Snow~Silver World pt.7 Creativity & Zen

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Photographs from the 
Silver World Part Vll  Creativity and Zen                           

click on image to enlarge

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Creativity & Zen
Text excerpts ~ Zen Paintings & Photographs
Snow : Photographs from the Silver World Part VII 

tears dissolve
            into mountain snow
                                                   Nakagawa Soen 1911

fig. 1  Taiho (1691-1774)  "Bamboo In Snow"
(click on images to enlarge)

fig. 2  Torei (1721-1792)  "Enso"
"In heaven above and the earth below, 
I alone am the honored one." 

fig. 3  Yamamoto Gempo (1866-1961)  "Baby"
"Longevity ~ Radiance & Infinite Potential"

fig. 4  Rozan Eko (1865-1944)  "Skull"
    "Once a beauty
        Now a skeleton"

fig. 5  Nakagawa Otsuyu (1675-1739) "Deer"
    "The Mountain
no deer's cry has reached
is still green"

fig. 6  Gocho (1749-1835) "One Branch of Spring"

fig. 7  Torei Enji  (1721-1792) 
 "The image presents itself--
    nothing else"

fig. 8  Nakagawa Soen (1907-1984)  "Mu" 
"Mu" is the first of 48 Zen koans collected in China by Wumen Huikai (1183-1260). 
The collection is known as "The Gateless Gate"or"The Gateless Barrier." 
The koans are  fragments taken from dialogues between real Zen 
  Masters and their students. The word "Mu" means 
"to transcend duality"  "absolute nothingness" 
the essence and foundation 
of existence. 

I love Zen brush and ink paintings like the ones I have presented above in figs. 1-8.   Though I have always associated Zen art with Japan, it's important to understand that Zen painting has its origins in China and Taoism.  The Tao of  Painting, a book written around 500 C.E., is the canon on the art of painting.  Zen borrowed from these teachings to develop particular styles of painting, calligraphy and poetry.  Thus I encourage you to see (if you haven't done so already) the text excerpts I have taken from Francois Jullien's excellent book which explores the early critical writings about Chinese Art and Taoism entitled The Great Image Has No Form - On the Nonobject Through Painting.  The philosophical concepts presented in his book is directly relevant to Zen painting as we know it practiced today in Japan.  Part 5, click here

I also want to recommend Barbara O'brien's brief explanations of Zen and its history.  The  introductory text excerpts I have selected below are from her online essay: Zen 101: An Introduction to Zen Buddhism.  After her introductory material I will provide additional text excerpts on Zen art by experienced experts, and I'll have come comments to share about the  Zen Art images above, and some photographs I have made inspired by the Zen Art I have been looking at recently. 

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Zen 101: An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
          Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged in China about 15 centuries ago.   In China it is called "Ch'an" Buddhism.  Ch'an is the Chinese rendering of the Sanskrit word dhyana, which refers to a mind absorbed in meditation.  "Zen" is the Japanese rendering of Ch'an.  In any language, the name could be translated "Meditation Buddhism." (This article assumes you know what Buddhism is.  If you aren't sure, read Introduction to Buddhism.)

A Very Brief History of Zen
          Zen began to emerge as a distinctive school of Mahayana Buddhism when the Indian sage Bodhidharma (ca. 470-543) taught at the Shaolin Monastery of China.   Bodhidharma's teachings tapped into some developments already in progress, such as the confluence of philosophical Taoism with Buddhism.  Taoism so profoundly impacted early Zen that some philosophers and texts are claimed by both religions.
          The early Mahayana philosophies of Madhyamika (ca. 2nd century CE) and Yogacara (ca. 3rd century CE) also played huge roles in the development of Zen.  Under the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (638-713),  Zen shed most of its vestigial Indian trappings, becoming more Chinese and more, well, Zennish.
          Some consider Huineng, not Bodhidharma, to be the true father of Zen.  His personality and influence are felt in Zen to this day.  Huineng's tenure was at the beginning of what is still called the Golden Age of Zen.  This Golden Age flourished during the same period as China's Tang Dynasty, 618-907.  The masters of this Golden Age still speak to us through koans and stories.  During these years Zen organized itself into five "houses," or five schools.  Two of these, called in Japanese the Rinzai and the Soto schools, still exist and remain distinctive from each other.  Zen was transmitted to Vietnam very early, possibly as early as the 7th century.   A series of teachers transmitted Zen to Korea during the Golden Age.
          Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), was not the first Zen teacher in Japan, but he was the first to establish a lineage that lives to this day.  The West took an interest in Zen after World War II, and now Zen is establishing itself in North America, Europe, and elsewhere.

