True Perception - Chogyam Trungpa
Dharma Art, Genuine Art
Dharma art refers to art that springs from a certain state of mind on the part of the artist that could be called the meditative state. It is an attitude of directness and unself-consciousness in one’s creative work.
Our message is simply one of appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears. We give up aggression, both toward ourselves, that we have to make a special effort to impress people, and toward others, that we can put something over on them.
Genuine art -- dharma art -- is simply the activity of nonaggression.
From the modern American point of view, you can just go to the store and buy things and pick them up. That is not quite a good attitude, let alone elegance. People have to realize how things are made and produced, how they happen to be so beautiful, so lovely.
Everything has to be manual and realistic. Then you discover the elegance and beauty, because you begin to realize how much energy and exertion it takes to manufacture or display the best of the best. That is what it takes for breathtaking music and breathtaking paintings to happen at the fruition level.
If you want to become an artist and you want to have the best of everything, you can’t just have it. You have to start by paying attention to reality.
We have to be honest, real, and very earthy, and we need to really appreciate things as they are. They are so beautiful and wonderful already, but in order to appreciate that, it takes time and discipline -- so much discipline.
Great Eastern Sun
Working with others means trying to develop delight in others. And the two together, elegance and delight, bring a basic sense of richness and goodness, which is known as Great Eastern Sun vision.
Great means having some kind of strength, energy, and power. That is, we are not fearful or regretful in presenting our expressions or our works of art -- or, for that matter, in our way of being.
East is the concept of wakefulness. The direction in which we are going, or the direction we are facing, is unmistakable.
Sun has a sense of all-pervasive brilliance, which does not discriminate in the slightest.
In contrast, the notion of setting sun is that of wanting to go to sleep. When the sun sets, you go to sleep. You want to go back to your mother’s womb, to regress, appreciating that you can hide behind dark clouds.
We have a lot of examples of setting-sun art. Some of them are based on the principle of entertainment. Since you feel so uncheerful and solemn, you try to create artificial humor, manufactured wit. But that tends to bring a tremendous sense of depression.
The purpose of dharma art is to try to overcome aggression. If your mind is preoccupied with aggression, you cannot function properly.
Basic goodness includes generosity and bravery. There is also a notion that all things are round. It is like the mandala principle, in that every single thing is working together with all the other elements, which is why the whole thing hangs together so well.
With aggression, we have bad feelings about ourselves: either we feel tremendously righteous, that we are the only ones who are right, or we feel pissed off that somebody is destroying us.
The basic Buddhist approach to art comes from a sense of studentship, which is also a sense of teachership, because even though teachers may be highly developed, they are still always students themselves.
Absolutely nobody can become a good craftsman or good artist without relating with the practice of meditation.
In sitting meditation, you don’t trip out, but simply sit, identify with your breath, work with your thoughts. You do everything very manually, very definitely, constantly.
In postmeditation, you are here, you are definitely here: whether you are coming your hair, pressing your clothes, walking around. That is all an expression of isness.
As you meditate more and you work on your art more, the boundary between meditation and the practice of art, between openness and action, becomes fuzzy.
Art in Everyday Life
Aggression is very deep-rooted. Don’t try to make it go away, and don’t try to invite it -- that is what’s called the path. The path consists of collections of dirt, stones, grasses. It includes everything -- passion, aggression, ignorance. Without those, you have no path. So you shouldn’t try to build a highway and have everything smooth under your car.
It’s a question of paying more attention to the space that exists around us. In doing so, we develop a sense of confidence, confidence that space exists in front of our eyes and that it is not demanding anything.
Every moment we might be doing the same things -- brushing our teeth every day, combing our hair every day, cooking our dinner every day. But that seeming repetitiveness becomes unique every day. A kind of intimacy takes place with the daily habits that you go through and the art involved in it. That’s why it is called art in everyday life.
The attitude of aggression brings with it the idea of the needlessness of being meticulous or of repetitive effort in trying to relate with things. If you are not able to see a particular situation clearly the first time, you might go back a second time and a third time and a fourth time -- but aggression kills that potential of going back and developing the patience to actually experience it.
Symbols of all kinds occur throughout our life, and whether you believe it or not, the most penetrating symbol in our life is pain.
