Tuesday, April 22, 2014

ARTICLE ~ Instructions for the Artist ~ No 2, 'The Activities of a Buddha'

The second in a series of articles based on Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo, exploring how it might apply to artistic practice and work in general.
'Carryout the activities of a Buddha'

Whatever the office held within a monastery Dogen suggests they all should ' carryout the activities of a Buddha' through their role and task. What would this mean, for a cook, for an artist, for anyone? Someone who does 'carryout the activities of a Buddha' must be Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels, have Buddhist practice at the very centre of their lives.

Uchiyama Roshi's notes to my translation describes this as living 'constantly settling one's life' Settling is an interesting term to use. In English we often say people have 'settled down' which can be used in a slightly derogatory way. That someone has become quite conventional or boring. From a Buddhist perspective to 'have settled down' might imply that someone had grown too comfortable, abandoned the spiritual life, gone for refuge to domesticity, signed a truce with dukkha. There is however another meaning to the word 'settling,' and that is 'sorting out' or 'coming to terms with things. So 'constantly settling one's life' is really describing the purpose of Buddhist practice. To be constantly coming to terms with how one is, how things really are, with reality, till you can settle and abide there.

Uchiyama's note goes further than that, putting it in very Dogen like terms; 'to actually put your life to work, to make it function, in a way that things become most settled' Our purpose then, throughout our life and work is to help it function in this way, to use daily life itself to clarify the way things really are. This means that any job, however humble, non-descript, apparently useless, or without meaning or purpose, can function as a forum  for making sense of reality. It does require constant attentiveness, nothing stays the same for long, as conditions and ourselves change. What appeared to be a useful approach that had life to it one week, can seem utterly dead in the water by the next.

Nevertheless, cooking remains cooking, and making art remains making art. Its unhelpful to make worldly value judgements about them. These are both just activities that human beings do, and can potentially function as a means of self transformation.  This has to be consciously sought out in whatever situation we are in, we don't naturally see what the spiritual transformative purpose is in everything we do, it needs some reflection and working at. This is what the Tenzo Kyokun is all about.  Setting off on a journey of discovery, to find what the ways are to 'build great temples from ordinary greens.'

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