How Zen Defines Itself
          Zen is sometimes called "the face-to-face transmission of the dharma outside the sutras."  Throughout the history of Zen, teachers have transmitted their realization of dharma to students by working with them face-to-face. This makes the lineage of teachers critical.  A genuine Zen teacher can trace his or her lineage of teachers back to Bodhidharma, and before that to the historical Buddha, and to those Buddhas before the historical Buddha. . . .  if anything is treated as sacred in Zen, it's the teachers' lineages.  

Zazen - Meditation
          The meditation practice of Zen, called "zazen" in Japanese, is the heart of Zen.

When Zen Makes No Sense
          It isn't true that Zen makes no sense.  Rather, "making sense" of it requires understanding language differently from the way we normally understand it.  Zen literature is full of vexatious exchanges such as Moshan's "Its Peak Cannot Be Seen" that defy literal interpretation.  However, these are not random, Dadaist utterings.  Something specific is intended.  How do you understand it?  Bodhidharma said that Zen is "direct pointing to the mind."  Understanding is gained through intimate experience, not through intellect or expository prose. . .
          There is no secret decoder ring that will help you decipher Zenspeak. After you've practiced a while, particularly with a teacher, you catch on.  Or not.  Let me just say that the Web is peppered with academic explanations of koans that are painfully and horribly wrong, because the "scholar" analyzed the koan as if it were discursive prose. 
          So, how do you understand it?  If you want to understand Zen, go face the dragon in the cave for yourself.    (for more writings by Barbara O'brien  click here)

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Zen Art

The art produced by Zen masters is quite remarkable for its sense of directness and spontaneity, its humor, and it's ability to communicate Zen teachings, meanings and states of mind nonverbally.  In general the brush and ink paintings and calligraphy like those I have presented above is known in Japan as Zenga.  

In most Zen art works the painting and the calligraphy become quite inseparably integrated into each other visually.  In particular I am thinking of what in Japan is known as Haiga, which combines a painted image with a calligraphic inscription, consisting usually of a traditional Zen teaching or haiku poem.  In the best works, the meaning of the inscription, the text's calligraphic-visual rendering, and the painted image all interact with each other as a total visual, coherent whole.  The meaning of the work is quite layered because of image-text interaction: indeed the meanings of image and text transcend the limits of both pictures, words and most importantly . . .  mind.

The word Zen comes from an Indian word meaning "meditation."  The paintings created by a Zen Master is a manifestation of years of meditation practice, and in fact are made while in a meditative state of being.  The act of painting becomes for many Zen Masters an actual part of their spiritual meditation practice.  When the Zen Master paints, his mind must become concentrated and quieted before the painting can happen.  The act of painting then becomes a "nonact," which will be explained later, below, in the text excerpts.  The completed painting becomes a means of direct (nonverbal) communication of the Zen state of mind.  Thus students of Zen contemplate-meditate on these paintings as a form of Zen teaching.  An energy (breath-resonance, "heart-spirit", "qi" or "yi" in Chinese) flows through the artist and through the painting which then the Zen student--and any other viewer--can intuitively imbibe and integrate into their own being.  


