Friday, October 25, 2013

DIARY 119 ~ What is practice and am I still doing it?

Once I launched myself on 'the spiritual life' I thought it would be clear exactly what I needed to do. This hasn't always proved itself to be true, because I've often found it hard to discern what I'm consciously practicing. What we commonly refer to as 'practice' is a rather loose, if not elastic, term, that can easily accommodate everything. The terms 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path' are rather carelessly used as a ready made shorthand. The assumption is that everyone knows what you mean by them.  Actually they're rather vague cover all terms. This lack of precision over what is or is not practice, is because the subjective content of practice cannot be really prescribed in detail.

The Buddha's discourses present us with methods, practices that can be used like medical prescriptions. If you keep taking these pills, things will eventually get better. He talks largely about the objective practices to do ~ meditation, ethics and wisdom ~ and the ultimate objective ~ Enlightenment.  He rarely talks or refers to his own or other peoples subjective experiences.  But what he does say, is that you don't have to take his word for it, that if in the light of your experience something doesn't work for you, then don't continue doing it. Objective practices have always to subjectively prove themselves. We are to consider as being practices, whatever is conducive to increased wisdom and compassion.

So what we talk about as practice usually has these two aspects ~ the subjective and the objective. These are the active content of 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path. These are the means for self-transformation, and ultimately self transcendence.  Whatever aspect of practice we are focusing on needs to be informed by an overarching vision of what its all in aid of ~ an ultimate objective.  Yet however we visualise this state of Enlightenment, what it is likely to be like, will be very subjective and personal, and from an ultimate perspective always a misconceived state.

Day to day, what form my practice decides to take arises from the raw subjective content, and that content is me, and the people and circumstances that I find myself with.  It's often convenient in Buddhist practice, to use those traditional objective forms of practice such as meditations and devotional rituals as the sole means of describing it. Necessary as these tools of 'the spiritual life' are, the real spade work is working with what is dug up by them, what arises out of the increased amplification of awareness. This deep soil, once unearthed requires analysis, reflection and refining. The diligent application of will often required for this, can become the real cutting edge of practice. Whatever comes up is all grist to the mill; the stones need removing, the soil needs tilling, riddling, aerating and mulching for new seeds to be sown, for the vision to flourish. I'll resist taking this gardening metaphor further, lest metaphysical speculations about the nature and relationship of the gardener to their garden mean I disappear completely up the backside of my flimsy metaphor.  But you perhaps get the picture.

Over my time of  being involved in Buddhism, my conceptions of practice, and what I'm actively doing in 'the spiritual life' have shifted and adapted. From being a hard line,rather harsh and unforgivingly disciplined daily meditator. I've become someone who finds meditating on a regular basis not only physically difficult, but psychologically obstacle ridden with resistances. This is largely a consequence of my past subjective mode of practicing those objective practices. I've had numerous, and frequently short lived attempts at re-engaging with meditation. Regrettably I've come to the conclusion that the volitional fire has gone out or its only on a pilot light. I keep hoping it will reignite itself, but as yet its no show. I'm beginning to believe that though this has its circumstantial conditioning factors, the actual problem may be that I am obstructing or enfeebling my own vision in some way. It may be that I'm looking for it in an out dated way, or perhaps seeking for it in the wrong direction. I've yet to get my head clear about where being an artist and my artwork fit into this Buddhist's vision

On a day to day basis, if I view my practice only from the perspective of traditional meditation practices, then I'm not practicing. Without a meditative compass it can be difficult to be precise about what exactly I am doing that is a daily practice. Though I can say that my practice is everyday life, how would I know if that was so? What the nature of my practice is, therefore turns into an ongoing internal debate. That I keep asking this question could either be seen as confirmation that its alive and kicking or that its dead but the bodies not yet been found so an autopsy hasn't been done to establish the date,time and mode of death.

Practice always has.its conscious and unconscious elements, the developing and the inculcated.  For myself practice has been led by the desire ' to know my own walking' to quote Dogen. which has its self- knowledge and self-transcendence aspects. In this, integrity has been an important principle, my self guiding compass. Still, I can easily get caught in feelings of falling short in my practice. This is a tricky one to call, because darker negative facets of my self view could be obscuring my objectivity. I can also tend towards the simplistic and doctrinaire. Viewed from the perspective of becoming Enlightened, whatever level of practice I'm doing is inadequate. Practice will always seem that way if assessed solely from an elevated viewpoint. What seems more important to me now, is that whatever I am doing contributes to making me a kinder and wiser person, about myself, about others and about worldly reality. Perhaps this can be my only real guide.


Thursday, October 24, 2013


In essence this just says it all for me.

" I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface
 in order to express general beauty 
with the utmost awareness."


