For many of us, the return of Zen conjures up images of rock gardens and gently flowing waterfalls. We think of mindfulness and meditation, immersion in a state of being where meaning is found through simplicity. Zen lore has been absorbed by Western practitioners and pop culture alike, yet there is a specific area of this ancient tradition that hasn't been fully explored in the West. Now, in The Zen of Creativity, American Zen master John Daido Loori presents a book that taps the principles of the Zen arts and aesthetic as a means to unlock creativity and find freedom in the various dimensions of our existence. Loori dissolves the barriers between art and spirituality, opening up the possibility of meeting life with spontaneity, grace, and peace.
Zen Buddhism is steeped in the arts. In spiritual ways, calligraphy, poetry, painting, the tea ceremony, and flower arranging can point us toward our essential, boundless nature. Brilliantly interpreting the teachings of the artless arts, Loori illuminates various elements that awaken our creativity, among them still point, the center of each moment that focuses on the tranquility within; simplicity, in which the creative process is uncluttered and unlimited, like a cloudless sky; spontaneity, a way to navigate through life without preconceptions, with a freshness in which everything becomes new; mystery, a sense of trust in the unknown; creative feedback, the systematic use of an audience to receive noncritical input about our art; art koans, exercises based on paradoxical questions that can be resolved only through artistic expression. Loori shows how these elements interpenetrate and function not only in art, but in all our endeavors.
Beautifully illustrated and punctuated with poems and reflections from Loori's own spiritual journey, The Zen of Creativity presents a multilayered, bottomless source of insight into our creativity. Appealing equally to spiritual seekers, artists, and veteran Buddhist practitioners, this book is perfect for those wishing to discover new means of self-awareness and expression--and to restore equanimity and freedom amid the vicissitudes of our lives.
"Naturalness, spontaneity, and playfulness are all aspects of the ordinary mind that catches a glimpse of the world of things just as they are," writes Loori, the founder and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, in the Catskill Mountains. Loori, who was once a research scientist, had his first taste of what he describes during a weekend workshop decades ago with the great photographer Minor White. Thanks to the guidance of White, Loori's love of photography became a lens that allowed him to glimpse what it might mean to really awaken. Zen training followed, first with the Japanese Zen master and artist Soen Nakagawa and finally with Maezumi Roshi. In 1980, Loori established the Zen Arts Center in Mount Tremper, N.Y., which soon became a monastery offering formal Zen training. Through exercises, anecdotes and illustrations of his own work and the work of others, he illuminates how in Zen the seemingly different pursuits of awakening and creative expression are actually kindred, even twins. The real aim of artistic expression is to point the way to the truth, Loori shows. True originality can arise only from having a real contact with our origins, with the ground of our being--and this is the aim of Zen practice. "Give yourself permission to be yourself, and don't be frightened by the unknown," writes Loori, and here he is writing of creativity, of Zen and of life itself. Loori offers a superb overview of the spirit and meaning of the Zen arts. More than that, he has created a fresh and persuasive (for he obviously practices what he preaches) guide to the art of waking up to the beauty and mystery of our own lives. Illus.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 30, 2005
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Excerpt from The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori
All the way to heaven
is heaven itself.
In the fall of 1980, after I completed Zen training in Los Angeles with my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, I came to the East Coast with the intention of establishing a Zen arts center-a place where Zen training would be used as the vehicle for studying, enhancing, and cultivating a creative life.
The Zen Arts Center opened in Mount Tremper in October of 1980. Its main thrust was the practice of art within a Zen context.
Art had been a passion of mine since I was young, but its deep connection to my spiritual journey didn't become obvious until much later. I started photographing when I was ten, and by the time I'd reached my mid thirties photography had become an important part of my life. While working as a research scientist, I began teaching photography part-time at a local college. Spirituality was not in the picture-at least not overtly. The first time these two areas overlapped was in the late 1960s when I traveled to Boston from New York to see a photography exhibit titled "The Sound of One Hand," by Minor White.
I didn't yet have any sense that art might be a doorway to serious and transformative spiritual practice, but something more than good technique drew me to Minor's work. Minor was a "straight photographer": he didn't manipulate his prints during the developing process, yet his images transcended their subject. Looking at his photographs, I felt myself being pulled into another realm of consciousness. Minor's work pointed to a dynamic way of seeing, a new way of perceiving.
My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.
henry david thoreau
One day in 1971 I received a letter from Aperture magazine announcing a workshop that Minor was giving at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. I took one look at the price and threw the letter in the garbage. A friend saw me, and she picked it up.
"Isn't this the man you're always talking about?" she asked. I nodded. "Then why are you throwing the letter away?"
"I don't have the money to pay for it."
"Send it in, John," she said. "Something will come up."
And, miraculously, something did. A month later a tax refund that I had completely forgotten about arrived in the mail. I sent in my portfolio, along with my date and place of birth so an astrologer could determine whether this was an auspicious time for me to do the retreat. With the acceptance letter I got the workshop's reading list. It consisted of three books: Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality, Eugen Herrigel's Zen and the Art of Archery, and Richard Boleslavsky's Acting: The First Six Lessons. Nothing on photography. What did my astrological chart or these books have to do with photography? At the time I was making my living as a physical chemist, and my rational, highly critical mind did not take well to these requests. But I really wanted to study with Minor, so I went along with what he asked.
When I arrived at the Hotchkiss School I saw that there were sixty participants, ranging in age from eighteen to seventy. Minor greeted us as we arrived. He was a striking figure, well over six feet tall, with a flowing mane of white hair. He moved quietly, gracefully, and when he entered a space, he filled it completely.
This oceanic feeling of wonder is the
common source of religious mysticism, of
pure science and art for art's sake.
The first full day of the workshop began at four in the morning. The sound of a bass drum moving down the hallway arrived without warning. It was pitch black outside. How are we going to photograph in the dark? I wondered. Drowsily, I dressed and filed outside with the others. We gathered on a grassy field and a modern dancer began to lead us through a series of exercises. Everyone was participating, including Minor.
I turned to the man next to me. "Why are we doing this? What does this have to do with photography?"
"Ssshhhhh. Just do it," he said.
I had paid hundreds of dollars to study photography with Minor, and I wasn't about to spend the week undulating in the dark! Furious, I stormed away.
Back in my room, I started to pack my things. Dawn was breaking, and the line of dancers caught my eye as I passed the window. They were spread across the length of the field. I took the camera, screwed on a telephoto lens, and began to shoot, feeling very pleased with myself. They can do whatever they want. I'm going to photograph. That thought perfectly summarized where I was at that time in my life: standing apart, looking at the world through a lens, like a voyeur.
After the morning session, a group of students led by the dance instructor came to my room to convince me to stay. "You're not giving it a chance," they said. "You're copping out." I could have defended myself, but I was moved by the fact that they even cared whether I stayed or left. And deep down I knew that I couldn't just walk away. I wanted so badly to learn to see the way Minor did, to photograph my subjects in a way that didn't render them lifeless and two-dimensional.