The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

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The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby MayaRefugee » Wed Jan 27, 2010 10:33 am

Hey Guys,

Does anyone know if the Buddha ever talked about the imagination?

I've tried googling and searching this forum and I can't find anything.

The reason I ask is I have artistic inclinations and I've noticed I spend a lot of time manifesting mental concepts of what I perceive/am conscious of through the use of (what I currently think is) my imagination assisted by my intellect.

I would like to know what the Buddha said about this habit/tendency so I can see this process for what it is - I think I could just be clinging to aspirations of being labeled smart/clever by those I share these mental concepts with.

Anyway, any help will be greatly appreciated.

Peace.
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:12 am

Given the lovely art produced by Buddhists of any number of schools or a very long time, art has its place.

As for what the Buddha said about imagination, seem not really anything, though there instances where makes a statement of appreciation of beauty of the place he is at.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:35 pm

MayaRefugee wrote:Does anyone know if the Buddha ever talked about the imagination?

I've tried googling and searching this forum and I can't find anything.

The reason I ask is I have artistic inclinations and I've noticed I spend a lot of time manifesting mental concepts of what I perceive/am conscious of through the use of (what I currently think is) my imagination assisted by my intellect.

I would like to know what the Buddha said about this habit/tendency so I can see this process for what it is - I think I could just be clinging to aspirations of being labeled smart/clever by those I share these mental concepts with.

Hi, MayaRefugee,
You don't seem to have other people falling over each other to answer so I'll try. :smile:
It is something I have thought about a bit, as a music-teacher and occasional -creator.

Like Tilt, I can't recall anything much in the suttas about imagination and/or the arts. We are told to avoid music and dancing, but that seems to fit our idea of 'entertainment' more than our idea of 'art'.
It is possible that there was nothing in the Buddha's culture that really corresponds to our (modern western) idea of 'art', even though people clearly made things then that we now categorise as art objects. We make a (blurry) line between 'craft', which is made for use and not usually trying to be original but often trying to attractive, and 'art', which is made for attractiveness, prizes originality, and is only incidentally useful. From what I have read, this distinction is hardly apparent except in fairly recent European culture: most makers of beautiful objects would have seen themselves as craftsmen, in our terms, not artists.

As for your own arts practice, 'aspirations of being labeled smart/clever by those I share these mental concepts with' sounds suspiciously like vanity - not a Good Thing at all :tongue: - but making beautiful things is surely closer to Right Livelihood than many many other occupations. And an artist can and does teach and inspire others - also Right Livelihood, so long as your art does not celebrate or encourage anything bad (drugs, cruelty, etc) - not that I think you would).

Hope this helps,

Kim
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby zavk » Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:20 am

Hi MayaRefugee

The artistic imagination is a very powerful aspect of the human experience. If you have the inclination and the skills to work artistically, then I say go for it!

If you wish to bring your artistic aspirations in line with Buddhist principles, then perhaps you might find Chogyam Trungpa's book Dharma Art useful. Granted it is not Theravadin, but I think he writes about the Dhamma quite generally. From Amazon:

Trungpa's notion of Dharma art is not merely reproducing and interpreting a collection of Buddhist symbols or ideas, but it is an approach to art as meditation, an attitude of directness and unself-consciousness in creative work.


From such a perspective, the artistic process becomes the means through which one investigates (and maybe relinquish) those tendencies/habits that you describe.

All the best.
With metta,
zavk
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby MayaRefugee » Thu Jan 28, 2010 1:29 am

Kim and zavk, awesome replies - thank you.

I saw the book Dharma Art on Amazon after I submitted this post, I've added it to my wishlist.

I was thinking last night that in a way the Buddha was an artist as he manifested thought forms into words/sounds to give the speeches he delivered.

He recognised similes/metaphors and and used his "vocabulary" to communicate them.

This gets me wondering now about "vocabulary", to me it would be a collection of thought forms with an associated symbol i.e. word, graphic representation, manipulation of sound, gesture, etc that have been allocated a certain meaning.

Where would vocabulary fit in to the Buddhas teachings?

To me it seems it would be inconstant and only neccessary as long as one had the desire to communicate, do you agree?

What's a good attitude to have toward the use, maintenance and refinement of ones vocabulary?

Peace.
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:18 am

The Buddha was not opposed to the arts by the fact that he said monks and nuns could beautify their monasteries by painting them different colors and decorating them with various geometrical and floral designs (Vinaya 2. 117).

It would at least be an example of skillful means. Here is a compilation of some articles and subjects on the arts:
http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Category:Arts
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby zavk » Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:14 pm

Hi MayaRefugee

If I understand this sentence correctly:

MayaRefugee wrote:...a collection of thought forms with an associated symbol i.e. word, graphic representation, manipulation of sound, gesture, etc that have been allocated a certain meaning


What you are referring to is more accurately, 'language'. The term 'vocabulary' is somewhat awkward as it is really a category or subset of language.