Text Excerpts

Stephen Addiss has written:  It is a remarkable fact that the most important monks of the past four centuries took up the brush, usually in their final years, to express their inner vision through painting and calligraphy.  Japanese have considered these "ink traces" of the masters to be nothing less than visual records of their individual personalities.  We can sense the living presence of Takuan, Fugai, Ingen, Hakuin, Torei, Ryokan, Sengai, and Nantembo in their scrolls.  The flexibility of the oriental brush brings us a visulatiztion of the Zen experience in its original flavor and resonance.  from his book "The Art of Zen"


John Daido Loori has written: By the Song dynasty in China (960-1279 C.E.) the Zen arts reached a high stage of development with a novel phenomenon: the emergence of painter-priests and poet-priests who produced art that broke with all standards of forms of religious and secular art.  This art was not representational or iconographic. . .  Its only purpose was to point to the nature of [ultimate] reality.  It suggested a new way of seeing and a new way of being that cut to the core of what it meant to be human and fully alive.  To this day, Zen art touches artists and audiences deeply.  It expresses the ineffable as it helps to transform the way we see ourselves in the world. . .  

Loori continues: Zen art speaks to human consciousness in a way . . .  that is direct and immediate . . .   It enlarges the universe, touches the heart, and illuminates the spirit.  Because of their emphasis on spiritual insight derived from personal experience . . . [the Zen arts] point to a way of living that is simple, spontaneous, and vital. . . .  Most important, they are simply a process of discovery and transformation.   If we can appreciate that process and are willing to engage it, we will find before us a way to return to our inherent perfection, the intrinsic wisdom of our lives.  from his book "The Zen Art Book" which includes an essay by Stephen Addiss

The Circle
Audrey Yoshiko Seo writes:  Zen circles, enso, are symbols of teaching, reality, enlightenment, and a myriad of things in between. . .  In the hands of Zen masters, the varieties of persona expression [through enso paintings] are endless.  Enso evoke power, dynamism, charm, humor, drama, and stillness.  How and why is such a simple shape used to convey the vast meanings and complexities of Zen?  

As Helmut Brinker explains, "The Circle is the symbol of the shapeless, colourless, essence of all beings, the 'original countenance before birth,' of which is said in the Gateless Barrier, 'even when one paints, it is not painted.'   The circle as a geometric figure without beginning or end includes the elimination of all opposites into absolute unity, i.e., the 'true void.'  It points to the deep insight into one's own  essential nature' and symbolizes the fundamental character . . . significantly alluded to in Zen painting by the empty ground." 

The circular motif in Zen is associated with the void, or an elimination of dualistic logic . . .  The empty circle is . . . associated  with the fully enlightened mind.  

"Outside--empty, inside--empty, inside and outside--empty."   (Note: this quote by Helmut Brinker is from his book Zen: Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings")

Very often enso depict the moon, symbolizing enlightenment, but can also represent the moon's reflection in water, symbolizing the futility of searching for enlightenment outside oneself.  Less philosophically, enso can simply represent everyday objects such as a dumpling, rice cake, or basket.   from Audrey Yoshiko Seo's book "Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment" 


Quietude,  Nonaction, Nothingness  
Creativity and Taoism  1965 / 2011 by Chung-Yan Chang
Lao Tzu says "The student of knowledge learns day by day.  The student of Tao loses day by day."  Through losing one begins to approach the realm of quietude and enter the realm of nonbeing.  And through quietude one strives to return to the deep root of his being and become aware thereby of the deep root of all things.  

Buddhist master Tao-an says: "By nonaction we come into accord with things. . .   Seeing into the nature of things . . . we eliminate the other and we eliminate the self.  This is integration into the One."    

