BUDDISTS' IDEA OF BEAUTY
By Soetsu Yanagi
As you probably know, there is a great difference between the nature
of the God as conceived of by the Christians and that of the Buddha as
conceived of by the Buddhists. The God is an absolute being, distinct from
the finite being called Man. The God is conceived of as the Creator, and
Man as the Created. Thus it is characteristic of the Christian philosophy
that it assumes the existence of the God independent from Man. As a consequence,
some link is needed to connect these two different entities, and this
link we find in the person of Jesus Christ himself. One may say the holy
cross symbolises the difficult task achieved by Jesus at the cost of his life.
The Buddha as conceived of in Buddhism is by no means a Creator like this. By the name is understood a person who has accomplished enlightenment. Buddhism teaches us that every human being can become a Buddha, and everyone is primordially qualified to become a Buddha. Now, of those who have become a Buddha, Sakya-muni is the typical person, and all followers of Buddhism aspire to retrace his footsteps. Therefore, in Buddhism, no God is assumed besides man, as is done in Christianity.
Instead, they assume Law (Logos) in Buddhism, and this Law may some- times be referred to by a personal name. Still then its nature is far different from that of the Christian God, and is always the manifestation of the Law itself as the essential property of Man. Thus by Buddha is understood a man in whom Law has been accomplished.
Then what is enlightenment? It is the state of being free from all duality. Sometimes it is explained as Oneness, but more often it is interpreted as "non-dual entirety" (funi), because Oneness is apt to be construed as opposed to duality and hence understood in relative terms. Buddha is the name applied to a person who has attained this state of non-duality. Buddha therefore is not the Creator as opposed to the Created, but is the whole, the integrity over and above such distinction. It is the state in which that which creates and that which is created have not yet been differentiated. The Creator presupposes the Created, and therefore is still dualistic in nature.
In Buddhism, this Undifferentiated or the Non-dual is assumed to be the inherent nature of humanity. All discipline in Buddhism has in view the accomplishing of this Non-dual entirety. To lie peacefully in this Non-dual state for ever is the meaning of the expression "Entering into Nirvana", which is the same as "Attaining Buddahood".
Buddhism, then, is not theism. Nor is it appropriate to call it Atheism. For Buddhism sees Law in the world where there is not the opposition between Existence and Non-existence. Again, Buddhism is neither monotheism nor polytheism, because it does not allow us to entertain such dualistic ideas as one and many. Some people would pronounce Buddhism to be a form of pantheism, but this is not correct either, for Buddhism does not assume any such special thing as God. Some would protest here arguing that there are so many deities in Buddhism that even their mere names cannot easily be enumerated, and therefore it is polytheistic. But this is not so. These deities merely exist to demonstrate the immeasurable glory of the Law, and may be likened to the beams of the Sun radiating to all directions.
In Buddhist discipline the central question of the primary importance as well as of the greatest urgency is how to do away with the opposition between life and death, oneself and others two most representative of forms of dualism and all effort is directed to the solution of this problem. All human terror, suffering, conflict, enmity, resentment and lust arises from one's confinement in the dualistic world. Therefore, all the different sects of Buddhism have this in common, that they teach the principle of "The Gate of Law to the Non-dual" in order that dualism might be done away. Different stand-points and different manners of exposition give rise to numerous sects, but all agree in their enlarging upon the Non-dual entirety. If we compare this inherent nature to our home country, Buddhism will be our nostalgic thought as well as the road to our home town. Buddha may be the term to glorify the man who has successfully reached his native town. Enlightenment then becomes synonymous with the realization of this Non-dual entirety living the integrity which is not yet differentiated.
Quoting one or two episodes will be helpful to your understanding. A man, seeking the way to enlightenment, visited a priest named Kwanzan. "What did you come for?" asked the priest, which is the first question invariably asked by a priest. "I am puzzled by the problem of life and death, wherefore I am come to seek your instruction", said the man, to which the priest responded, "This is a place where there is neither life nor death, so you might as well go home", At first this will appear to be a very impolite and unkin answer. But the priest obviously tried to impart directly, once and for all, that the world of Buddhism is a world beyond all the dualistic distinction of life and death. The answer, which in reality was said out of sheer kindness, was a warning that so long as life and death were conceived of as two opposing phases of existence, the truth was never to be grasped.
Quoting one episode will be helpful to your understanding. Once there was in China a great Zen monk called Gizan (Kuai Shan), who tried to explain everything by the symbol of a circle. One day, while engaged in training his disciples, he drew a circle on the ground and said, "If you step into this circle I will hit you. If you stand outside the circle, I will hit you all the same. What will you do?" The monk meant to teach by this that, as long as one persists in the dualistic realm of in and out, one cannot attain Buddahood.
With all this as a preamble, we will now proceed to consider how the question of beauty is treated in Buddhism. However, I am not going to introduce any such thing as Buddhist aesthetics, for nothing of the sort has been cultivated as an independent branch of learning. Nor am I going to deal with beauty expressed through the medium of Buddhist art. My object is to clarify what interpretation is possible of the world of beauty from Buddhists' point of view, and to explain the Buddhistic basis on which the nature of beauty pursued by Orientals chiefly depends.
