Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mountains and Rivers

Not long ago, I became an official student of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism. One of the emphases of this particular school of Zen is on art as a form of spiritual practice and as an expression of buddhadharma.

To that end, we were assigned an "art koan" during this past fall's ango; our task was to create art based on a passage from Eihei Dogen's "Mountains and Rivers Sutra" ("Sansuikyo"):

The passage in question was:

There are beings who see what we call water as a jeweled necklace. This does not mean, however, that they see a jeweled necklace as water. How, then, do we see what they consider water? Their jeweled necklace is what we see as water. Or, again they see water as miraculous flowers, though it does not follow that they use flowers as water. Hungry ghosts see water as raging flames or as pus and blood. Dragons and fish see it as a palace or a tower, or as the seven treasures or a mani gem. (Others) see (water) as woods and walls, or s the dharma nature of immaculate liberation, or as the true human body, or as the physical form and mental nature. Men see these as water. And these (different ways of seeing) are the conditions under which (water) is killed or given life.

We were asked to make art that portrayed one of these ways of seeing water. It was a tough assignment. What, exactly, did Dogen mean by all this? It makes sense that different types of creatures will see the same thing differently. Does Dogen mean that? A little further on in his essay, he asks: "Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object? Or is it that we have mistaken various images for one object?"
I thought and thought, and eventually painted (or drew, in some cases). I came up with some intellectual understanding to guide what I tried to do, but I won't share that here. I don't think it is important. Look at these images and all seven Sansuikyo pieces on my flickr page. What do you see? What feelings arise? Feel free to comment on the flickr site, or here.

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