Monday, March 19, 2007

Today's Quote: On Art and Zen

An entry from Mircea Eliade's Journal III 1970-1978:

In his book Zen in Japanese Art, Hasumi writes that in Japan art is the royal path that leads to the Absolute. However, numerous scholars, and even some Japanese, do not consider the tea ceremony to be, strictly speaking, an "art," and rather see in it an "aesthetic diversion." Such an attitude seems groundless to me. Do, which comes from the Chinese tao, means "path." The tea ceremony--like all other "paths" (do): painting, poetry, floral art, calligraphy, archery, etc.--also constitutes a spiritual technique, for it places he who practices it in a "nirvanic" state in his everyday life. It is fascinating to follow the process by which artistic pastimes are gradually transformed into spiritual techniques. According to pre-Buddhist Japanese tradition, thus prior to 550 A.D., Nature is fundamentally "good and beautiful." In other words, Nature also participates in sacrality. In Shintoism, no rupture exists between the Cosmos, Man, and the Divine, which is manifest by millions of kami. Then, under the influence of the Buddhism that came from China, and in particular of the fundamental idea of the Mahayana, one came to consider all of reality as inscribed in the "Body of the Law", the Dharmakaya. This means that men are themselves expected to become Buddhas, or more exactly, they must become conscious that they are indeed Buddhas.

Kukay (774-835), the founder of the Tendai school, asserts that all that is "beautiful" shares the essence of Buddha. In this way, therefore, art and religion constitute a unique and same reality. Thanks to Kukay, the traditional Japanese conception of the "sacrality" of Nature takes on a new dimension, and gradually the idea was formed that the entire phenomenal world participates in absolute reality, and thus in the essence of Buddha. It is thus that Nature, from being simply "sacred" as it was previously considered to be, now becomes "soterial." In fact, whereas Buddhist art of southern Asia and China concentrates on the representation of Buddha, Japanese artists, influenced by Shintoist tradition, continue to represent images of Nature almost exclusively.

Under the circumstances, this is another interpretation of Buddhism. Nirvanic "illumination" is declared to be superior to Buddhist doctrine, superior to the Buddha himself. Suddenly "illumination" is demythologized and ceases to project the one who experiences it onto a superior level of reality. It involves something else, apparently much simpler: The understanding of the world and of human existence is radically modified following the intuitive experience of the true essence of Buddha. Illumination is obtained spontaneously, without particular effort: "Spiritual culture cannot be cultivated." Artistic activities, such as dance or the tea ceremony, are spontaneous creations of that "nirvanic reality." Life, in its best-known and most commonplace aspects, can thus become an Art.

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