As soon as man is born [the unique force of nonbeing] separates into two: ming, the substance of life and death, and hsing, the root of spiritual consciousness. . .  The central principle of Taoist meditative practice is to unify these two elements toward the attainment of oneness, which is the return to nothingness, nonbeing. . .  Through concentration on nothingness one awakens his cosmic consciousness to spiritual revelation.  Thus by cultivating both substance and spirit in meditation one dissolves one's self in the macrocosmic force and becomes part of it. 

Lao Tzu says: "Tao never acts, yet through it nothing is undone . . . All things create themselves" (Ch. XXXVII)     


"When I begin to paint, I do not know that I am painting; 
I entirely forget that it is myself who holds the brush."  
Wu chen (14th century painter)


Brush & Ink, Form & Color Nothing  
Francois Jullien   The Great Image Has No Form : On the Nonobject Through Painting   2003 / 2009
The painter's spirit . . . with nothing hindering him, thanks to his "limpidity," he constitutes himself as a fount of immanence: "I make the ink move as if it were done and I manipulate the brush as if without acting."  

"Though my eye does  not see the silk and my hand is unaware of ink and brush" in complete abandon and freedom, in internal detachment and obscurity, "there is nothing that is not my painting" says Guo Xi. 

"Where there is no ink or brush mark" it is "full."  Hence, "where it is empty it is full" and, as a result, throughout the entire body of the painting, "everything is permeated with a spiritual atmosphere."  Painting exploits the resources of figuration or of drawing in order to transcend the limits of the visible and allow the invisible in. . . .  In a manner much more effective than any discourse, painting makes us "touch" the invisible.

The driving impulse, which proceeds from the vital breath, is what allows the painter to manipulate the brush effortlessly; it is what makes the brush move without struggling . . ." (Fang Xun)  

In Chinese treaties on the art of painting, it is the brush, not the form, that is paired with ink.  The brush "silently harmonizes" with "creation-transformtion" and has the same "driving principle" as the tao. . . . The brush is truly the conduit transmitting the vital rhythm from its center--the painter's "heart"--out beyond his arm, to meet the reactive materialities of ink and paper.  Because the brush is a conduit of breath-energy, the painting deploys in a linked chain of receptivity.  The line "receives" the ink, which "receives" the brush, which "receives" the wrist, which receives" the heart-spirit--"just as Heaven initiates and Earth carries through." (Shiato)  

"You must be able to "forget the ink and brush" says Jing Hao, for a true composition to be realized.  You must unite the two; or rather, one is the consequence of the other.  The more "reverent attention" you devote to making your spirit present, since the spirit operates more through concentration-purification (refinement) than through abstraction-intellection (notions), the more relaxed--at ease--you feel when finally, suddenly, you let the brush fall onto the paper (Tang Dai). 

Hence the painter will master his art when the gestures involved, no longer forced or even guided, recur completely on their own, solely through the play of opposition-complementarity, from one end of the drawing to the other.  Hence . . . pictorial activity in China is situated between heart (spirit) and hand, moving from inside to outside and linked by wrist . . . 

The mere manipulation of the brush is an exploratory experiment into the unknown origin of things.  That is because, when I manage to set in motion the opposition-complementarity of ink and brush, I see forms being born on their own and thus test--and find proof of--the polarity from which the world generally (and continuously) comes.  In feeling how easy drawing becomes once I know how to let the correlation of ink and brush do its  work, I verify the logic of that path of immanence.  In observing how I produce something spiritual if the line I draw simply manages to empty out and extend through alternation, I demonstrate that the spirit is not of a different nature from things but is rather the tension running through things that unlock them, makes them alert, and introduces variations in them. . . .

What is called "breath energy" is, in the case of painting, the energy of the brush, ink, and colors all at once . . .  The painter will have to take care not to get bogged down in "materiality" or in "form," but to keep everything "in flight," "in movement," permeated from within and in communication (Jung Hao).  [However] the painter cannot "transmit the spirit dimension" without "resorting to form," individuated, singular, and tangible as it is.  The painter works between the two poles of concrete form and spirit dimension, as between the poles of yin and yang.  

