Greetings ALL!
I have invited Kokuu, a scholar of words and a familiar voice around here to discuss Daido Loori’s Zen of Creativity, chapter 12, followed by Meitou’s prompt! ENJOY…

Here's Kokuu

A monk asked Yunmen, “What are the words that transcend the Buddha and the Patriarchs?”
Yunmen said, “Rice cake.”
“clouds endless clouds climbing beyond
ask nothing from words on a page”
— Ikkyū Sōjun

One of the first things that many people learn about Zen is that it is “a special transmission outside the teachings not depending on written words”.* This may be followed by the surprise that the history of Zen is filled with so many writings from numerous teachers!

This is one of the paradoxes that sits at the heart of Zen. As soon as we name something, we miss its essence in trying to fix it into one form. Yet, as Dainin Katagiri Roshi said, you have to say something! And where would we be without all the words by Dōgen and the masters who came before or after him? How would our teachers communicate with us? Of course, we can learn much by following their example, but words are also quite useful at times!

The answer to this paradox is the notion of the finger pointing at the moon. While words can never fully capture the true essence of Zen which is ‘just this’ in every moment, they can point us towards it just as the finger is not the moon but can show where it is in the sky. This is what the poets and priests have been trying to do since the beginning of Zen, and their words express the essence of their understanding and their practice. It is not for nothing that it remains a common practice for Zen teachers to write a death poem that pierces the great matter of life and death.

It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a few well-chosen phrases can also point the way beyond form. As Zen artists, or would-be Zen artists, we look to capture a moment of suchness, and share that with others. This is the same with words or images.

Just as in sumi-e paintings (the black and white paintings usually drawn in a single breath) what is presented is the bare essence of what is seen. Similarly, in haiku poetry and other Zen writing, each word counts and we do not try to completely flesh out the image but rather leave space for the writing to breathe. Zen teacher and writer Natalie Goldberg calls this writing down the bones.

When we write from a Zen perspective, we often do this from personal experience, and based on our sense experience rather than phrase after phrase of conceptual ideas. Even when ideas need to be communicated, this is usually done in the form of metaphor, such as Dōgen’s heron poem in the examples below which has echoes of Dongshan Lianje’s lines in The Song of Precious Mirror Samadhi:

The dharma of thusness is intimately transmitted by buddhas and ancestors.
Now you have it; preserve it well.
A silver bowl filled with snow, a heron hidden in the moon.

Daido Loori Roshi gives a number of wonderful examples of Zen writings in The Zen of Creativity, and I wish to share one or two of my favourites with you in the hope it might provide further inspiration:

Rahai (Bowing)

A snowy heron
on the snowfield
where winter grass is unseen
hides itself
in its own figure.
— Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253)

My huts lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.
— Ryōkan (1758-1831)

I came to this mountain
looking for enlightenment.
There was no enlightenment
on the mountain.
Whether laughing or crying
all I hear is an echo
from the other side of the mountain.
— Soen Nakagawa (1907-1984)

Three pencils arranged
Three minutes
Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya, Dharmakaya
— Jack Kerouac (1922-1967)

*this has often been attributed to Bodhidharma but in modern times is thought to have originated as separate phrases in Tang era China (8th and 9th centuries CE), and first appeared as a quatrain in the Song period (960–1279):

教外別傳 A special [separate] transmission outside the teachings,
不立文字 not depending on written words
直指人心 īndirectly point to the human mind,
見性成佛 see one‘s nature and become Buddha

And here’s Meitou’s prompt

Hello everyone and welcome to prompt 12.

At the end of this chapter JDL mentions Zenga paintings. Zenga means literally 'Zen Painting' and is a term used to describe pen and ink paintings used as part of the Tea Ceremony and some of the Japanese Martial Arts. These paintings are characteristically simple and bold, combine both images and calligraphy and illustrate some aspect of Zen teaching. Historically all sorts of subjects have been used, but amongst the most common are enso, which we explored at the beginning of our project, and Mount Fuji.

JDL also talks about Minor White's experimentation with combining text and photographic images, including inscribing poetry directly on the emulsion surface of film – this fascinated me but in this age of digital photography, not such an easily accessible practice.

Instead, in this prompt I'd like to suggest that we could play with combinations of imagery and words in whatever medium you'd like.
So this could be photographic images with text added afterwards directly to the image or within the framing, or text actually appearing within the subject photographed. It could be collage utilising text, painting, drawing, traditional Zenga or three dimensional work – outside, flower arranging etc.
You may prefer to make the words themselves your main subject and the visual element could include how you present them – this could be wonderfully creative.

You may want to write your own text, you may have some favourite teaching or poetry in mind, or you may be inspired by one of the beautiful pieces that Kokuu has included above.

The traditional motifs of Zenga might inspire – enso, sticks, bamboo leaves, Mount Fuji

I've often used words and images together in my sketchbooks both illustratively and as surface pattern, text-ure, graphic markings. I'll post some examples of those in the coming days, together with some traditional Zenga images that I've found on the internet. I've also played around with creating images of Mount Fuji and photographing them, it's an ongoing project which has been put aside for a while, I'll post a couple of those too.
As usual don't be afraid to experiment, particularly with writing. Most importantly though – have fun!

Deep bows from the three of us!

Anne, Kokuu and Meitou

we all sat today