The existence in our mind of basic pain is extremely powerful and difficult to shake off. Basically, we feel captured by our life. We can’t get out of it; we are stuck with it. We don’t want to get into it -- maybe it is too much for us. So we are stuck in the middle of it all the time.
That is all symbolism. It is mantra. Pancakes, eggs, bacon. We reject is as a purely mundane thing. We regard it as a terrible hassle and forget the whole thing. We drink our coffee and eat our bacon and eggs, just to get it over with. Then we go to the meditation hall and sit on a cushion and think maybe that will be a big thing for us.
The simple point is that the things you do shouldn’t be missed. You should experience what you do.
Empty Gap of Mind
When you first perceive something, there is a shock of no conceptual mind operating at all. Then something begins to occur. You begin to perceive: whether you like it or not, you begin to see colors and perceptions, to open your eyes. So that non-reference-point mind can become highly powerful and extraordinarily sensitive.
Coloring Our World
We only take in what we want to see and hear. Expectations also take the form of aggression, or rejecting. Whatever we see or hear is constantly subject to our rejection. We would like to push away anything presented to us as either logically or personally inapplicable.
Here this is a sense of basic panic, basic bewilderment, basic pain. We are completely numbed by the situation, so we can’t hear or see. We can’t even reject or accept. Instead, whenever a situation does not suit our requirements, we automatically create a mental block to shut it off. We are confused and terrified by all those uncertainties.
The whole point is that we should be extremely careful and inquisitive about what we see in our world: what we see with our eyes, what we actually perceive, both how we see and what we see. This is very important.
We have to think slowly, to slow down. It is not so much getting ideas and information as fast as we can, but as slowly as we can, so that we have an understanding of the basic setup.
Usually, we are restless with our visual perception. Even when we see something fantastically beautiful, we are shy in actually relating with it. That shyness is connected with aggression.
We are unable to see things properly, as they really are. If we see beautiful things, we are so fascinated and interested: we would like to touch and handle them; we would like to smell them and hear them. On the other hand, when we see something ugly or terrible, such as dogshit on the street, we don’t want to touch it, we don’t want to see it, and we try to avoid the whole thing—“Yuck!”
The Process of Perception
The question of reality is a very confusing one. Nobody knows, but everybody knows that somebody knows. That seems to be the problem we are facing: maybe nobody knows at all or maybe everybody knows. So we should not purely trust the information, suggestions, and ideas that come to us from external sources, but actually work with ourselves and try to develop our own personal understanding and appreciation of reality.
With the absence of aggression, there is further clarity, because nothing is based on anxiety and nothing is based on ideas or ideals of any kind. Instead, we are beginning to see things without making any demands. We are no longer trying to buy or sell anything to anybody. It is a direct and very personal experience.
We commit ourselves to that particular perception, and we actually begin to relate with whatever goes on in our world. We begin to touch our world, to feel the real texture of it, not just the sound or smell or first visual flash of the texture. In that way, we are able to establish ourselves in total communication.
Being and Projecting
The way in which we usually project ourselves is made into a sort of formula: you start with a sense of being, putting yourself into a situation, slowly dissolving the edge, and then executing whatever is there.
Obviously, the sense of being can’t be one solid thing. It moves constantly. It projects out and in, and it is very fickle. Nevertheless, there should be some attempt to relate to the overall situation, to a sense of the whole.
We are so paranoid that we want to be prepared for any possible danger. We want to shield ourselves from the reality of fear. We would like to see something very gentle and colorful.
We are such cowards. It’s so embarrassing that we can’t talk about it or even think about it. What’s the point of all these little secrets, these little games that we play? We seem to enjoy them. One day passes and another day comes along, and everything happens the same. But basically, we are so afraid of the brilliance coming at us, and the sharp experience of our life, that we can’t even focus our eyes.
The problem boils down to the fact that we do not really want to experience reality in the fullest sense at all. Instead, we always try to bring in a substitute reality. For instance, if we find that our child is not going along with our expectations, we say, “One day this child will come to his senses and come back to us.” If we have a lost lover, we say, “Sooner or later he will return to me and realize how I really feel about him.”
It is such a relief when you begin to give and give and give. I don’t mean the conventional idea of giving, where if you have ten dollars in your bank account, you might give five and keep the other five for your upkeep. Giving away fifty percent of your aggression and reserving the other fifty percent for holding your trip together is not quite enough. You have to give up the whole thing. And each time you give, your vision begins to clear, and there’s less of a filter over your pupils; your hearing begins to clear, and there’s less wax on your eardrums.