By language, I'm not referring simply to the English language, French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. By language I am referring to any system of representation, which therefore includes all those things you mentioned.

My understanding of language is informed by various perspectives in Continental Philosophy. Continental Philosophy underwent a major development in the 20th century known as the 'linguistic turn'. I don't have enough expertise to explain myself succinctly but generally speaking, it challenges the conventional understanding that language is simply a transparent window through which we experience the world. Rather, language is seen as that which structures and shapes our experience of the world.

As to how this relates to Buddhism.... There is a significant body of scholarship that attempts to cross-fertilize continental philosophies of language with Buddhist thought. However, it mostly engages with Mahayana. I suspect this is because Buddhism encountered highly developed artistic and literary cultures when it migrated to East Asia. The first group of people who engaged with Buddhism in these cultures were largely the intelligentsia. Hence, there was more emphasis on the workings of language, art, and so forth.

Early Buddhism, on the hand, developed under somewhat different conditions. So I don't think Theravada is lacking in this respect. It simply emphasizes the Dhamma differently. There is, however, a term used in Theravada called papanca which means something like 'conceptuality'.

Anyway, in dealing with language, we are really dealing with conceptuality.

Both continental philosophy and Buddhism recognise that language--which is to say conceptuality or thought--shape the 'self'. But they also recognise that language and meaning is inconstant. Meaning is not fixed but is shaped by conditions; language/conceptuality is thoroughly unstable. So if conceptuality shapes the self but is itself inconstant and unstable, then the self is not a fixed entity or essence.

Both bodies of thought argue (in their own way) that it is important to understand the workings of language for what it really is. So to answer your question, I suppose a good attitude is to learn how to use language without clinging onto meaning/conceptuality/thought too tightly--for it is, after all, always slipping and sliding.

For Buddhism, bhavana or mental cultivation is indispensable.
With metta,
zavk
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby meindzai » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:46 pm

Given the size and breadth of the canon I'd say the Buddha was the ultimate creative or idea person. His creative and "artistic" process was completely unhindered. If he wanted to be some kind of artist he probably would have been brilliant.

Since most art and music is intended to suit certain cravings (cravings for sights, sounds, etc.) it is not something widely praised in Theravada. But it has been explored by other traditions (like zen). I can recommend some good stuff on that if you're interested but I'll hold off as this is the theravada forum.

-M
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Jan 29, 2010 3:36 am

Hi, everyone :hello:
There's something I was going to say yesterday in response to MayaRefugee's wish to view the Buddha as an artist. Now meindzai has tagged onto the thought it seems even more worth saying.
Claiming the Buddha as an artist and then trying to derive an artistic agenda from him seems unfair to him and to yourself: unfair to the Buddha because I'm sure he never saw himself in those terms, and unfair to yourself because you then have to bend and stretch your definitions and categories out of shape to make 'art' fit 'what the Buddha said and did'.
It's much more productive, IMO, to see the Buddha as a teacher - which is how he saw himself and how we usually see him - and the artist as someone who has a teaching role in the community, showing people new ways of thinking about things or looking at things.
The primary implications for your artistic practice emerge very quickly and naturally: effective communication becomes a key feature of your artistic language, and compassion/morality become key features of the content of your art.
Works for me, anyway. :smile:

Kim
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby MayaRefugee » Fri Jan 29, 2010 6:01 am

Kim, I totally agree with what you say.

It's what to teach with your art that I'm trying and hope to one-day get to the root of.

Up till now my art has been depictions/observations of Maya - I am learning my depictions/observations are cloaked with personal inferences/biases/prejudices and I want to get rid of them and "tell it how it is" so to speak.

zavk, I'm not good with commonly accepted terminology but when I said "vocabulary" my intention was to refer to the bank of thought-forms that to the best of my knowledge and observation exist in ones mind/memory, thought-forms that haven't undergone expression yet, thought forms that haven't been turned into something i.e. sound-waves, a symbol, an image, etc - sort of like the paint that sits idle on a pallete yet to make it on the canvas.

I'm interested in the proper treatment of the paint that sits idle on the pallete i.e. my bank of unmanifest thought-forms.

I ask myself:

- how much paint should be on the pallete?
- what's the right type/qulaity of paint to have on the pallete?
- what's the right intention to have when moving this paint from the pallete to the canvas?
- what purpose is there to move paint from a pallete onto a canvas?
- what are the repurcussions of moving paint from a pallete to a canvas?
- is there really a need to have a pallete of paint?
- is it possible to not have a pallete of paint?
- etc

I guess this stuff ties in with cultivating right thought and right speech.