The Chinese painter is in quest of . . .  [thatsomething of life [which] express itself between the bamboo leaves . . .

The first principle of painting, touching on the resonance of breath-energy . . . is the principle of the "living and moving," . . . of a vitality that deploys and renews itself without ever being exhausted.  The manipulation of the brush, Shitao often says, is charged with bringing to life.  In short, the effect of spiritual resemblance (resonance), which transcends formal resemblance, is itself "life."

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fig. 9  Yamamoto Gempo (1866-1961)  "Baby"
"Longevity ~ Radiance & Infinite Potential"

fig. 10  Symmetrical Photograph  (March 2015)  "Baby"

fig. 11  Dried plant detail in front of screened window, snow scene in
 background.  This image was the source photograph for
 the symmetrical image above entitled "Baby."
(click on images to enlarge)

Speaking of "life," I wanted to explore the image"Baby" by the painter Gempo (fig. 9 above). Stephen Addiss writes about how the painting contains both Chinese and Japanese forms of calligraphy:  Yamamoto Gempo merely wrote the Chinese characters for "longevity" and "radiance" over his painting of a baby, the former in cursive and the latter in standard script.  These two words balance evenly above the baby's shoulders in the symmetrical positions that are typical of calligraphy in Chinese.  Japanese art features much more use of asymmetry.  

Addiss continues:  Rejoicing at the birth of a child to one of his parishioner families, he created this charming image, wishing the child "longevity and radiance" in his two word inscription.  The rounded form and simplified face of the baby make universal the sense of the joy that new life brings.

John Daido Loori adds this about the painting:  "Longevity and radiance."  I would add "infinite potential."  A monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a newborn baby also have the sixth consciousness of mind?" (Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.)  Zhaozhou answered, "It's like tossing a ball on swift flowing water."  The monk also asked Master Touzi, a contemporary of Zhaozhou, "what is the meaning of tossing a ball on swift flowing water?"  Touzi said, "Moment to moment, nonstop flow."  Each and every moment alive and present, and containing the whole universe."   from the book "The Zen Art Book" by Addiss and   Loori


A few years ago my son married a Chinese woman, then last year they bought a house together, and just a few weeks ago, while I was working on this Silver World project, they gave birth to their beautiful baby daughter.  I took the picture of the dried plant (fig. 11) in their house shortly after the baby was born.  It was part of an exercise for me in spontaneity, without thinking, making images of snow (in this case the snow is in the background, beyond the window screen) inspired by my Zen Art studies.  I then later proceeded to use this image, to transform it, into the symmetrical image you see in fig. 10.  I think the symmetrical image resembles the "Baby" painting by Gempo and so I have titled the image "Baby."

I was quite amazed by another resemblance I discovered: the symmetrical image "Baby" and Gempo's "Baby" both look very much like our baby granddaughter!  It seems not everyone agrees with me though.  I asked my son, my wife, and my daughter if they saw the resemblance.  They couldn't really say they could see it.  Nonetheless I see the resemblance and celebrate the birth of my granddaughter with this symmetrical image from the Silver World project.  May this image I have entitled "Baby" carry these blessings to her: "Longevity and Radiance & Infinite Potential" !!!  

fig. 12  Symmetrical Photograph  (March 2015)  "Baby"


More Commentaries
Paintings and Photographs 

fig. 13  Taiho (1691-1774)  "Bamboo In Snow"
(click on images to enlarge)