Giving and opening oneself is not particularly painful, when you begin to do it. But the idea of giving and opening is very painful. When you are asked to give, to take a leap, it feels terrible.
Walking on the sidewalk, crossing at the red light, watching your eggs in the frying pan, listening to the tea kettle whistling—the little things in life are the most important. The separation between “you” and “I,” you and your world, you and your God, is cut through by a sense of humor. That is the basic point.
If you present your work of art as a completely full message without spelling out every word of it, then you have just given the public a corner of what you might say. Therefore it is still fertile in people’s minds and there is room for it to unfold. It is living art. If you expound more than is necessary, it becomes apologetic. And it is boring because the audience begins to follow the logic while you are still standing on it.
Outrageousness is a question of being fearless in your celebration and your sense of humor. Sometimes it could be somewhat absurd and stubborn, but that seems to be the necessary eccentricity of this particular approach. Again, as long as it doesn’t contain aggression and an exhibitionistic outlook, it seems to be quite simple.
We have to be willing to be a fool and not always try to be a wise guy.
It is not about becoming a famous art collector with a great understanding of Tibetan iconography, but it has to do with how we can “improve” our life, so to speak. Improving does not mean competitiveness, trying to get better so we can outsmart the other wise guys.
Pros and cons and pros and cons, one after another, take place all the time, but they are not particularly a big deal. The important point is to wake ourselves up each time we are cooked, so to speak.
Five Styles of Creative Expression
The mandala of the five buddha families represents the progress of a whole day or a whole course of action.
The neurotic expression of any buddha family can be transmuted into its wisdom or enlightened aspect. The neurotic expression of vajra is anger and intellectual fixation. In the neurotic sense, the richness of ratna manifests as being completely fat, extraordinarily ostentatious. Padma neurosis is connected with passion, a grasping quality, a desire to possess. The neurotic quality of karma is connected with jealousy, comparison, and envy.
Buddha wisdom is all-encompassing spaciousness. Vajra wisdom is clear and precise, like reflections in a mirror or reflecting pool. Ratna wisdom is equanimity; it is expansive, extending. Padma wisdom is discriminating, seeing the details of things. Karma wisdom is the automatic fulfillment of all actions.
The five buddha energies are not bound to the enlightened state alone; they contain the confused state as well. The point is to see them as they are: thoroughly confused, neurotic, and painful, or extraordinarily pleasurable, expansive, humorous, and joyous. So we are not trying to remove what we perceive, particularly, and we are not trying to reshape the world in the fashion we’d like to see it. We are seeing the world as it is, without reshaping.
If we begin to theorize about the existence of the world, its solidity, its eternity, or whatever, we are blocking out a very large chunk of our experience. We are trying to prove too much and trying to build a foundation too much.
This is the experiential level, that which we experience in our everyday lives. Such experience doesn’t have to be confirmed by theory or by proof.
We try to avoid our individuality and instead emulate something else. That is a big problem. The enlightened expression of yourself is in accord with your inherent nature.
Maybe your sense of blue is more like my sense of red. It could seem that we are agreeing: “Oh, yes, that’s a blue light. This one is a red light.” But who knows? Nobody knows. So let us not make the psychological assumption that everything is secure.
Magic in this case is power. Not power over others, but power beyond “over others.” It is the power within oneself. You have enough strength and exertion and energy to view things as they are, personally, properly, and directly.
To be an artist, one needs mental training through the practice of meditation. That mental training automatically brings with it physical training. That is, when the mind begins to function in a more relaxed way, that is reflected in one’s body. Then one begins to develop a sense of humor and appreciation as well. With such clarity, nothing can be distorted.
Nowadays, students don’t have an apprentice-teacher relationship with a great master artist. You may study with somebody, take a course, but that person doesn’t live with you and work with you throughout your growth. Because of that lack, the only way to become an artist is to meditate a lot. Then you begin to develop a sense of continuity, a sense of dignity and mindfulness.
Our attitude and integrity as artists are very important. We need to encourage and nourish the notion that we are not going to yield to the neurotic world. Inch by inch, step by step, our efforts should wake people up through the world of art rather than please everyone and go along with the current.
