My latest sumi landscape is a combination of my recent sumi paintings with the “Kali Night” series. This was done on a handmade Indian watercolor paper. It has a softer look than previous paintings from either series; a kind of “after the storm” feel. I try to evoke human emotions with these paintings, but I leave it to you to infer what emotion you connect with. People would see Rothko’s brightly colored paintings and interpret them as being happy, and he hated that. He would refuse to sell a painting to someone who misunderstood his painting. I think of it as more of a conversation. I’m not dictating to a stenographer, I’m communicating with you.
“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao” so begins the Tao te Ching; “The Book of the Way,” by Lao Tsu. Over 25 years ago I consciously began my journey on the Path. One of the first books I stumbled upon was Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao. I keep a copy with me and drag it out every once in while. Sometimes I get in a mood where I take my pocket copy with me everywhere, though I may never look at it when I do. The message is pretty simple: Don’t try to control the universe. Be in the moment, let life guide you, and become a master by not trying. Of course there’s more to it than this. I refer you to the first sentence in this post. I’m sure the Old Boy knew the irony of making that the first line of his book.
In the passing years I’ve learned many things, and unlearned many as well. I have to keep unlearning them. One of the things I’ve seen real value in for me is practicing zen calligraphy. The method is very similar to what I’ve just stated; be in the moment, let the universe be in charge and in this way, become a master. As zen is a Japanese form of Buddhism, the calligraphy is Japanese as well. Japanese traditionally write in Kanji, which was originally Chinese, like Taoism. The calligraphic method can be applied to any writing; indeed it can be applied to life itself. Using the tools to render the Taijitu (yin yang symbol) is a natural.
What made me realize this was of course watching Kung Fu Panda III.
I was struck by the idea that the image can be seen to describe a spinning effect; as is often depicted with the yin and yang chasing each other. What was significant this time was how it is a symbol for everything. our galaxy is spinning, the sun revolves around it, the earth around the sun as it spins on its own axis. Dervish spin in meditation. Also, in reading up on the symbol, pronounced “Tai Chi tu” by the way, many of the complimentary aspect it represents were explained including one which I hadn’t thought of: the expanding contracting duality of life. This is key to Hamsa meditation, as well as understanding non dualist Kashmiri Shavism, which is another key component of my education.
So rendering the Taijitu deeply gratifying to me. It is a powerful exercise and a powerful symbol.
Meditation is an important part of my life. My pursuit of authentic meditation has fueled my spiritual path. When I was a teenager, I was curious to learn about spiritual paths other than the Catholic faith I was born into. A child of divorce, and of a parent who had been previously married, I felt that the rules I had been taught about my family and my soul were not that of a loving and understanding God.
It wasn’t until College that I really became pro active in researching spirituality. Until that point, my thinking was still centered on what had been drilled into my head since I was born. So I worried that other religions might lead to damnation. Yet I became more and more certain that the people who had been building and guiding the Church were not as divinely guided themselves as they claimed. I was still building a case against my indoctrination into a religion that I had accepted and loved growing up.
I finally came to the conclusion that God showed Himself to different people in different ways. I was certain that God didn’t love Europeans more than Indians or Asains. Why would He expose some people to certain religions and others to other ones if being born in India was a sure ticket to Hell. I also concluded that God would want us to use our brains and our hearts to figure out for ourselves what religion was best for us. Just automatically accepting what I was born into as the only right way to worship seemed arrogant and lazy to me.
I began reading and taking classes that taught comparative religion. I am part Native American, so I went to sweat lodges. I learned about Wicca, which predated Christianity in Europe. Some will take offence at calling it that because it is a modern term. It’s just the term I learned about the worshipers of the Earth Mother Danu. Their way was almost completely wiped out and Danu’s Consort, the horned god, became the image of the Christian devil. Leave it to a Patriarchal society to completely miss that the main deity is a woman.
Eastern religions have a common tradition of meditation. Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi religions all employ meditation. The purpose of meditation is to connect with God. This is the definition of the word “Yoga.” it comes from the same root word as “yoke.” many people meditate to calm or center themselves. Sometimes people want to improve their health. This is how yoga has come to be a health regimen in the West, but that is like only using a powerful computer as a calculator.
There are many types of meditation. Sufis twirl, some people chant mantras. Some people concentrate on a mandala or other visual aid. Many of us are familiar with Zen Calligraphy, but did you know that it’s a form of meditation?
In future posts, we will explore different ways to meditate in more depth. I hope this introduction was helpful to you.
There is long and interesting history of how God=sound. Where to start? How about the beginning?
“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The Gospel according to John, King James Version.
I love the old English phrasing of the King James Version. This is easily my favorite Bible passage. Notice that God is also “Light” Most people will tell you that this is a metaphor. This is funny to me because many of these same people will tell you that the story of Adam & Eve is not a metaphor. Well the story of Adam & Eve is a metaphor (this is a story for another time as it could be its own blog post), But the idea that God is sound and Light is not a metaphor. God is more than sound and light, don’t get me wrong, but the idea that the existence of all things came into being through God as sound is accurate.
In Sanskrit, the ancient Indian sacred language, this sound is “Om” and is written in what appears to Westerners to be a 3 with a tail, and an umlaut over it. In my description of of my hand carved lino print of this sacred word, I combine these two ideas and say; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Om” This ancient spiritual symbol is a sound and it is the Creator.
Sometimes the symbol is translated; “Aum” The thinking is that the vowel sound where the word originates itself originates at the back of the throat and the ending “m” sound ends at the mouth, thus traveling the expanse of the physical body creating it. This explanation is a metaphor for the beginning and end of all creation. Compare this to Jesus’ saying; “I am the Alpha and the Omega”. Here the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet signify the beginning and the end (which is the line that follows in the Bible) but also anything that can be spoken as Jesus is saying he is not just the beginning and the end but everything in between.
But you say to me, “Rod, What about science?” First of all don’t interrupt, it’s rude. Second of all, good question.
In the 1950’s the phone company, at that time concerned with quality service, wanted to get to the bottom of a buzz that was coming through on all their lines. They hired and deployed two scientists; Peebles and Dick to discover and fix the problem. What they found was that this sound was everywhere. It permeates everything. It is the background radiation leftover from the Big Bang. (you know, the sound and light that created everything that exists.) It existed at exactly the wavelength that the scientist who postulated the Big Bang theory predicted it would.
There are many mantras (sacred words or phrases to repeated many times) and prayers (like the rosary) that believers know will bring them closer to God. The Sufis have a saying, “Nothing exists save God” pronounced, “La Illaha Illa Allah” Which is more of a mantra than a prayer, but they don’t use the Sanskrit word.
In his book “Autobiography of a Yogi” Paramahansa Yogananda states that sacred Indian music can bring us closer to enlightenment, as can the music of Bach. Astronomers and alchemists refer to the “Music of the Spheres”