"Life" is what cannot be deduced or even conceived.  Literature cannot grasp it . . . Nor can music . . . The meaning of life is what passes/comes to pass through that individuated diversity, which spreads and, by continuously making that diversity react and find harmony from within--by trans-forming it--keeps it alive. . .  The Chinese painter is in quest of . . .  [thatsomething of life [which] express itself between the bamboo leaves . . . distilling the moment that promotes it and starting to become once more, through that refound fluidity, available and unspecified.  Francois Jullien The Great Image Has No Form : On the Nonobject Through Painting   2003 / 2009

fig. 14  "Lampshade Shadows"  March 2015 

This photograph of the lampshade and its shadows was taken on the same day as the fig. 11 photograph of the dried plant.  The repeating and fading shadow images reminded me of the following passage from Jullien's book The Great Image Has No Form which I was reading at the time I made the photograph:   

Anyone learning to paint bamboo will take a stalk of bamboo and, on a moonlit night, contemplate the shadow of the plant reflected agains the wall, so that "the true form of the bamboo will appear."   The Chinese painter considers the shadow of bamboo as it appears projected agains the wall, its tangles distilled, casting its configuration like a working drawing.  He considers the landscape both from afar and from close up, to grasp both the "depth" and the "surface," the "tension" and the "substance."  He does so because . . . he is in quest of what makes the landscape a world in its totality.  Through the particular figuration, he seeks to reconnect with the development of breath-energy, deploying the figuration through and through and leading in general to that "so."  He does not paint the thing as it appears in its singular form before his eyes, from a given point of view as it constitutes itself as an object of perception.  Rather, he explores it in depth and experiences it, in order to extract from it, on the basis of its polarities and in all its dimensions, the con-tenance (both "capacity" and "countenance") that makes for its vitality.  In addition, he is interested in rendering the atmospheric conditions of the landscape . . . because he is attentive to the variable dimension and, as a result, to the resource possibilities that all these diverse cases offer.   Francois Jullien The Great Image Has No Form : On the Nonobject Through Painting   2003 / 2009

fig. 15  Nakagawa Otsuyu (1675-1739) "Deer"
    "The Mountain
no deer's cry has reached
is still green"

This haiga above, entitled "Deer" by Nakagawa Otsuyu was published in Stephen Addiss' book The Art of Haiku--The History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters.  He explains the haiku inscription as follows:  It relates back to a tanka (a poem form related to but longer than haiku) by the courtier Onakatomi no Yoshinobu (921-91) which depends on the belief that autumn's arrival can be known by the lonely cries of the deer. . .  Otsuyu's inscription implies that the cries of deer are not just a response to the experience of autumn colors but actually its cause . . .

Otsuyu has painted a deer and a simplified shape that can be read as a mountain, but the manner in which he depicts them is significant.  First, the major forms are created with the same kind of broad, wet, and tonally varied brushwork.  Second, they seem to merge into each other; the body of the deer could easily be understood as part of the mountain but for the darker brush-strokes that define its antlers and legs.  Third, these lines relate both to the somewhat more gossamer calligraphy on their left and to the strongly inked signature in the lower left.  Thus the mountains become the deer, the deer becomes the poem, and the deer as well as the poem becomes Otsuyu. . .  By this intense interaction of verbal and visual imagery, Otsuyu brings us a moment in which we may sense a unity of poetry and art, which provides the delight of a fine haiga.  Stephen Addiss, The Art of Haiku

I love the merging of the deer and mountain forms, the the echoing formal movement of the image from the "mountains" down into the deer.   It seems to me, my image of the lamp shade and shadow above (fig. 14) with its repeating and progressively lighter toned shadow forms formally echos the "Deer" painting.  

fig. 16  Torei Enji  (1721-1792)
"The image presents itself--
 nothing else"

Audry Yoshiko Seo comments on this enso painting with the single dot painted in the center of the circle:  The meaning of this dot is unknown; does it transform the enso into something else?  Perhaps it is beyond explanation and intellectualizing, as the inscription states, "The image presents itself--nothing else."  

