A Japanese Tea house (Zen).
“An ancient pond;
A frog leaps in;
The sound of water.”
That is a famous Haiku poem written by a Japanese Zen poet. When you read it, did you visualize the imagery of the pond/leaping frog, did you hear the splash of water? That’s the magic of zen philosophy – it makes you be a part of the creation and enhances your experience, instead of just observing what an artist has created.
“Explicit art ends with itself; suggestive art is as limitless and profound as one’s imagination can make it.”
Zen, is not only a philosophy, but has been a way of living in Japan for many centuries. One may call zen as the art of controlled hap-hazard. An art of seeing perfection in imperfection. Art of noticing beauty in old/withered materials in its natural form.
But why glorify incompleteness; imperfections; asymmetry; old, worn-out objects?
“Symmetrical art is a closed form, perfect in itself and frozen in completeness; asymmetrical art invites the observer in, to expand his imagination and to become a part of the process of creation.”
“New objects are assertive and striving for attention; old, worn objects have the quiet, peaceful air that exudes tranquility, dignity, and character.”
Zen artists used to paint monochrome abstract images because they believed that the palette of the mind is richer than the palette of the brush, and what the viewer imagines is more beautiful/expressive/insightful than what any artist can create.
The Japanese extended the philosophy of zen beyond art – one could find it in the way they constructed their houses, in their tea ceremonies, in their rock gardens, in their ceramic vessels, in their poetry, in their plays and even in warfare! I’ll write a separate article on what made the Zen Samurai so fearsome.
Even though we don’t like to admit, there is an irrational/illogical side to our brain. It influences us more often than we realize. While the west focuses on enhancing analytical abilities,
“Zen culture has been devised over the centuries to bring us in touch with our non-rational, non-verbal side. Zen culture’s primary lesson is that we should start trying to experience art and the world around us, rather than analyzing them.”
Zen creations are more than what meets the eye – they used art as an essential step towards contemplation & enlightenment. I am trying to define & analyze Zen, but it can’t be done!
“What exactly can you make of a philosophical system whose teacher answers the question, ‘How do you see things clearly?’, with the answer, ‘I close my eyes’?”
One more interesting information about zen culture comes from its origin – Bodhidharma’s (a 5th/6th Century Indian monk who traveled to China) meditation – or Dhyan in Sanskrit – was pronounced as Ch’an in China, and was later adopted as Zen by the Japanese.
Our ancestors knew more than what we think they did – after all, they didn’t have the distraction called technology.
All quotes have been taken from the book, “Zen Culture” by Thomas Hoover. Read it if you want a good introduction to Zen culture and Japanese history.