Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Current reading on art practice

Yesterday, I snagged a copy of John Daido Loori's new book, The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life. I can hardly put it down. Anyone looking for a good read on the creative process should consider this little gem.

Having had the good fortune recently to visit Zen Mountain Monastery, where Loori is abbot, I was impressed by the authenticity and rigor of the Zen practice there. (Not everyone can appreciate the rigor part, but that's a story perhaps left to another post.) Loori's book reflects that authenticity and also possesses an engaging, personable quality, as Loori recounts his own sometimes awkward artistic and spiritual journey. I especially like the colorful recollections of his encounters with Zen masters. For example:

"That evening ... the dokusan line was called. When my turn came, I entered the dokusan room, prostrated myself to the altar, and stepped in front of the cushion where I'd been told Soen Roshi would be sitting -- but the cushion was empty. I had no idea what was going on. I thought for a moment that I had walked into the wrong room. Still holding my hands palms together in gassho in front of my face, I peered around the darkened room. 'Roshi? Roshi?' I called out in a soft voice. Only then did I notice the master, sitting silently in a dark corner, watching me.

I walked over, bowed, and kneeled before him. He pierced me with his gaze, drinking me in.

'Please teach me,' I said to him.

'Namu dai bosa,' he said in a deep resonant voice. 'Do you understand?' ...

Soen repeated, 'Namu dai bosa. Now you say it.'

In a squeaky little voice I repeated, 'Namu dai bosa.'

'From the hara!' he commanded and poked me below the navel with a long stick that he had in his hand ... 'From here!' I repeated it, this time with a little more strength and resonance. 'Again!' he growled. 'Again!' Finally he relented, 'Ah, good enough,' ... 'Namu dai bosa,' he continued. 'Every day, all day. Namu dai bosa in evening, Namu dai bosa in morning, Namu dai bosa waking up, Namu dai bosa going to sleep. Whole body and mind Namu dai bosa.' As he spoke he reached down and rang his bell, ending the encounter."

Zen is more than just eccentric teachers, and Loori gets to the serious application to creative process soon enough:

"If working samadhi is present in your life, in your being, then it will be present in your art. Art always reflects the artist. If you're agitated, your art will be agitated. If your art is grounded in the still point, the self will be out of the way and your art will reflect its subject directly."

These are just a few bare tidbits from a pretty substantial book I'm still absorbing. Don't take my word for it. If this sort of thing resonates with you, then by all means give it a look!

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