Reader and Writer on a Contemplative Retreat

This month I went on a short retreat at a Catholic monastery. For just a few days I slept in the rooms where monks had slept, walked the forested paths surrounding the monastery, ate meals prepared by the monks, and attended their prayers. The monastery is where Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal had lived. I felt a writerly connection to the experience, as well as a spiritual connection.

In 2011, I met Ernesto Cardenal when he was reading in Denver. I was moved by the presence of his poetry, the ability his words have to attend to the moment. His poems were playful and tender, a mimetic balance between the essential qualities of life. Questions from the audience at the Museo de las Americas reflected Cardenal’s aesthetic, religious, and political activities. He fielded the questions as a poet, a priest, and as a respected political figure.

Thomas Merton also had some notoriety as a political figure due to his public denunciation of US involvement in Vietnam. But primarily Merton was spiritual. I first […]

John Cage & Zen Poetics

On Thursday, Peter Jaeger gave a lecture at Naropa on John Cage and Zen poetics. In Cage fashion, Jaeger utilized the I Ching in the production and performance of his lecture. Breaks and pauses occurred as determined by randomly generated integers. One audience member, a junior at Naropa’s School of the Arts, said, the effect was provocative because he used a technique he was describing, but the pauses themselves were annoying.  I do not think Jaeger would disagree.

Cage’s performances frequently induced annoyance. In fact, when Cage gave a reading at Naropa in 1974 he sat for two hours with his back to the audience and was assailed with bird calls and thrown objects. Allen Ginsberg and other poets intervened to protect him. Jaeger explained that the annoyance audiences feel is a response to boredom, and Cage’s prescription for boredom was typically Zen:

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at […]

Writing as Mindfulness-Awareness Practice

My year reading and responding to True Perception concludes with a response to the last point highlighted by Acharya Arawana Hayashi during the weekend training in Boston:

Our message is simply one of appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears. p.2

I explored the first half of that sentence in a previous post on self-representation and the path of dharma art. Here I’m responding to the second half concerning expression without struggle.

Trungpa distinguishes between two types of art: exhibitionist art and genuine art. The adjectives suggest one is better than the other, so I prefer to say dharma art instead of genuine art. He, too, emphasizes that a moralistic approach to art is inappropriate. Exhibitionism is inherent in creativity. Whenever a need for recording your work of art is involved, then there is a tendency toward awareness of oneself…  p.26

The above statement was made in front of an audience at the Vajradhatu Seminary in 1973 during a recorded talk. […]

Self-Representation and the Path of Dharma Art

Happy New Years. I’m continuing to contemplate the path of Shambhala Art and the weekend training with Acharya Arawana Hayashi last year. Specifically, I’m considering the message of “appreciating the nature of things as they are”. The path of dharma art is a way of perceiving the world based on inquisitiveness rather than fear and desire, seeing without pushing away or pulling towards. This way of perceiving is contrasted with a process that colors and edits our world to reinforce the ideology of self.

In a series of four lectures, Professor Christopher Peacocke at University College London discusses the nature of self-representation. Although his own position on self and self-representation doesn’t easily coincide with the view outlined in True Perception, Peacocke’s lectures are a thorough overview of several philosophical theories related to self. The example he uses to analyze his theory is especially revealing:

“That thing is coming towards me.”

According to Peacocke, this statement is self-representation at a level more basic than conceptual representation. Experiencing a ball coming towards me  […]

The Finger is Fiction

You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist FictionEd. Keith Kachtick, Wisdom Publications Boston 2006

The radical notion of collecting Buddhist fiction presents a sort of koan: Is fiction the dharma? Is the dharma fiction? The stories in You Are Not Here, like most anthologies, are hit or miss. The hits are very good, and even the misses offer fine writing and a valuable response to the koan.