Having developed self-respect and learned a way that you can uplift yourself on the spot, at the level of first thought best thought, you begin to develop composure and decorum in your state of mind, your body, and your artwork.
In any perception, first there is the quality of seeing, that is, you project out to the world and you see something. That creates a kind of open ground. It also creates possibilities of choosing and rejecting, in the positive sense of discriminating intelligence, as opposed to having our choices determined by emotions such as passion and aggression.
You become just an ordinary individual seeing things at the level, we could say, of cats and dogs. Having seen, then you begin to look beyond that level and to develop a sense of composure about the whole thing. You actually begin to perceive how the world hangs together.
The whole philosophy of dharma art is that you don’t try to be artistic, but you just approach objects as they are and the message comes through automatically.
The Activity of Nonaggression
Creating art is like meditating. You work with one technique for a long, long time, and finally the technique falls away. There’s ongoing discipline and continuity, stubbornness. You are willing to relate with it even if the object rejects you or the light isn’t right or something else goes wrong. You still go on and do it.
If you are completely confident in yourself, you don’t have to think about the audience at all. You just do your thing and do it properly.
State of Mind
If you relate to yourself properly, then, since there are a lot of people like you, you become a catalyst for the rest of the world. The audience comes to you as to a queen bee. There is less sense of salesmanship or the feeling that you have to con people, so people come to you.
Heaven, Earth, and Human
Is there any hope that finally the world will be what is desired or dreamed of as a perfect world, the world that manifests itself as the re-creation of the Golden Age? It’s doubtful. At the same time, nobody knows. Nobody experienced an absolute golden age—and even if somebody had created a golden age, it is doubtful whether that would satisfy us. Maybe we would begin to feel that there was a problem with it.
Whatever we do, we are involved in some kind of trip, enormous deception. Our sense of boredom led us into entertaining ourselves, or trying to entertain ourselves, and that whole process has become a rat race, a vicious circle.
We don’t seem to be doing anything real. We are constantly trying to mimic that and that and this and this. Nothing is very personal. There’s nothing personal and nothing real in terms of our experience. Everything we do is copying something, following something, trying to find new materials to fit our own confused jigsaw puzzle.
What makes you artistic? What convinces you, if you are uncertain, that a work of art is a real expression of yourself? Or is a work of art something to make sure that the rest of the world is convinced about you, so that in turn you yourself find ground to exist?
Back to Square One
Back to square one is simple, straightforward. You feel you’ve been cornered, and you have to pounce out in one way or another. Not knowing exactly what to do, you feel very vivid about the whole reality around you, and at the same time, you know that you’ve been cornered. Through the process of paranoia, you have been purified as well; you have been stripped to the waist and downward as well to your toenail and the floor you are standing on. So you have nothing to hide. You are completely transparent; you are cornered.
Art Begins at Home
An artist should not try to get away from his media, which includes his life situation. And for that matter, meditators, who are also artists, should not get away from their media: their passion, aggression, and ignorance—whatever goes on in their minds.
If you are black, you’re black; if you are white, you’re white. You cannot get away from it, or have plastic surgery. So it is a question of acceptance. From that point of view, art is the practice of meditation, and meditation is a work of art.
So dharma art involves how to rinse your towel in the bathroom, how you hang it up properly so it dries nicely and you don’t have to iron it. It has to do with how your sheets are folded, how your table is placed in the sitting room. It is a total world, in which you pay attention to every little detail.
Joining Heaven and Earth
The name artist is not a trademark. The problem of the twentieth century is that everyone has become merchandised, everybody is a mercenary, everybody has to have a label: either you are a dentist, an artist, a plumber, a dishwasher, or whatever.
When we begin to realize that the principle of dharma exists within us, the heat of neurosis is cooled and pure insight takes place. Because restfulness exists beyond the neurosis, we begin to feel good about the whole thing. We could safely say that the principle of art is related with that idea of trust and relaxation. Such trust in ourselves comes from realizing that we do not have to sacrifice ourselves to neurosis.
On the whole, we begin to feel that we are not cheating anybody; we are not making anything up on the spot. We begin to feel that we are fully genuine. From that point of view, one of the basic principles of a work of art is the absence of lying. Genuine art tells the truth.
The purpose of a work of art is bodhisattva action. This means that your production, manifestation, demonstration, and performance should be geared toward waking people up from their neurosis. Being an “artist” is not an occupation, it is your life, your whole being.