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Barbara O'Brien

The Art of Dharma

By October 16, 2013

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EnsoIn the last post I argued that Buddhism, in function, is more like an art than either a religion or a philosophy.  I'd like to add something about the role that art plays in Buddhism.

I'm not sure about Theravada Buddhism, but in Mahayana Buddhism there is a rich tradition of creating art as a kind of meditation. Tibetan sand mandalas are a good example. After spending days intensely focused on creating an elaborate image with grains of colored sand, monks then sweep the image away.

Calligraphy as an art form emerged from Chinese culture millennia ago. In the Chinese art of calligraphy the brush is not just a tool, but an extension of the artist's body, mind, and character. I understand Confucians believed the practice of calligraphy cultivated moral virtue. Calligraphy was a spiritual art for Taoists before Buddhism came to China.

From what I know of Zen calligraphy, the art is not just what is on the paper. The act of calligraphy is the art, including the way the calligrapher spreads out the paper and arranges the brushes and ink to be used. The calligrapher may sit in meditation  for awhile and begin to paint only when his mind is ready.

There's a lot of art practice in Japanese Zen, including the painting of ensos, such as the painting above. Traditionally, the enso (circle) is painted in one quick movement that becomes an expression of the painter's mind and realization in that moment.

Traditional Zen arts also include flower arranging, poetry, flute playing, and the tea ceremony. A number of martial arts are Zen arts as well. The point of these arts is not to create something pretty to be admired. The art is in the activity of preparing the flowers, of holding a teacup, of controlling breath to play a bamboo flute.

October 16, 2013 at 10:38 pm
(1) Chuck N says:

And don’t forget poetry. Shinkei’s famous treatise on medieval Japanese poetry Sasamegoto, for example.

October 17, 2013 at 8:24 am
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Chuck N — I did mention poetry.

October 17, 2013 at 7:19 am
(3) Lee says:

and don’t forget four dimensional living art – Bonsai – !
A teaching of all acceptance and time and space … Little trees can teach much.

October 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm
(4) Hein says:

Aah and the art of drinking tea…and i am not takking about pouring hot water in a mug with a teabag.
The art of setting up the tray…even if only for yourself.
Boiling the water, watching the fire, smelling the leaves, admiring the clay teapot…and experiencing the tea…not just simply drinking it…aah the life in a cup of tea :)

October 18, 2013 at 11:30 am
(5) donald cook says:

And … the greatest art of all … living the four and eight as a breathing, interacting meditation. every day every possible minute of Your life; sitting and driving, and typing, and … being, just …

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