Sunday, October 20, 2013

FEATURE 117 ~ Frank Stella

A bit of an old rave from the grave, but early Frank Stella had a huge influence on me while at Art College.  I'm just rediscovering the delights of his early work. The later work appeared to me to be a rather contrived volte face, if not reaction to the power and success of his love of squares and colour contrasts indicating depth. They positively fizz off the canvas, such is his evident delight in exploring all the possibilities. I get the same life affirming feeling from Bridget Riley's colour work too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically'

'The total of all past work exerts its influence on the new work. The new work combines the reality of the old and destroys the idea in which it was conceived. It cannot be understood except in the context of the other work'

'For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not'

There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works'

'The artist would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible'

'Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly'

'In terms of idea the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition'

'The idea becomes the machine that makes the art'


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DIARY 118 ~ New Work & an Old Work Causes Offence

Now the exhibition is up and running (already half way through its run)  I've sold one piece from the exhibition and got one commission. As I approached this thinking I'd not sell much from this space these are a welcome bonus. The show looks very good in the Cambridge Buddhist Centre's albeit limited hanging space. I'm getting lots of appreciation which is gratifying to hear. So on the level of raising my artistic profile, in the Sangha at least, it has done its job.

I can now begin focusing on developing new ideas, of which I have more than there is currently time available to start. Last weekend I began work on a new piece in gouache which is going well, so far. I've also begun doing some exploratory drawings for my commission, which I think may be enough of a basis to start work on soon. The commission is to make something for someone's shrine, and as they are into Pranjaparamita, I'm using phrases or words from the Heart Sutra as the basis for creating tonal areas and patterns. So far only in fine black, but I got some coloured fine-liners yesterday so I can mess around with those. I'm imagining text/tone sandwiched in-between layers of gouache.Quite excited by what's coming out of it so far.

My weekly work schedule at Windhorse is in the process of changing. Still doing one day in the Kitchen, but with the addition of 21/2 days in Reception from next week. The final element, which is some data entry for the new Retail Website is being held up at the moment, but may kick off the middle of this coming week

In the meantime I've been putting in some time on the Windhorse Archive and Scrapbook Blog, and finally finishing the Warehouse Mandala, by stenciling a flower made up of Flames at each of eleven door exit/entrance. The stencil didn't turn out quite as bold as I would have liked, but it is good enough. It also means I can tick another completed project off my list. Ironically some elements of the first part, the Lotus Border installed in 2010 have worn away, which I alternate between liking the idea of, and wanting to restore. But the latter would be to fly in the face of its inevitable impermanence, and turn me into a neurotic artistic conservator. So I'm leaving well alone.

There was one unexpected consequence to my exhibition going up. Two days after the Private View, someone came to see me to ask me to remove a painting that they found offensive. It's actualy my oldest completed work, dating back to 1993. Its a piece called Static-Stasis-Statice. Its made up of photocopied newspaper cuttings, and is ostensibly about our desire to capture on camera the essence of a life or a lived experience, but how photography can never do this. In fact nothing ever can. The central photograph only shows a row of people. I chose it because it captures the moment before they are to be executed. Its of a notorious act of ethnic cleansing by the Nazi's during the war. Understandably the circumstances are obviously both emotionally and morally loaded. The photo was taken one assumes by one of the perpetrators of the massacre. The Statice in the title were respectfully placed over these photos as a sort of momento mori. For even these so called 'everlasting flowers' have decayed over the years.

Personally, I don't believe we should sanitise our exposure to reality. Nor that a judgement should be made solely on the basis that someone may or may not be offended. Offence, from a Buddhist perspective is a form of aversion, of not wanting to be presented with some unpalatable aspect of reality. Artists can deliberately set out to offend, and in many cases with no outcome other than offence as justification.I can only take responsibility for what my intention was in making the artwork. Someone's reaction of offence is largely their responsibility. Whether I set out to cause offence, or unwittingly cause offence is mine. There being differing consequences based on the degree of skilfullness or unskillness I used in the making of that piece. I didn't feel my motives were particularly unethical, nor that one persons offence alone warranted the removal of the piece. In the end I left it up to the Buddhist Centre to decide. Their concerns were no doubt more focused on the potential for offence and how this might impact on the reputation of the Buddhist Centre, so they asked me to remove it.


Though I was irritated for a day or two, this was simply my pride and ego feeling wounded by the un-justness of it. But in the end I decided to put this to bed, by remembering to hold a Dharmic perspective. In essence, by not allowing myself to be further blown about by the Worldly Winds of ~ Praise/Blame ~Pleasure/Pain ~ Gain/Loss ~ Fame/Infamy. From which point of view, whether this picture hung in an exhibition or not, or whether someone was offended or not by it, are actually not very important at all.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

FEATURE 116 ~ Grateful Designs

I've become a bit of an obsessed with street grates and man hole covers, the designs and patterns I just find really exciting. I think these may well creep into my artwork at some point soon.

Yeh, I sort of couldn't resist this.