Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

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Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Luke » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:39 pm

I was thinking lately about how little Buddhist art there is in in the west.

Little Buddha statues are available for sale in many ordinary stores, and there are many, trippy, tie-dye-colored Buddha posters for sale, but I have yet to see any Buddhist themes in serious western art. I've never seen any Buddhist art in art galleries which was created by a westerner. I've never seen a Buddhist musical or opera in the west. I've never read a novel written by a living westerner which contained Buddhist themes.

The only movie I've seen which had a western Buddhist character was "Vertical Limit" in which the old, highly-skilled climber is a Buddhist and recites the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" before he dies saving the others.

I think if Buddhism is going to spread in the west, it needs to spread in theaters and art galleries as well as in meditation centers. Art played a huge role in the spread of Christianity: the great renaissance painters were mainly paid to paint Christian paintings, the great architects were paid to build churches, etc.

I would like to see an American kids movie in which a boy's father just happened to be a Buddhist, not as any major element of the plot, but just as a normal piece of background information. If Buddhism is to become ubiquitous in the west, then it needs to become ubiquitous in all our media. There should be modern orchestral works based on the rebirth of the mind in the six realms, there should be folk songs about the Dalai Lama, there should be rock songs about Milarepa, rap songs about Thich Nhat Hanh, 3D animation children's shows about the Jataka Tales, Buddhist call-in radio talk shows, Buddhist vegetarian cooking shows, Buddhist fiction paperback novels, etc.

This is a "call to arms" for all western Buddhist artists, writers, actors, and musicians to take up the cause of spreading Buddhism in the west through their art, so that Buddhist art in secular society doesn't remain forever confined to the ghetto of hippie t-shirt and pipe shops.

Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā!
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Astus » Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:04 pm

Luke, have you missed the last 6 decades in Western art? From the Beat generation on Buddhism spread quite well. Sure, it's not mainstream but it's there.

Did you know that Richard Wagner planned an opera in 1856 with the title Die Sieger (The Victors) based on Buddhist stories? And that Hermann Hesse published his novel Siddhartha in 1922?

And there's also Lisa in The Simpsons as a Buddhist for all to see.

"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Luke » Sun Dec 12, 2010 12:56 am

Astus wrote:Luke, have you missed the last 6 decades in Western art? From the Beat generation on Buddhism spread quite well. Sure, it's not mainstream but it's there.

Yeah, but is it continuing? Yes, there were these isolated Buddhist works of art in the west in the past, but who's carrying on the work now?

Astus wrote:Did you know that Richard Wagner planned an opera in 1856 with the title Die Sieger (The Victors) based on Buddhist stories? And that Hermann Hesse published his novel Siddhartha in 1922?

Yeah, I've read Siddartha. That's cool that Wagner had planned a Buddhist opera. It's a shame it was never completed. Perhaps a modern composer should take up the challenge.

Astus wrote:And there's also Lisa in The Simpsons as a Buddhist for all to see.

Lol. Okay, Buddhism occasionally does get into mainstream culture. But still, this seems fairly rare.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Su DongPo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:30 am

In my humble, Luke, what you are asking will take time -- perhaps a long long time. We certainly can't mandate Buddhist art; we might be able to cultivate interest and support artists engages in the Dharma and Buddhist themes. But for Buddhism to really affect the larger art scene it will first have to infiltrate "the West" in major, culture-changing ways. As noted, there have been undercurrents in American/European art & literature for some time, such as the Beat poets, of the 1950s-forward, but these are relatively minor expressions (and in some cases misleading, I believe) of Buddhist thought and culture.

It we build it, it will grow. :smile:
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Su DongPo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:32 am

Astus wrote:And there's also Lisa in The Simpsons as a Buddhist for all to see.



:rolling:
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby mudra » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:24 am

I believe Geshe Michael Roach wrote a Buddhist novel (something in the garden? I forget) and a few others have too. Then there are some western artists (think Andy Weber) doing very beautiful thangkas and other interpretations. There also others who have not put in overt themes put certainly refer back to Buddhsm. The illusion aspect of Matrix films is quite classic.

Then there is the popular dichotomy of east and west. In the art world this line is getting moved, twisted, bent, blurred and re-imagined. There is actually plenty of modern Buddhist art. I saw a fascinating temple in northern Thailand the insides of which were covered with murals of Buddhas, monsters, but also spaceships and more. It wasn't exactly traditional!

I could go on but will move right along.

Perhaps get out more?
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Tatsuo » Sun Dec 12, 2010 12:54 pm

The Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly known as FWBO) has a unique style of Buddha Statues, but I don't think we need to rush and construct a "Western" Buddhism. Why should we? For example, when Buddhism first arrived in Japan the temples were constructed like the Chinese temples and not like Shinto shrines. Why should we copy the style of art created in a Roman/Greek or Christian style? The statues and Buddhist art created in Asia also work here.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Luke » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:47 pm

mudra wrote:Perhaps get out more?

