Most contemplative traditions recognize that dedicated art practice also expands our capacity for taking care, for paying attention, and for looking more deeply. Image- and text-based art forms, as well as song and dance, appear throughout the history of religions and mystic traditions.
On June 9 the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies will host a symposium on Practicing Art/Practicing Dharma. I’ll be attending that and am happy that this connection between art and meditation is now being more widely explored in Western Buddhism.
In the West, we often associate art and its ability to awaken a deeper sensibility to the mysteries and beauty of being alive with individual artists. However, most work in the sacred traditions, including Buddhism, were painted or composed, written or crafted by unknown artists. The exquisite cave paintings of Pitalkora and Ajanta in India, left no records of individual artists—likewise, the temple-builders and artists of Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and Bagan, Myanmar, as well as the creators of the mosaics of Ravenna, the Book of Kells, and the Moorish art and architecture of Alhambra, Spain. All these works, and numerous others, transmit a sense of largeness, mystery, complexity, and completeness.
We can sense in these and in the works of individual historical artists— Aeschylus, Dante, Caravaggio, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Dickinson, Whitman, Tolstoy, Ansel Adams, and Akhmatova to name a few—the shared attributes of creative activity and meditation or contemplation. These qualities include attentiveness, intuition, imagination, and a felt sense of timelessness and spaciousness. These are wellsprings of vitality, generosity, and compassion. When we engage in art-making and meditation, we are drawing deeply to refresh ourselves, to notice more of the world, and to act with kindness.
Each time we open
there is the sea.
Enjoy diving into the well,