"Creativity is our birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking, and thinking. . . . . The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, nonlinear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe," writes John Daido Loori, the founder and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, where he resides. For many centuries, Zen masters have used art to teach the Buddhist way to monks and laity. This tradition developed in Japan where the tea ceremony, bamboo flute, landscape gardening, Noh drama, ceramic arts, and archery were known as the "artless arts of Zen." They existed beyond technique, along with painting, calligraphy, and poetry.
After a career as a research scientist and a professional photographer, John Daido Loori embarked upon full-time Zen training under Maezumi Roshi, which would eventually lead him to become a Zen priest. He opened the Zen Arts Center in Mount Tremper in 1980 as a place where "Zen training would be used as a vehicle for studying, enhancing, and cultivating a creative life." In this illuminating resource, Loori presents practices that can help us develop new ways of seeing and creating. He then discusses how the truths of the Zen arts can assist us in our quest to live more freely and generously.
One of the most important of these is the still point. Loori writes: "Every creature on the face of the earth seems to know how to be quiet and still. A butterfly on a leaf, a cat in front of a fireplace, even a hummingbird comes to rest sometime. But humans are constantly on the go. We seem to have lost the ability just to be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the basis of our existence. The still point is at the heart of the creative process. In Zen, we access it through zazen" (sitting meditation). Other aspects of Zen that help us open up to our innate talents are no mind, ordinariness, mystery, playfulness, and an awareness of the fleeting nature of life.
Loori celebrates spontaneity as something wild and untaught. He has a special place in his heart for simplicity. And he concludes: "If I was asked to get rid of the Zen aesthetic and just keep one quality necessary to create art, I would say it's trust. When you learn to trust yourself implicitly, you no longer need to prove something through your art. You simply allow it to come out, to be as it is. This is when creating art becomes effortless. It happens just as you grow your hair. It grows."
This is an excellent Zen guide to expressing yourself creativity in art and in life.