In preparing for our trip to the Hakuin exhibit in NYC, I’ve re-visited Stephen Addiss and Audrey Seo’s lovely book How to Look at Japanese Art. Before dropping into their typical intense scholarly style of explaining everything from ceramic to ink art, Addiss and Seo examine the nature of Japanese art that sets it apart and makes it enduring as an art form. There are four characteristics that typify Japanese art and in reading about them, it seems these are also four characteristics of practice. I’m not surprised that reading about the nature of one form resonates with the nature of True Form.
The first characteristic of Japanese art is a “deep understanding and respect for nature, including human nature. This appears in subject matter – such as birds and flowers, landscapes, or human figures in daily activity – and it is also apparent in artistic approach.” Not enough to simply hold the object of art in esteem, Japanese art forms drop into the heart of the object with reverence. The form and texture of clay, wood, paper, ink, brush are all part of the final completed work.
Examining my practice through this lens, I’m challenged to hold every aspect of practice with respect, especially my very human nature that tends to derail it regularly. In the metaphor of brushwork, my nature is the unruly brush that refuses to pick up a sufficient reservoir of ink in its hair and can only splatter illusions across the paper. As I stagger along this route, I’m constantly amazed by the delusional mind; how self-serving, how willing to latch onto the shards of information that allow me to hold onto to those things that support my greed, aversion, and ignorance.
Now I’m wondering: what if my work is not to save myself from my Self but rather to love it? What if I simply hold my delusional mind with respect for what it is? What if that pesky ox who keeps revisiting my art table decided to turn and meet its herder with a “deep understanding and respect?”
What might happen then?
Thank you for practising,
Tomorrow: Transforming what is given