To address the language/vocabulary issue:

When I was little and I repeated curse words I was told to "watch my language".

Curse words could exist in my mind/vocabulary and I wouldn't be punished but if I manifested/verbalised them as sounds I would be punished - as long as contentious items in my vocabulary remained unmanifest I was right - being conscious of what thought-forms I chose from my vocabulary to verbalize was watching my "language".

Language to me (at the moment) would be a selected thought-form or selection of thought-forms that have/has been taken from this bank/vocabulary and construed in such a manner i.e. given a certain form to communicate something interpersonally via the sense-organs (then through the mind-door) - sort of an out-there thing as opposed to in-here thing.

To use the paint analogy language appears to be like the paint or mixture of paint that's shifted states from being paint sitting idle on the pallete to now being paint that is a component of a painting, it is something other than idle paint.

Another example would be a thought-form represented by the manifestation of a word/symbol.

I guess what I'm trying to communicate is at the moment I understand language to be manifested communicable form(s) of the contents of ones "vocabulary", - if theres a better word to use than vocabulary please let me know.

I'm not certain about this stuff so if you see any cracks in my understanding or if you think theres something I should learn please don't hesitate to let me know.

Peace.
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby zavk » Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:24 am

Hi MayaRefugee

Interesting things to ponder on.... :twothumbsup:
With metta,
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Jan 29, 2010 11:09 am

MayaRefugee wrote:Kim, I totally agree with what you say.

It's what to teach with your art that I'm trying and hope to one-day get to the root of.

Thanks. :smile:
MayaRefugee wrote:I'm interested in the proper treatment of the paint that sits idle on the pallete i.e. my bank of unmanifest thought-forms.

I ask myself:

- how much paint should be on the pallete?
- what's the right type/qulaity of paint to have on the pallete?
- what's the right intention to have when moving this paint from the pallete to the canvas?
- what purpose is there to move paint from a pallete onto a canvas?
- what are the repurcussions of moving paint from a pallete to a canvas?
- is there really a need to have a pallete of paint?
- is it possible to not have a pallete of paint?
- etc

I guess this stuff ties in with cultivating right thought and right speech.

To me, the specifics of the language or vocab are secondary, or ought to be: good art starts with having something to say and is realised when the artist says it as clearly, expressively, powerfully, memorably, as possible with whatever means are available to him/her. A big vocab is an incredibly useful resource (look at Picasso!) but the first essential is having something to say.
Saying it clearly doesn't mean it has to be direct or simplistic, of course, or even naturalistic. If you are trying to express the inexpressible, you pretty much have to be indirect. :smile:
And sometimes you can't put your meaning into words. If you can, you probably don't need to put all that effort into the art. :tongue:

It's good to think about things - but then you have to get back to the cushion or the easel or the typewriter and actually put in the time.
[Sigh]

Kim
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:58 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:Hi, everyone :hello:
There's something I was going to say yesterday in response to MayaRefugee's wish to view the Buddha as an artist. Now meindzai has tagged onto the thought it seems even more worth saying.
Claiming the Buddha as an artist and then trying to derive an artistic agenda from him seems unfair to him and to yourself: unfair to the Buddha because I'm sure he never saw himself in those terms, and unfair to yourself because you then have to bend and stretch your definitions and categories out of shape to make 'art' fit 'what the Buddha said and did'.
It's much more productive, IMO, to see the Buddha as a teacher - which is how he saw himself and how we usually see him - and the artist as someone who has a teaching role in the community, showing people new ways of thinking about things or looking at things.
The primary implications for your artistic practice emerge very quickly and naturally: effective communication becomes a key feature of your artistic language, and compassion/morality become key features of the content of your art.
Works for me, anyway. :smile:

Kim

I agree. I think the whole concept of " art" is a modern social construct. Nothing wrong with that per se, but art is no more or less important than all other social constructs. And will not lead to freedom from Dukkha. But...there are many things which will not lead to freedom Dukkha but are not in themselves harmful, they may even contribute to the greater good. But lets see art with upekkha..It is not a peg on which to hang a self image or identity.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby MayaRefugee » Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:13 pm

Kim,

Don't take this the wrong way, I would just like to hear your thoughts - :bow:

You say good art starts with having something to say.

Somewhere in the process the artist has to declare/believe what they have to say/express is worthy of being said/expressed.

What do you think is worthy of being said/expressed?

In the evolution of my art I've noticed what I deem worthy of expression changes as my beliefs/understandings change, once ones beliefs/understandings align with the changeless/deathless what do you think would be worthy of expression?

If one made it to the top of the mountain should they sit expressing/depicting the view for others at the bottom or should they build climbing aids to help others get to the top aswell?

Sanghamitta, If you don't mind me asking what would art created by an artist with Upekkha be like?