She then presents the following text excerpt from the diary of an American student of Zen, "Mr. P.K.":

At my first private interview with Harada-roshi (a Zen Master) he drew a circle with a dot in the center.  "This dot is you and the circle is the cosmos.  Actually, you embrace the whole cosmos, but because you see yourself as this dot, an isolated fragment, you don't experience the universe as inseparable from yourself. . . .  You must break out of your self-imprisonment, you must forget philosophy and everything else, you must put your mind in your stomach and breath only "Mu" in and out. . . .   Audry Yoshiko Seo  "Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment"  

I am fascinated by what the Zen Master says idea about the dot (or point) in the center of the enso (Zen circle) painting he made for his student.  There is a point at the center of just about all of my symmetrical photographs made for this Silver World project.  It is usually  in a visible form, as in the image below, but in some images it may be invisible.  In either case it is there.  The point can mean different things to different people, of course, but I particularly like what the Zen Master says to his student: you embrace the whole cosmos.  This feels true, to me, and it is in accord to the teachings I have received from my yoga-meditation Masters, and I have myself experienced glimpses of the cosmos within during my practice of yoga meditation.  Indeed this teaching and my experience is at the very heart of my photographic practice.  I consider my creative process of photographic picture-making as a form of meditation in action. 

fig. 17  Snow : Photographs from the Silver World: Part III  Image #4

In 2011 I began a large project  "An Imaginary Book" exploring the sacred art of Islam, which for the most part is non-figurative, geometrical abstract forms and repeating leafy arabesques.  At the heart of this wonderful art form is the mystery of the Origin of the Point.  From the Point comes the line, from the line the circle (with the Point of Origin at its center), and from the circle comes the crystallization of all geometrical forms and their repeating, rhythmical patterns.  The Point of Origin is at the very center not only of the circle but all Islamic Sacred Visual Art.  The Origin of the point is sometimes referred to as the VoidNothingEmptiness, the place of Divine Presence.  The art of Zen shares this same desire to return to the Origin, Void, the Presence of Emptiness (though it does not speak of the divine).

Keith Critichlow writes about the point in Islamic art as follows:  Islam’s concentration on geometric patterns [which are based upon mathematical laws of repetition] draws attention away from the representational world to one of pure forms, poised tensions and dynamic equilibrium, giving structural insight into the workings of the inner self and their reflection in the universe.  

The circle is the archetypal governing basis for all the geometric shapes that unfold within it . . . reflecting the unity of its original source, the point, the simple, self-evident origin of geometry and a subject grounded in mystery.  

The circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end,  just being. . .  In the effort to trace origins in creation, the direction is not backwards but inwards.   Keith Critchlow, from his book Islamic Patterns  


fig. 18  Yamamoto Gempo (1866-1961)  "Baby"

fig. 19  Detail of the above "Baby"

fig. 20  Jiun  (1718-1804)  

fig. 21  Torei Enji  (1721-1792)

I wanted to go back and look again at Gempo's painting entitled "Baby" (fig. 18) in relationship to two other paintings:  Jiun's painting, entitled "Daruma" (fig. 20)  and Torei Enji's enso painting with the point in the circle's center (fig. 21).   I have also provided a detailed look at the shape near the center of the "Baby" image (fig. 19) which you can click on to enlarge for an even closer look.

It seems to me that the shape at the center of the "Baby" image resembles a figure meditating.  I have seen many figurative images like this as I have been studying my Zen Art books.  An example of this kind of image can be seen in (fig. 20) by Jiun, entitled "Daruma."  Daruma was an Indian Buddhist monk known as Bodhidharma who lived during the 5th or 6the century CE, and is credited as the transmitter of Ch'an (Zen) to China and as the first Chinese patriarch.  Daruma is often represented as a simple human form, centered, collected, quiet, in meditation in front of a wall.  

