The start of a new year seems like the right time think about things – looking backward to look forward or something like that. I am happy that this blog has given me a forum to experiment and show my work and I definitely plan to continue over the coming year. I have a number of other creative projects underway and in the works (maybe too many!) Perhaps if there’s one thing to focus on this year, it’s having a better balance between all aspects of life – most of us could use some of that – I know I could!
Here’s a short poem about poetry – in particular, the poetry of a certain Tang Dynasty Chinese monk named Han Shan – as interpreted by the American poet, Peter Stambler… It seems about right for a cold winter day…enjoy!
The Uses of Poetry
To join happy men, collect Han Shan’s poems,
More sonorous, more savory than a morning’s sutras.
With bamboo shoots, pin them to your cracked walls.
Read them over in the evenings, keeping out the cold.
I don’t think I have much to say about this image. It’s been in my mind for a couple of weeks. I’m working on a canvas which is related as well. I will be sure to post it – well, if I’m fairly happy with it!
Just to be clear, this is not meant to be me… I used to meditate somewhat regularly but haven’t for quite a while. It seems to be something that gets set aside when life gets busy – likely just when one needs it most! Anyway, I do tai chi and qi gong so for now those are the main meditative practices in my life.
I thought I’d try my hand at drawing a Ho Tai, also called the Laughing Buddha. Unlike commonly assumed, this is not a Chinese representation of the original Buddha (Siddharta Gautama Buddha) but a rather different historical figure. He lived during the 9th Century and was a Buddhist monk. He worked away happily in the monastery kitchens and loved his food but he is not as famous for his prodigious girth as for his kindness and generosity. He often visited local villages and distributed food and gifts to the poor – especially children – becoming something of a Santa Claus type figure depicted carrying a sack full of goodies. After his death he was elevated to god status by the Daoists. It is easy to find all different sizes of Ho Tai figures in shops in your local Chinatown. Now you can impress the proprietor by knowing the correct name! (Note the pronunciation is ho – long o, and tai like tie)
Bodhidharma, also known as DaMo in Chinese, is famous for many things. Born in India around the year 440, he converted to Buddhism and traveled to China where he is credited with introducing Zen Buddhism (called Chan in Chinese). According to tradition, he spent much time at the Shaolin Temple establishing the famed martial arts practiced there and also managing to meditate in a cave for 9 years.
During his years of meditation, he fell asleep (once!) and in his determination to keep it from happening again, he cut off his eyelids. Where his eyelids fell, the first tea plants sprang up to help him (and all the rest of us lesser mortals) stay awake while enjoying the pleasures of tea at the same time. (Well, the pleasure part isn’t mentioned in the histories.) This explains why representations of Bodhidharma always show him with bulging, lidless eyes.
Other ways of telling that a painting you’re looking at is of DaMo is that he is either crossing a river on a hollow reed (how he was said to have crossed the Yangtze), sitting in meditation in a cave and usually facing a wall, or often, with one shoe on a stick over his shoulder. The story goes that some time after DaMo’s death, an official said that he had met him in the mountains heading back west and saying that he was returning to India. He was carrying a staff on which hung a single sandal. The monks back at the temple got curious and decided to open up the tomb. They found just one sandal inside.
Much of this content is common lore regarding DaMo/Bodhidharma but a lot of information can be found in the preface to The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma translated by Red Pine.