The Sacred World Is Within and Never Above or Without

 
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16 January 2014 16:42
 

The following paragraphs are from an article in the February 2009 HARPER’S MAGAZINE - ‘ART IS - The audacity of still life’ by Benjamin Moser.  Here the focus is on the still lifes of the Dutch/Belgian artist Adriaen Coorte, 1683-1707.

“Coorte painted his Still Life with Three Medlars and a Butterfly between 1693 and 1695, as the haiku poet Basho was dying in Osaka.  For Basho, as for any Oriental poet or painter, depictions of nature occupied the same lofty place as scenes from religion and history did in the West.

“The artists of medieval Europe placed their holy figures against a gold background that eliminated any hint of the mortal, earthly plane; but in Japan, and in particular in those Japanese arts inspired by Zen Buddhism, the sacred world is within - and never above or without - the earthly world.  When approached in the correct spirit, the placement of a rock in a garden, or the serving of a cup of tea, transcends aesthetics and touches upon the divine.

“It is hard to imagine that Basho’s poetry could have been recognized as such in seventeenth-century Europe.  Even today, without extensive study, a Western mind, taught to admire the intricate and difficult, has trouble fathoming it.

The old pond, ah!
A frog jumps in:
The water’s sound!

“Concreteness and simplicity, rather than intricacy and elaboration, were the highest values of this culture; and watching Adriaen Coorte’s struggle with his butterflies and Medlars, seeing his thinking evolve through his career, is like reading the works of Basho in the order that they were composed.”

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16 January 2014 17:02
 

When we stare at stars, do we not look “above”?  When we behold butterflies, do we not look “without”?

 
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16 January 2014 18:01
 
EN - 16 January 2014 04:02 PM

When we stare at stars, do we not look “above”?  When we behold butterflies, do we not look “without”?

The drainage ditches I dug around my cabin run quiet, so I put a short length of pipe in one section near the trail to give the water a voice.  Is the sound of the water ‘outside’?  If there’s no division of wholeness . . . (like the benediction you sometimes mention).

[ Edited: 16 January 2014 18:05 by unsmoked]
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16 January 2014 18:34
 

The kingdom of God is “within”, so we are talking about perspective.  There is a unity to all creation, but we speak of it and observe it from a certain place. But since the kingdom is within, we carry the inward perspective with us wherever we go.  Your water pipe is without, but your experience of it is within.  And life goes on within you and without you.  (I hear sitars).

 
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16 January 2014 18:51
 

Ah!.. grasshopper.

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burt
 
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16 January 2014 19:56
 
EN - 16 January 2014 04:02 PM

When we stare at stars, do we not look “above”?  When we behold butterflies, do we not look “without”?

Perhaps we just allow the perceptions to come within.

 
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16 January 2014 19:59
 

Within or without
What can those things be about
A flimsy boundary. 

Lao Zi Pot

 
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17 January 2014 04:09
 
unsmoked - 16 January 2014 03:42 PM

Even today, without extensive study, a Western mind, taught to admire the intricate and difficult, has trouble fathoming it.

Western thought puts men outside of and separate from nature, but Eastern (Chinese and Japanese) thought deeply and broadly includes men in nature.  This is reflected in art.  Until the 1850’s or so, Western and Eastern art rarely influenced each other, with Western art putting people at the center of focus and nature as background, while Eastern art put nature at the center with people in the background.  Western art had boundaries in which the composition neatly fit and the whole canvas was painted with colorful detail, while Eastern art would have a black ink scrawl of bamboo on a blank sheet of paper, or a tree branch growing from the side of a blank sheet with dots of color for flowers and a little bird.

All this changed when the American Admiral Perry threatened to blast open Japan’s closed doors to the world in 1853.  With Japan being forced to trade goods, the ideas followed, and in a most unexpected way.  The Japanese used their colorful and finely detailed woodblock prints as packing material for goods to the West (Europe), and when the boxes were opened and the prints were seen for the first time by Western eyes, the Western artists were amazed by the composition, color, and consistency of the prints.  How did the Japanese create such consistency?!  How did they figure out how to print art when the Europeans had only figured out how to print letters?!  The Japanese had been doing woodblock prints for about 200 years at this time, so the prints were a dime-a-dozen, which is why the prints were used as packing material.  Western (French) artists were given new ideas in color and composition which coincided with the beginning of Impressionism.  The Impressionists were universally panned by art critics as sloppy, childish smears.  Man’s sacred importance was nowhere!  But as we know, the artists gave little credence to critics and continued on their iconoclastic, artistic ways.

But the influence was a two-way affair.  The European artistic influence on Japanese art devastated woodblock printing, and suddenly Japanese artists were imitating European painting and giving up woodblock printing, which was relegated to the common and very nearly abandoned altogether.  The Japanese imitations of European art weren’t well received either, and like their European compatriots in art, the Japanese artists changed their artistic ways; but not for long.  Although the Japanese artistic methods changed, their compositions stubbornly resisted, and by the 1920’s the classic style of woodblock printing was reappearing with the old subjects in new compositions.  The Japanese influence on Western art was stronger than the Western influence on Japanese art, and that influence is still strong today.

 
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17 January 2014 10:41
 

Skippy the Art Critic.  Once again, the big bad evil West ruins everything.  Personally, I don’t think anyone has anything on Van Gogh or Vermeer, but I’m biased.  I just simply take art as it is and find enjoyment in it, whether it comes from East or West.  I could spend all day in a Japanese garden, or in the Louvre.  Matters not.

 
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17 January 2014 10:50
 

The Sacred World Is Within and Never Above or Without


That, and about 28’ of intestine.

 
 
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17 January 2014 17:23
 
SkepticX - 17 January 2014 09:50 AM

The Sacred World Is Within and Never Above or Without


That, and about 28’ of intestine.

It would be hard to live without that 28’, and it would be hard to live without the stars.  We wouldn’t even exist without the stars.  Yet we call one ‘my organs’ or (patting the abdomen) ‘me’, and, (pointing to the stars) ‘not me’.

The benediction of which Bruce sometimes speaks, sometimes comes as an insight or revelation like, ‘the stars are aware of themselves’.  For a moment the conditioned self is quiet and one becomes the consciousness of the universe (one is momentarily Buddha).

Zen masters will sometimes try to help us catch a glimpse of this mind (Buddha mind) by saying something like, “Show me your face before your parents were born.”  (show me that you are here right now with no opinion about it - like Basho’s haiku in the OP).

In the same vein, there’s the story of the pilgrim who asked Gotama, “Is there life after death?”  Gotama replied, “When you blow out a candle then light it again, is it the same flame or a different flame?” 

Remarks like that are only meant to point out what modern science tells us:  The stuff of the cosmos is conscious, awake and aware, and you, Grasshopper, are IT.  (Buddha)

Most of us ‘mistake the servant for the master’ and think that our temporary memory self (the collection of data accumulated since birth) is who we really are.  Religious people want to project this (presently useful) data into eternity, (preferably a pleasurable heaven), while at the same time acknowledging that every non-human living thing is going to end and vanish.

“I believe a blade of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”  -  Walt Whitman

[ Edited: 19 January 2014 16:43 by unsmoked]