Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Art of Awareness

By Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

For years Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche has painted as a form of contemplative meditation. What makes art a transformative practice, he explains, is getting ego out of the way and allowing the art to reflect a natural, uncontrived awareness.

My interest in Western art has a lot to do with my own meditation practice. Though Buddhist meditation and abstract art may seem like an odd combination, the practice of meditation and the practice of abstract painting are actually complementary.

As Buddhists, we are taught that the natural state of mind is pristine and enlightened in itself. To embody this view of the natural state, first we need to work with our mind through discipline. In our meditation practice, sometimes we are present with this experience of the natural state and sometimes we are not. When something pleasant arises, we often grasp at it, and when something unpleasant comes, we may reject it. Our discipline is to transcend these grasping and rejection tendencies that cause us so much suffering.

Over time, as we feel more self-confident and secure in our practice of meditation—and in our understanding of the true nature of mind pointed out by our teacher—we will see that the true nature is pristine and stainless. In the traditional analogy of the ocean and its waves, it is said that however large or small the waves, all are essentially made of the element of water and cannot be separated from the ocean. Similarly, in the view of meditation, all our thoughts and various feelings arise out of the natural state of mind and are ultimately made out of the same “material.” That material is empty awareness itself. If we do not succumb to habits and insecurities, or preconceptions about meditation and how our mind should be, we can then recognize that everything that arises is simply a manifestation of this very nature. Any expressions that arise from this enlightened nature can be understood as enlightened expressions when we do not approach them through the habits of acceptance and rejection.

Realizing this, we can begin to experience relaxation, as well as a lessening of judgments and reactivity. We experience more openness and acceptance. Slowly, and naturally, we begin to see the world as pure—not as in “pure” versus “ugly,” but pure in the sense of seeing the perfection of its existence. This existence is not determined according to some concept or idea of the way it should be; it simply has come to exist naturally. Its beauty is found in it being just the way it is. The world has found its own shape, form, and color. All of it arises out of the nature of mind.

We understand that the nature of mind is not simply a void. If it were, it could not produce anything. Rather, this nature must have tremendous vitality to give birth to all of the things we experience in the mind and in the world. Part of the meditation practice shown to me by my teachers His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche, and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche was to be able to trust this vitality, without becoming dualistic in my view or experience. I’ve been a meditator since I was fourteen and this has been my passion. That’s about thirty years now.

I believe we can view art as a form of contemplative meditation. I don’t see it as separate from meditation practice in any way. However, since art making involves being actively engaged with the physical body, the emotions, and the mind, in contrast to resting in the nature of mind without moving, we could consider art to be a form of meditative conduct. In Vajrayana, “conduct” refers to activity that supports our meditation practice and view. If the conduct were something separate from what we’re trying to accomplish in meditation, then it wouldn’t have much place in the life of a meditator. It would be something altogether different.

Excerpted from the Winter 2009 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, available on newsstands November 17th.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s art can be viewed at kongtruljigme.com, along with a video of him painting and audio teachings.

DZIGAR KONGTRUL RINPOCHE is a lama in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the author of Light Comes Throughand It’s Up to You, as well as the newly published Uncommon Happiness. He began painting under the guidance of French abstract expressionist painter Yahne Le Toumelin and is also an aspiring photographer. After moving to the United States from northern India in 1989, he founded his own teaching organization, Mangala Shri Bhuti, based in Boulder, Colorado. Mangala Shri Bhuti is the Sanskrit name for his root guru, the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

From: Buddha Dharma

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