2010 | 23″ x 27″ | mixed media on sewn book pages
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In this age of narcissism, with the prevalence of cheap cameras and social networking sites, everyone’s now a rockstar of sorts. Does this put us in danger of confusing our true selves even more with our ego instead of moving towards knowing our soul? Is there a way we can somehow use even these challenging conditions to reclaim our true nature?
The images our of “selves” that we capture for display, if we can get past the ego’s game, may serve as tools to implement a useful mythology for our very own current lives, and this, for me, is where the fascination with archetypes comes in.
Those who know our subject know that he makes this face for every single picture he’s in. Which makes it into a performance piece of sorts, begging the question Why? For me, the frowny face does a couple things: it exhibits this grumpiness with the current narcissistic obsession with image, thus attempting to subvert it. Knowing that our subject is a Zen scholar, it can even serve as a koan (or spiritual riddle) of sorts, attempting to assist the viewer into understanding via it’s seeming paradox. This type of direct transmission over scriptural study Zen holds quite essential.
The canvas for this piece had to be pages from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. Seemingly obscured by the flowing energetics, each koan actually remains still readable upon effort; a metaphor for the process of deeply studying scripture and our inner selves. The noise must be quieted, the focus singular, and then this process can often reveal our unity with everything, even what would distract us.
Therefore, this piece represents to me the knowledge vs. wisdom experience. I imagine the young prince Buddha, educated but isolated, finally leaving the castle to chase enlightenment first hand. As Yogi Bhajan put it, “Knowledge becomes wisdom when it becomes your personal experience.” We need academics to increase our mental acuity and skillful means, so the elixir can represent this book learning, but it is the actual drinking from the cup that results in the deepest understanding. This kind of understanding is not only known with our minds, but felt with our bodies, and experienced on the soul level.
The ancient story of the tantric mahasiddha Santipa tells of a renowned teacher of Buddhist doctrine. When he was over a hundred years old, one of his own pupils came to him: “‘Following your instructions brought me madamudra-siddhi and the existential mode of pure awareness and emptiness – the dharmakaya.’ Whereupon great awareness dawned on Santipa. He realized that during all those years of teaching he had neglected true spiritual discipline… Santipa spent another twelve years in meditation, and then, at long last he attained mahamudra-siddhi. With the attainment of true bliss, he realized that all his book learning and all the honors and gifts heaped upon him were hollow and trivial by compare. The years remaining to him he spent in faithful service to others. In the end, he too gained the Paradise of the Dakinis.”*
“All the world’s genius makes books black with words, but simple knowing keeps whole skies filled with light.” ~Rumi.
*Buddhist Masters of Enchantment: The Lives and Legends of the Mahasiddhas, translated by Keith Dowman
Photo cred to Rose Barling!