Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dharma Series - Regardless of the external

One thing I really appreciate about Buddhist teachings is the many different ways I come across the same message. Buddhism in itself is just one package for a sort of wisdom I encounter regularly. I find people embracing secular humanism, Socratic teachings or Taoism and the messages are extremely similar. 

No formal belief system is required at all, which is the beautiful thing about the human species. We are lovely individuals and for every individual there is a unique path to enlightenment. 

In the case of this piece I included a lotus flower because it is a classic representation of this seed of enlightenment all sentient beings possess. The image it conjures is of a seed buried deep in the thick, black mud at the bottom of a pond. With the right elements in place the seed will unquestionably grow and become a full lotus blossom on the surface of the pond. 

The lotus blossom doesn't 'spring' into existence but grows over time - sometimes faster, sometimes not so fast. Wisdom is the same. Wisdom is incremental. Someone can have profoundly wise insights and still act foolishly. In fact, until enlightenment is reached, this applies to all of us. We all have these seeds of wise insight at various stages of growth. We feed them through reading, discussion, and exploration of the world around us. 

In this drawing I have shown one piece of wisdom I've come to understand very clearly, represented by a single lotus flower. Through listening to many teachings and applying a regular meditation practice in my life I have been able to shift my understanding of this teaching from intellectual to a deep knowing. Like opening my eyes to see what's really there instead of what I hoped to see. 

I have come to understand that to be genuinely happy is to have an appreciation for the richness of life and the wonder of the present moment. The idea that if sadness is present happiness can't be limits our experience and traps our mind with dualism. 

In a single moment I have experienced joy, sadness, comfort and pain and felt appreciation for the very fact that this is possible. It is possible to feel these things without needing to 'do' anything. The idea that we can only experience one emotion at a time, and in order for one to go another must replace it, causes so much suffering. When we stop 'doing' and shift into 'being' there is this incredibly vast space in which we live life fully. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scream like Beth Ditto - Kait's Mixtape

This is one of my very favourite songs. I love singing along with it, screaming along with Beth Ditto, sharing all that emotion and intensity. 

I haven't listened to it for a while but the other day it came on as I was travelling by train from Waterloo to Wimbledon. Once again, a song I've listened to countless time struck me with new meaning, and I realised I still had more of these drawings to do. 

When I'm finished a series or a piece I have a general sense of knowing that it's done. I did do after the last lyrics I published to my blog. They seemed to round out the entire process nicely and I was comfortable. 

That being said, I'm flexible and when the inspiration kicked back in as Beth sang with greater intensity, I knew I had more to do. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dharma Series - The Joy of Being Alive

For this piece I wanted to create something based on the more traditional look of Thangka paintings. Thangka paintings are classic depictions of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and mandalas rich in symbolic representations of Buddhist teachings. 

The figures in these pieces will have their hands in various placements which are called mudras. Each mudra has a symbolic meaning, such as the warrior spirit of the compassionate being or the balance of an awakened mind.

My favourite mudra is the ground touching or Bhumisparsa Mudra. The story of this mudra is that when Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment he was first challenged by the god Mara. As Gautama sat in meditation beneath the Bodhi tree, Mara threw all manner of temptation and difficulty at him.  He insulted him, summoned his daemon daughters to tempt his lust, threatened him with fire and spears and finally, at the very end he challenged his commitment.

Mara asked, "What difference does it make, all this sitting in meditation. There is no proof of your commitment or understanding. You have no followers, no witness to your pointless task."

Is is said that Gautama reached one hand down and touched the Earth, as if to declare that the Earth was his witness. The Earth was his solid support in all he did and the ground beneath him was all he needed for him to see the truth of the world around him free of attachment, lust, desire, anger, hatred, and longing. 

The words I chose speak to this presence of mind free from fixation. There is joy to be found in the very act of being alive.

When we view the world with the wonder and fascination of a child it's pretty awesome.

To watch a sun rise or see a flower bloom or see the fine shapes of a thousand snowflakes or think that we have the ability to communicate with people on the other side of the planet in a matter of second or that we can send living beings into zero gravity - it's all pretty damn impressive and wondrous.

And beyond that, even when life is at its most challenging, when we are facing a seemingly unbearable difficulty, we have the capacity, as sentient beings, to work with our minds. We can use these experiences to wake up, to see that we were never only one way to begin with and that life is never black and white but an infinite rich spectrum of emotions and experiences. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Art Nouveau animals...

I've been posting 'progress' photos of this piece to my Facebook for the past few weeks. Well, it's finally done! I'm really pleased with it and would like to play some more with the Art Nouveau style. It's one I really enjoy for it's bold lines and play with shading and colour.

I'd love requests for different animals so if you want to see me do anything in particular please post a comment below or send me a message through Facebook. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dharma Series continued!

