Buddhadharma, poetry, art

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Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:05 pm

There's plenty of so-called 'creative persons' in my local sangha. Some of them, even after years of practice, feel a tension between their practice and their artistic 'vocation'; others are convinced that the two are inseparable, or at least cannot imagine their lives without either. Very few have abandoned their artistic pursuits altogether - and those who have done so feel hardly happy about it, I gather.

At any rate, what tends to resurface time and again in our conversations is the big core question: What's the actual relation between the practice of the Dharma and the practice of poetry/art? For more than 1500 years the West has been hopelessly given to tragically romanticise the role poetry/art may and should play, often trying to make it pass for the Western equivalent of yoga. Seems a mistaken and horribly dangerous idea to me - but, is it all inevitably just absolute plain nonsense?

To slice the big question into smaller, more digestible chunks:

1. Is one's pursuit of poetry/art necessarily detrimental to one's practice? Are there any conditions under which there need not be any clash between them? Any approaches which could eliminate such a clash?

2. Presuming poetry/art need not necessarily make an obstacle to one's practice, aren't they simply just a waste of one's precious time? Are they equally useless as, say, playing video games? As useless as any other hobby is? Are they perhaps more dangerous than your standard, more mundane time-wasters?

3. Could one's practice actually benefit in some way from one's pursuit of poetry/art? Could one make the latter serve the former? Would it be ever worth the effort?

Whether you're a poet/artist or not, please feel free to get as personal, intimate and confessional, Sylvia Plath-style or otherwise, as you want to. Even better, tell me what your teachers think or thought about such matters.
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Re: Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:32 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:1. Is one's pursuit of poetry/art necessarily detrimental to one's practice? Are there any conditions under which there need not be any clash between them? Any approaches which could eliminate such a clash?


It goes without saying that Buddhism has continually inspired people to produce art, whether it is directly Buddhist themed or not. Monuments and temples in ancient India, for example, were often quite extensively decorated from stone carvings to statues. To beautify the sacred space of the sangha was only appropriate as it inspired people and fostered feelings of venerations. This has likewise been the case for the rest of the Buddhist world.

In my mind Buddhist imagery is extremely useful as it is constant reminder of virtues we should emulate. We emulate what we contemplate, so just continually seeing images of buddhas and bodhisattvas will perhaps prompt people to emulate them unconsciously.

Poetry conveys ideas, voices and mental images which likewise inspire and prompt people towards virtue. I think Shantideva's work is most notable in that regard, at least in my personal experience. The poetic verses written by other authors like Atiśa and Ryokan Taigu have likewise inspired me. Take for example the following by Atiśa:

One should live with few possessions
And dwell with one's back turned
To the things that cause grasping
Be as a wanderer in foreign lands
Taking food as it is found
Like the birds in migration.


-Atiśa

I encountered this in a little booklet I came across at the main Gompa in Leh, Ladakh. It truly captured the way I have been trying to live my life the last few years. Very elegant, yet compact and potent. Atiśa's ideas formulated an image in my mind that I can cherish and constantly recollect. There is great benefit to be found with such an impression on the mind.

How could that be detrimental?




2. Presuming poetry/art need not necessarily make an obstacle to one's practice, aren't they simply just a waste of one's precious time? Are they equally useless as, say, playing video games? As useless as any other hobby is? Are they perhaps more dangerous than your standard, more mundane time-wasters?



There is great inspiration to be found in the artistic expression of religion.

I attended the Karmpa 900 event in Delhi earlier this year and was blessed with the good fortune of hearing live Shree Vidvan RS Nanda Kumar's reconstructed dohas of Tilopa and Saraha. You can listen here:



I think historically this kind of manifestation not only fostered conviction in people, but also directed their minds to practice. It wasn't for entertainment. As the golden rule states you emulate what you contemplate, so such artistic expressions as this only contribute positively to that process. In the case of something like this music is utilized for religious cultivation and not mere entertainment. I don't see how that could be detrimental.


3. Could one's practice actually benefit in some way from one's pursuit of poetry/art? Could one make the latter serve the former? Would it be ever worth the effort?


I think the dohas above speak to the great benefit that can be had from artistic expression. They combine both poetry and music.


Whether you're a poet/artist or not, please feel free to get as personal, intimate and confessional, Sylvia Plath-style or otherwise, as you want to. Even better, tell me what your teachers think or thought about such matters.


While on retreat I was inspired to write a poem in Classical Chinese. See the following (scroll down for English translation):

http://wenyanwen.blogspot.tw/2011/12/ve ... derer.html

If you have any inclination towards artistic expression I think it only becomes natural. Religious sentiments are usually conveyed through art and music.

There is of course expressions that might not be terribly useful, hence the prohibitions on listening to music in the Vinaya and Bodhisattva precepts. However, that is referring to music for the purposes of mere entertainment. Reading or writing romance novels is probably going to foster sentiments contrary to renunciation and spiritual practice (unless it ends horribly and the victim decides to abandon ordinary life in pursuit of liberation).
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Re: Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby Pero » Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:56 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:To slice the big question into smaller, more digestible chunks:

1. Is one's pursuit of poetry/art necessarily detrimental to one's practice? Are there any conditions under which there need not be any clash between them? Any approaches which could eliminate such a clash?

2. Presuming poetry/art need not necessarily make an obstacle to one's practice, aren't they simply just a waste of one's precious time? Are they equally useless as, say, playing video games? As useless as any other hobby is? Are they perhaps more dangerous than your standard, more mundane time-wasters?

IMO it is no different than any other form of worldly activity. There is no specific clash, just the same "clash" as with any other worldly activity.


3. Could one's practice actually benefit in some way from one's pursuit of poetry/art? Could one make the latter serve the former? Would it be ever worth the effort?

I think you can benefit other through poetry, in which case I guess it wouldn't be worldly activity anymore. See Shabkar, Saraha, Milarepa.
But I doubt that anyone who perceives a clash is at a stage that would be beneficial to others (and certainly they're not at the level of the ones I mentioned).
Also I seem to remember that writing songs of realization and stuff can be a great obstacle to ones practice.
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Re: Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:14 pm

Musicians. I forgot about musicians.
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Re: Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:16 pm

@Pero and Huseng: thanks for the replies, please keep them coming.

I won't be getting too much involved in the thread discussions myself as I'm just dying to hear your opinions.

Don't be shy, speak out.
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Re: Buddhadharma, poetry, art

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 18, 2012 5:00 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:@Pero and Huseng: thanks for the replies, please keep them coming.

I won't be getting too much involved in the thread discussions myself as I'm just dying to hear your opinions.

Don't be shy, speak out.


This is my low budget (zero budget) attempt from a few years ago making an animated Buddhist video with MS Paint and MS Movie Maker:

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