Stephen Addiss writes this about Jiun's image:  Daruma sits in a curiously angled position rather than the symmetrically balanced pose in which he is usually depicted.  Perhaps Jiun was portraying the intense inner energy of the patriarch responding to the profound koan created in powerful calligraphy above him.  The two characters represent the final words Daruma had uttered to Emperor Wu:  when asked who he was, the monk replied that he did "not know."  The meaning of this statement has long been pondered.  Since Daruma's next nine years were spent in meditation, the reply to the emperor certainly refers to the entire question of the self and enlightenment.  from Addiss' book "The Art of Zen"

The Self is often represented as a circle (enso) in Zen paintings.  I had been contemplating the idea that Gempo's painting entitled "Baby" was an enso, and that the "figure" at the "center" of the round baby's form resembled the Daruma figure I had seen so often in Zen paintings, such as the one I have presented above by Jiun.   Also, the "Daruma figure" in "Baby" is located near the center of the baby's round form; and this reminded me of Torei Enji's enso painting (fig. 21) with the dot or point in the center.   

We know that centered in the heart of all Zen painting is the practice of mediation, the "one pointed" concentrated focus of qoing deeply inward to that silent, full space within ourselves which in fact is simultaneously the heart of our being and the center of the entire cosmos.  We each share the "infinite potential" and the eternal inner radiance that Lorri spoke of earlier in regards to the image of the "Baby" painting.  The act of Zen painting, a form of "meditation in action" is a practice that brings the painter--the seeker- back to his or her core center, the Heart of one's Self, wherein lies the spiritual self-luminous light of Self-knowledge or Wisdom that cannot be spoken of or seen.  Experience is the Great Teacher but only if we have done the necessary preparatory work.  


fig. 22    Floating Ice on "Hidden Pond"      Mid-April,  2015

fig. 23    River Splashing in a Meadow Puddle    Mid-April,  2015

fig. 24    "Hidden Pond"  ~  Snow Hidden  ~  Ice Hidden ~  Spring is Here!     Mid-April,  2015

It's now mid-April.  I sent in my taxes today, the temperatures are rising into the low seventies, it's windy and thunderstorms are promised for this evening.  Our daughter and grandson, River, visited us in the second week of April.  They have returned home after a few days visit and I am looking at the pictures I took while they were here with us.  

We went on several walks together in the meadow and we always visited the "hidden pond" on the back edge of the meadow, snuggled into the woods.  The Spring rains, which began during their visit, melted all the snow in the meadow.  On our next-to-the-last walk to the hidden pond there was only a small round form of floating ice left on the pond.  Interestingly, the shape of the ice echoed the shape of the pond.  

The next day, when we visited the pond one last time, the ice was gone!  Everything seemed brighter, the woods were more luminously silver, and the trees seemed to be dancing in celebration of the warmer temperatures, the melted snow and ice, and the presence of Spring!

Indeed, winter seemed to have officially transitioned into Spring as River splashed in the puddles on the meadow path during his visit with us.  I was struck by the picture I took of him (fig. 23);  his body language awakened in me a feeling of familiarity.  After contemplating the image for a while I realized that River's tilted head--he is looking down at the puddle-- resembled the tilting head of the Daruma figure that I had discovered in the center of Gempo's "Baby" painting.  

This additional contemplation of the"Baby" painting yielded yet another perception:  I discovered a second smiling face within the image.  The first face is of course in the top "head" section of the image; but further below, there is a larger, echoing "smile" which consists of two symmetrical spots that could be read as "eyes," and below the "eyes" there is the "Daruma figure" which could be read as a nose.  Finally, just below the "nose" there is the large curving line which sweeps up like a large "smiling mouth."

That's not all.  After I noticed the second smile in the "Baby" painting I discovered a smiling face in the"River Splashing" photograph, a smile very similar to the smiles in the "Baby" painting.   Two dark "eyes" and a "smiling mouth" can be seen in the top of the lighter colored tones in the puddle.  They seem to belong to a cute little animal figure, perhaps a puppy, which is looking happily out at me . . . as if he wanted me to know the shared joy that both he and River were experiencing together, splashing in the puddle!

Do you see it?   (:  

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