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Archive for February, 2009

Our screening of Creating Buddhas at the Pacific Asia Museum in January accompanied an exhibition of thankas by master artist Pema Namdol Thaye.  I was struck by two things Pema said during his opening talk, and they’ve stayed with me over these past weeks.

He described how he approaches painting a deity.

First, he talked about the importance of understanding something of the deity you’re creating, having a sense of his nature, his essence. In effect, having a relationship with this deity. On the basis of this relationship, before beginning a project, Pema asks the deity for permission to present it on canvas. Of course, deities are compassionate, he noted. They never say no!

The second comment that struck me seems relevant to much more than artistic creation:  Pema shared that when he paints, the primary painting is done in his mind. (He actually said in his “brain.”) That’s the first painting, the original. Then he simply creates a duplicate on the canvas. That’s the secondary painting, a copy.  Or perhaps better stated, the painting on canvas is a natural outgrowth of the original image in his mind.

Pema said that the painting is complete in his mind before he starts to mix paints or touch brush to canvas. This reminds me of the relationship of intention to manifestation — of anything in our lives. What we paint in our minds materializes in our lives, naturally. Pema provided me a good metaphor to keep in mind in approaching all activity. And a good thought to take with me to Christine Kane‘s Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat next week.

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Having replaced my header with one of my non-traditional images, I found Ken McLeod’s timely reflection on tradition.

View the original post on Ken’s blog here.

another view of tradition

A tradition is an accumulation through time of inspired works, created by people who do not have tradition on their minds. If they have anything on their minds, it is their own uniqueness: the ways they do not fit in, not the ways they do.
— Clive James

In Buddhism (and elsewhere), much is made of preserving tradition. I’ve long felt that there was  problem with this notion, namely, the things one tends to preserve are dead, perhaps to be eaten later, or only to be viewed in a jar of formaldehyde, or after being subjected to a process that preserves form, shape, and perhaps color but certainly not the thing itself.

This quotation, from Clive James’ book Cultural Amnesia, is a delightful reminder that tradition is only a concept applied to a certain phenomenon. The phenomenon itself is created by people doing “untraditional” things — writing, painting, or teaching in ways that generate new energy, new responses, new possibilities.

Recently, an old colleague of mine called to describe how a group of people at a center had asked him to translate a text for their practice, and then had turned around and changed some of the words and phrasings in his translation to more “traditional” vocabulary. The translator here has long and deep experience and has come to understand how the “traditional” vocabulary leads people astray or limits their understanding of their practice (not just the text, but their practice). Against stupidity, even the gods struggle in vain.

In our culture, we try new things, find what works, and discard what doesn’t. We go down wrong paths, we get into trouble, but we learn, through experimentation and innovation. When they limit themselves only to what is tried and true, most people in this culture grow restless and impatient, unless they die of stasis and boredom first.

Posted by Ken at 1:11 PM

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