I live in Hungary, and I was just in Romania a little while ago. How far "out" do you want me to go? Lol.

Buddhism could certainly penetrate popular culture more in Eastern Europe. I haven't been back to the US in years, so I forget what it's like there. Asian martial arts seem to be getting popular here like they were in the US in the 1980s. Maybe with time the Asian religions will get popular here, too.

Su DongPo wrote:In my humble, Luke, what you are asking will take time -- perhaps a long long time. We certainly can't mandate Buddhist art; we might be able to cultivate interest and support artists engages in the Dharma and Buddhist themes.

Perhaps support for artists who create Buddhist works of art is the key. Many of the greatest works of the Renaissance wouldn't have been created if it hadn't been for the support of the Medici family (which was sort of a family, clan, government, business, art talent scout, and part of the church all rolled into one).

Maybe some kind of national Buddhist art and writing competition should be established? Maybe a wealthy Buddhist or a university could fund and promote it?
Last edited by Luke on Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:50 pm

I think in the English speaking world at least there is a lot of protestant ideas in the background creating a negative bias against religious artwork. It goes back to the ideas of Catholics being a bunch of idol worshippers what with Mary and Jesus statues receiving offerings and so on.

The vast majority of people might not give a damn about that anymore, but old habits die hard.

It might be different for say the French or Italians or Hungarians, but in the English speaking world at least you can detect a lot of residual protestant influences.That means, I reckon, that many people will unconsciously not place much value in religious-themed artwork, popular media and so on. It isn't seen as essential or even overly desirable. People want the "essence" and stick to the "fundamentals".

It would be nice to see "dharma centers" becoming actual temples with a teams of Venerables and active communities. All too often it seems temples are for ethnic minorities and immigrant communities. Dharma centers are reserved more for meditation classes and dharma talks. Temples incorporate whole families and not just individuals. They also have the economic means to do large scale projects (like maybe build nice big shrines and sponsor artists for related purposes).

Buddhism is still quite young outside of Asia. My hope is that Buddhists, regardless of origin, can work together and build communities and not tiny little dharma centers here and there.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:05 pm

Luke wrote:
Su DongPo wrote:In my humble, Luke, what you are asking will take time -- perhaps a long long time. We certainly can't mandate Buddhist art; we might be able to cultivate interest and support artists engages in the Dharma and Buddhist themes.

Perhaps support for artists who create Buddhist works of art is the key. Many of the greatest works of the Renaissance wouldn't have been created if it hadn't been for the support of the Medici family (which was sort of a family, clan, government, business, art talent scout, and part of the church all rolled into one).


I like your idea here Luke, but the problem is financing and mutual co-operation between people.

I've seen some lovely Buddhist temples in Canada with beautiful works of art on the wall and shrine. One Vietnamese temple was particularly nice. Here's a photo I took:

Image

Now I hear they called in a artist from Vietnam to make that statue. The temple is also made up almost entirely of Vietnamese speakers (and a small English speaking group that mostly just does meditation on Friday evenings).

This temple can manage such projects as building beautiful shrine like this because they have a large community of dedicated Buddhists. We're talking Buddhist-Buddhist types and not the occasional meditation retreat I'm not so sure about rebirth but I like to believe in karma mostly materialist happy-go-lucky middle-class Buddhist. The former will drop a lot of money into the sangha and deposit many hours into such projects. Trying to convince the latter of the merit of such activities might prove difficult as he or she maybe just wants meditation and dharma talks.

I hate to say this but the ethnic division also is an issue. If a non-Asian wants to learn and practise Buddhism in a traditional environment and maybe even study something like statue crafting or some other art it doesn't help that a lot of Buddhists in Asia don't think we non-Asians can actually be Buddhist.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:54 pm

"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby spiritnoname » Sun Dec 12, 2010 9:06 pm

no
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Blue Garuda » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:10 pm

Not necessary, but desirable.

Not necessary as people are able to learn through other senses.

Desirable as some people learn best visually.
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Re: Is Buddhist art needed to spread Dharma in the west?

Postby Luke » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:42 pm

Yeshe wrote:Not necessary, but desirable.

Not necessary as people are able to learn through other senses.

Desirable as some people learn best visually.

I meant the word "art" collectively: visual art, writing, music, theater, movies, other unusual media, etc.

Here's the song "Bodhisattva Vow" by the Beastie Boys. I prefer listening to other music, but I have to give them credit for mentioning Shantideva. This is a rare example of Buddhism in mainstream music.



I was just going to say that the Finnish modern classical composer Einojuhani Rautavaa should write a Buddhist work because he likes putting mystical themes into his music, but I found out that he has already written a Buddist-themed orchestral piece: "Nirvana Dharma, for chorus, soprano & flute."
http://www.classicalarchives.com/work/3 ... s&tv=music
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