The first story, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler, concerns an elderly man from Vietnam now living in the US where his children and grandchildren have grown up. His family is still actively anticommunist, but he is being visited by the ghost of his old friend, Ho Chi Minh. There are direct Buddhist references in the narrative, but more importantly the story evokes the contemplative aesthetic:

“This was a smell that had nothing to do with flowers…”

Butler uses the sensation of smell, a sense that develops pre-language, in a narrative that exists only as language, mimeticly demonstrating the […]

The Confident Web

The last few months I have been responding to six principles identified by Acharya Arawana Hayashi during the Shambhala Art Weekend I attended in Boston last spring. In this post I am contemplating the principle of confidence, “…when we are actually creating a work of art there is a sense of total confidence. (True Perception p.2)

In his lecture on Neopragmantism, Professor Fry offers a theory that human language did not originate out of a need to communicate but out of a propensity to scribble doodles and make melodious or rhythmic sounds. Language has come to serve human communication needs, but existed prior to performing that service. This theory on the origin of language is in radical opposition to the often quoted axiom that we write to be read. One version of the axiom, by Leo Rosten, goes:

A writer writes…because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood.

I’ve quoted Rosten and other […]

Look To Where You Want To Be

As I continue my investigation of the principles Shambhala Art, I’m considering this quote from page one of True Perception: Dharma Art:

“…the artist embodies the viewer as well as the creator of the works. Vision is not separate from operation.”

When I sit down to write a first draft, my tendency is to gather my thoughts before putting pen to page. I don’t necessarily workout each sentence ahead of time, although I know some writers who do. I usually have a general shape in mind before I start making marks.

The process is something like this: I listen to my mind, which is at first silent but not quiet. Perhaps what I hear is indistinct murmuring or the wind or the couple across the hall arguing or the couple snuggled on the couch watching a movie of people arguing. I don’t know what I hear or even if I hear anything until thoughts begin to coagulate into harmonies, and then I begin to write. The marks on the page distinguish the aeolian notes […]

Cesar Chavez Fast

I am fasting April 16th and April 17th as part of a community celebration of Cesar Chavez sponsored by Latino Boys Leadership and Inclusive Lafayette.

In 1982 I saw the movie Gandhi. His life and words captivated me; I went to see the movie several more times and began reading his book of aphorisms and sayings. Even as a 4th grader, I recognized wisdom.

Gandhi’s fasts were a means of self-purification and political protest. As founder of the UFW, Chavez had similar reasons for fasting. Daniel Escalante sent me information about the fast, including this youtube video of first hand accounts of Chavez’s fasting.

Fasting is a spiritual practice and a nonviolent response to a manifest injustice, and so, I follow the legacy of Chavez and Gandhi in dedicating my two day fast to heartfelt spiritual purification and to

reducing incarceration rates, ending the new jim crow, and turning the US prison industry complex into a system of justice.

The millions of men (and their families) whose liberty is curtailed by the prison […]

Accuracy and Precision

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am interested in the principles of Shambhala Art. This blog begins to clarify my understanding of these teachings, specifically on the point of directness. I hope this writing will be of some benefit to others also investigating these principles.

Page one of True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art describes dharma art as art that springs from

“…an attitude of directness and unself-conciousness in one’s creative work.”

I readily understand what is meant by “attitude”. My attitude refers to my thoughts; my thoughts establish my attitude toward experience and activity.

The term “directness” is not immediately clear to me except as a tautology. But I reread the section on Great Eastern Sun and can understand directness to be the Eastern direction or “the place you see when you can open your eyes and look fearlessly ahead of you.”

I understand directness to be characterized as precise, as concerned with what is pertinent, and as not entertaining extraneous thoughts. Directness also implies accuracy, being able to […]

Shambhala Art Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I was in Boston for a weekend of Shambhala Art taught by Acharya Arawana Hayashi. I’ve been reading True Perceptions: The Path of Dharma Art since the beginning of the year, and this workshop came just at the right time.

The program was concerned with using our senses to realize our connection with the phenomenal world. The mind is creative and very naturally connects with the world. From the beginning of our lives we connect with our world. Our brains are optimized to establish direct connection with the phenomenal world. It’s what we do.

Human beings also have the ability to assign meaning to phenomena. This is a handy tool but inhibits our ability to directly connect with the world. Assigning meaning is not same as perception, but we tend to treat it the same. During the workshop we practiced separating these two activities by focusing on how each of our senses perceives the world. This is a practice of which I am still unsure. Meaning can be very […]