Pencil Crayon and ink on A4 Bristol Board

The Buddhist concept of non-attachment is often misunderstood in Western culture. For example, I once told a friend I was going to buy a set of mala beads to help me with my meditation practice. Her comment was that buying something wasn't very Buddhist.

I retorted by saying non-attachment wasn't about not owning stuff. I could have a whole house full of stuff but what would be Buddhist of me would be accepting, if that house burned down, the loss of all my possessions.

Since then my understanding of this has deepened quite a bit and I can see my own explanation as quite weak because non-attachment is not rooted in the physical world.

One thing I've learned while on my path is there will be a shift from intellectual understanding of a teaching to a deep 'knowing'. Intellectually I understood that letting go would result in an overall improvement to my sense of wellbeing because obviously, if I put less importance in 'stuff', the loss of said 'stuff' wouldn't bother me so much.

This made perfect sense to me and was reflective of one of the many important lessons my mum taught me when I was growing up. She made it abundantly clear that if my brother or I were to break a glass, for example, it was far more important that we weren't hurt than that we'd been careless. As human beings we had more value than a thing.

Recently I experienced the shift from intellectually grasping this idea of letting go, to a deep 'knowing'. I came to see how attachment has nothing to do with the 'thing', but with our perception of it. To genuinely practice non-attachment we must learn how to view the world without expectation. 

It's not about letting go of things but letting go of perceptions and ideas about how the world should or shouldn't be. Effectively, non-attachment is accepting the world as dynamic, fluid, ever changing. 

My intention was to capture this realisation in this piece of work. Whether I accomplished that or not is unknowable, but I enjoyed making it and ultimately, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Art of Happiness

I'm up to twelve books read so far in 2014 - lagging behind my dad by quite a few unfortunately. He's had a few flights for work to his advantage. 

Still! I press on. 

Today's review is:

Not actually written by the Dalai Lama, this book is a compilation of conversations Howard Cutler had with the spiritual leader. I've wanted to read it for a long time as Pema Chodron often refers to tidbits from it in her talks. 

I think what I appreciate most about this is how the Dalai Lama shares his insights so openly, with a total lack of spiritual materialism. To give that some context, in case the phrase doesn't automatically make sense to you, 'spiritual materialism' is that air of knowing that someone can put on which just comes across as dogmatic arrogance. It's not really dogmatic in a Buddhist context since Buddhism is non-theistic, but the idea is that spiritual materialism breeds fundamentalism. 

The Dalai Lama is in no way a fundamentalist and genuinely seeks to encourage a path of enlightenment for all beings regardless of their belief system. As he says in the book, "Whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of life is towards happiness." 

The idea is that happiness is not a thing but the very way in which we view our world. His way of communicating these ideas is poignant and beautiful, and he encourages use to test everything he says against our own reason. Blind faith has no value and the Dalai Lama recognizes that in today's age those who follow a religion faithfully are far fewer than it used to be. He embraces this fact and even rejoices in the shift from faith as religious belief to faith as general human practice, without the need to believe in something mythical. 

Loved it and can't recommend it enough! Whether you want a better understanding of Buddhism, you would like to understand people better or you just want some good common sense to read, this is a lovely book. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buddhist Art

Just before moving to London and in my first six months of living here I completed two different paintings exploring Buddhist teachings.

'Without Limits' featured a blue Buddha and my own text exploring the theme of unlimited potential or the 'seed of Buddhahood' that resides in all beings. 'Worthy of Love' employed a laughing, green Buddha accompanied by text about the importance of having love and compassion for oneself.

I've had many ideas for a whole series of these paintings bouncing around in my head but inspiration has been abruptly lost and I now have a small selection of unfinished canvases not dis-similar to this:

Somewhere along the way my spark went out and I found myself just unable to keep painting as the canvas grew messy and the image in my head simply wasn't translating onto the white surface. 

Recently I found two unfinished sketches from ago. It was a particularly sunny day so I took the sketchbook outside, along with pencil crayons, pens and pencils, and set about completing them. 

'Genuine Happiness'

'Unfixated Mind'
Upon finishing the drawings I realised there was space to incorporate words. Just as with those past pieces, the words came to me without much deliberation - my own reflection of the Dharma. 

Having finished these two I felt an overwhelming desire to keep going. I wanted to do more pieces this way, to continue with the hand drawn, hand coloured process and see just where it would take me. 

I've now been working on these for nearly a month. With each new piece I find more inspiration for the next. There is a series unfolding here and I'm finding myself once again drawn to canvas. 

It feels wonderful to have a project like this to work on! My Tarot Card series and the original two Buddha paintings were completed ages ago. I've felt like my art has stagnated somewhat and as I've been working on design I find myself in front of the glow of a screen for too long during the day. It's refreshing to have a project which requires no technology in its execution. 

We shall have to see where it takes me, but for now I can say there is no end in sight.