, we can see each moment as unique and fresh with a flexible, curious and open mind. As we have no expectations. Related to making art our aim is to trust the process and open to possibilities. To sit down to make a work of art in this way invites the sublime in, the unknown to work through us. When in this place it seems to me there is no room for self-consciousness or self-criticism. How to attain this precious place? Meitou’s directions to make your enso on an outbreath allows no time for thoughts to interfere. How to extend that silence, that trust? How to let go of expectations? Some of you experienced the fine consequences of a quiet mind in making your enso following the directions to sit at least briefly prior to the artmaking.

-I know that other artist’s work can inspire me, even being in the presence of amazing artwork can charge me as though I am stepping into their creative aura. Working through creative ideas with another can do the same. Collaboration: does anyone have experience with that and if so, how did your work evolve? (Kokuu and Meitou collaborated on a chapbook of Kokuu’s writings. Possibly in a future prompt we will invite you to work with someone in your medium or another medium to create works, something to think about.)

-Also, JDL discusses how he used certain Buddhist texts to inspire creativity. Is there a text that you find inspiring?
Meitou’s prompt below will ask you to explore that.


Hello everyone and welcome to our second prompt.

In this second part of the Crooked Path, John Daido Loori describes how he explored ways of bringing Zen teachings to life through photography and brush paintings, and then went on to interpret Dogen's Mountains and Rivers Sutra though 'visual imagery, sound, music, movement, and the words of Dogen'

The prompt then is to explore how you would interpret something inspiring from your practice through a different medium. I'm not expecting anyone to produce a film representing the Heart Sutra ( although feel free to do so!) but to think about our Treeleaf chants, or a piece of text, some words, perhaps a haiku poem or similar that really resonates with you and to express how you feel about it personally using the medium of your choice. It doesn't have to be words either; we can be equally inspired by practice - a beautiful altar, sitting, bowing, chanting and/or sweeping the yard. Take some time to think about what inspires and then just let go and allow what ever comes to mind to manifest itself – a photo, some sounds, words, a drawing, another enso, embroidery, sculpture etc, let it happen. Interpretations can be as literal , as metaphorical and or as abstract as you like and as simple or complex – it's up to you. Remember, sit for a while before starting, and put aside self consciousness and judgement. Enjoy!

I'm just posting here three of Dogen's poems, just in case anyone would like some extra inspiration. I feel that all of them could be interpreted literally or metaphorically.
The verses are from Steven Heine's book The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace. Thank you Steven.

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

Colours of the mountains,
Streams in the valleys
One in all, all in one,
The voice and body of
our Shakyamuni Buddha.

Attaining the heart
Of the sutra
Are not even the sounds
Of the bustling marketplace
The preachings of the Dharma?


Meitou and Anne