Peace.
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:28 pm

I think there are many examples MayaRefugee. From contemporary art the paintings of Mark Rothko come to mind, or the poems of Gary Snyder.
The music of middle period Miles Davis or Steve Reich. The novels of Paul Auster.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jan 30, 2010 2:25 am

MayaRefugee wrote:You say good art starts with having something to say.

Somewhere in the process the artist has to declare/believe what they have to say/express is worthy of being said/expressed.

What do you think is worthy of being said/expressed?

In the evolution of my art I've noticed what I deem worthy of expression changes as my beliefs/understandings change, once ones beliefs/understandings align with the changeless/deathless what do you think would be worthy of expression?

You can only start from where you are. Anything else is false and leads to artwork with no integrity of vision.
That means that what you think is 'worthy of expression' ought to change as you grow as a human being.
Your best starting point is what moves you most strongly - whether it's admiration for a noble deed or outrage over an ignoble one.
For me, what is worth expressing is primarily what helps others to become better people and helps the world become a better place. Sorry to sound so goody-goody about it but (1) I'm primarily a teacher with an arts practice on the side, and the teaching mind-set is pervasive and (2) I have a good role model - I think the Buddha's advice to Rahula (can't find it now, sorry) applies to the arts as much as to any other activity: if your actions lead to benefits for others, they're good; if not, not.
Not all my work is driven by that motive, though: sometimes I'll get fascinated with a technical problem and end up producing something I think others will like. Other times I will be exploring a personal issue, but what comes out of that may never be seen by anyone else.
MayaRefugee wrote:Kim,
If one made it to the top of the mountain should they sit expressing/depicting the view for others at the bottom or should they build climbing aids to help others get to the top aswell?

Both - inspiration and practical help are both good.
:smile:
Kim
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby chownah » Sat Jan 30, 2010 1:50 pm

Since this is a "free for all" let me poke a bit and see if I can find a button somewhere......

Art is fun and stimulates the emotions but really folks get over it....it is just a point of view glorifying the insightful blah blah blah of the self. Don't get me wrong...I like art and feel that I can hold my own in expressing myself in many different artistic media....and non artistic media as well....but reallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllly please try to get out of worshiping this mundane "achievement"........but only if you want to...........
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby cooran » Sat Jan 30, 2010 7:55 pm

Hello all,

A reference to painting in the Samyutta Nikaya II The Book of Causation (Nidanavagga) 12 Nidanasamyutta

64 If there is Lust

"Suppose, bhikkhus, an artist or a painter, using dye or lac or turmeric or indigo or crimson, would create the figure of a man or a woman complete in all its features on a well-polished plank or wall or canvas. So too, if there is lust for the nutriment edible food, or for the nutriment contact, or for the nutriment mental volition, or for the nutriment consciousness, if there is delight, if there is craving, consciousness becomes established there and comes to growth. Wherever consciousness becomes established and comes to growth ... I say that is accompanied by sorrow, anguish, and despair." [note 173]

Note 173: Spk: The painter represents kamma with its adjuncts [Spk-pt: craving and ignorance, and time and destination etc.]; the panel, wall, or canvas represents the round with its three realms. As the painter creates a figure on the panel so kamma with its adjuncts creates a form in the realms of existence. As the figure created by an unskilled painter is ugly deformed, and disagreeable, so the kamma performed with a mind dissociated from knowledge gives rise to an ugly, deformed, disagreeable figure. But as the figure created by a skilled painter is beautiful and well shaped, so the kamma performed with a mind associated with knowledge gives rise to a beautiful and comely figure.

with metta
Chris
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby MayaRefugee » Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:57 am

chownah,

Of all the worldy pursuits don't you think this mundane "achievement" i.e. proper utilization of the artistic process does the most to contribute to the enlightenment/ending of suffering/ignorance for all beings.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty"....Keats.

If one knows/understands truth and can disseminate it via mundane "achievements" I think they are using their time well.

Their knowledge/understanding/mastery of truth would determine the inherent beauty of their mundane "achievement" - the more beautiful the mundane "achievement" the more cathartic/useful it is to those caught in samskara/maya.

cooran,

Thank you for posting that stuff, it mirrors what I've been trying to contemplate - :bow:

Peace.
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Re: The Buddha, Imagination and The Artistic Process

Postby chownah » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:19 pm

MayaRefuge,
"Proper utilization of the artistic process.".....What the heck does that mean?....I mean can you please explain what this is?

Keats had his views on things....the Greeks did a lot of art depicting the human body....maybe it would be good to go find how the Buddha viewed the human body.....something like a bag full of puss, urine, and excement....vile smell...filth oozing out of every pore....in a constant state of decay....if you turned it inside out you couldn't keep the birds from eating it.

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