Parabola Magazine on Facebook had some wonderful quotes from and comments about John Cage on his birthday. I particularly liked this one:
“The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.”
— John Cage
A day or so later, Tricycle’s Facebook blog had a terrific article titled Disconnect the Dots by Cynthia Thatcher who explores the teachings given to Bahiya by the Buddha:
“When seeing,” the Buddha said, “just see; when hearing, just hear; when knowing, just know; and when thinking, just think.” (Udana 1.10)
Thatcher goes on to apply this practice of bare awareness to a painting by George Seurat:
Consider the painting again: close-up, you see meaningless flecks of tint that don’t represent anything. Beings and objects, time and place, have vanished. The Seine, the trees, the woman’s face—all have exploded into particles, scattered across space. But when you step back from the picture, recognizable shapes leap into view as the eye “pulls” the specks together.
The individual points of color, and the identities that coalesce when the eye connects them, occupy the same space. From one vantage point there is a vista of permanent beings and things. From another, there’s no solid ground—only empty sensation that you can’t name. The painting presents a visual metaphor for conventional truth versus ultimate reality; self versus nonself.
Suddenly, it all makes sense. Sometimes, I pull too far away from the dots and lose the coalesced images; from that point out in the universe, everything is a lumpy blur, even beauty. Then it’s easy to find reason why something isn’t beautiful. The balance between the flecks of brush strokes and the pulled-together specks is tricky. One seems so much more reliable than the other, as self is less anxiety-provoking than non-self. And yet, self cannot coalesce without nonself – and certainly cannot do so unless I’m willing to take a step back and out of my own vision.
Thank you for practising,