Suppose there is a beautiful piece of pottery. Whether it is a Sung ware of China or a Slip ware of England does not matter. If the article is beautiful, we may call it, in Buddhist phraseology, "an article that has achieved Buddahood". It is not man alone that becomes a Buddha. A beautiful article, one may say, is an article lying peacefully where it aspires to be. Now, as has been said before, attaining Baddahood means going into the realm that lies beyond the realm of duality. Beauty, then, is that which has been liberated from duality. "Freedom" is a word now being used almost too carelessly, but Buddhists are more fond of the word mug (literally, being free from impediment, liberation) which means the absence of impediment or restriction arising from relativity. It means the state of liberation from all duality, where there is nothing to restrict or be restricted. Beauty ought to be understood as the beauty of liberation or freedom from impediment.
One thing that should be noted at this juncture is that true freedom is not even fettered by the idea of freedom. In this sense, liberalism cannot be said to realize the true understanding of freedom, because it is enthralled by principle. Much less does freedom mean selfish and lawless behaviour. Freedom must mean liberation from both oneself and others, in the sense that it is not in the bondage of itself and at the same time not restricted by others. All that is beautiful is, in some sense or other, a manifestation of this sort of freedom.
We are faced here with an interesting problem. We are now talking of beauty, but beauty is the antithesis of ugliness. It is customary with us to distinguish between good and bad, high and low, and so on. But after all, beauty thus conceived of can only be relative in nature. From the Buddhists' point of view, the beauty that simply stands opposed to ugliness is not true beauty: it is nothing more than relativistic, dualistic beauty. True beauty ought to belong to the realm where the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly does not exist. This is commonly referred to by the expression "prior to beauty and ugliness" or "beauty and ugliness as yet unseparated". True beauty cannot exist outside of the realm where beauty and ugliness have not yet come to clash with each other. Among the numerous big wishes of the Buddha recorded in the Muryojukyo (Scripture of Endless Life) is the following:-
"If in the land of the Buddha there still is the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly, I do not wish to be a Buddha of such a land".
These words show that in the land of the Buddha the opposition of the beautiful and the ugly is not known. Over beyond this distinction, it is understood, is the land of the Buddha. Dualism is alien to Buddhahood, and therefore in it beauty as opposed to the ugly, not the ugly as opposed to beauty, both disappear. On the other side of this distinction every object, be it made by whom or in what manner, is saved. Saving thus being promised, we are not to lie uselessly entrapped in the conflict between the beautiful and the ugly. When this Buddahood which lies ever beyond beauty and ugliness is attained, any work by any craftsman will have become a Buddha. in this temporal world, conflict goes on incessantly between the beautiful and the ugly, never to be finally settled. Only when the rest of this conflict is removed, we are told, everyone is to be saved. Therefore we are constantly instructed to revert to the stage that precedes the distinction between good and bad, beauty and ugliness, and so forth.
In Buddhism the role of this idea of the undifferentiated is an important end. Since it does not concern the choice of the beautiful in elimination of the ugly, but pertains to the realm which antedates the birth of the opposition between the two, it permits of no situation for the occurrence of the ugly and, by the same token, for the existence of beauty. Here everything is an integrity which is unique, which is itself, and which is without distinction. This, as Buddhism teaches us, is the realm in which art should abide. Kabir, the Indian poet, wrote:-
"The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me. The dance of God goes on without hands and feet. The Harp of God is played without fingers, it is heard without ears: for He is the ear, and He is the hearer".
This, I am sure, is a piece of profound religious poetry. If it was a "struck drum", the poet would mean to say, the sound can be dualistic after all, and cannot constitute God's music. As long as the man who strikes the drum and the drum struck by him are two different beings, true music will not be born out of them.
The following quotation from St. John (Chapter 8) impressed me as having a grave significance:-
Verily, verily, I say unto you, 'Before Abraham was, I am'".
Remarkable in this last line is the use of the preposition before and the verb am. This before is not said with reference to any priority and posterity in time. Otherwise, "I have been" ought to have been said instead of "I am". The present tense is used to denote, not the mere present, but the Etornal New which is not supported by the dualistic past or future but is the present that partakes of eternity. Thus, a truly beautiful object is so because it pertains to the Eternal Now.
All movements of art tend to the pursuit of novelty, but the essence of beauty ought to exist in that which has been liberated from the distinction of the new and the old. The old Sung ware of China reveals a beauty which is for ever new. Even if the day may come when its outer form is considered old, it still must retain an undying beauty. It may be likened to a fountainhead, where one may draw water a thousand times and still find fresh water springing out. Chronologically the Sung ware may be old, but in terms of beauty it is still living today. In Jesus's words, its beauty belongs to the realm of "I am", and not to that of "I have been", "I was", or "I shall be". Should there be one who thinks the Sung ware to be old and brands it as a thing of the past, it gives evidence that the mind of the observer himself is getting antiquated. In an object which is really beautiful, there does not exist time that flies away. All that there is, is the Eternal Now.
I have already said that in Sung pottery there is a beauty that is for
ever new. Our next question is, how and from where it acquired this Eternal
As everybody has noticed, not a piece of Sung ware bears the signature of its maker. The potter never put his signature on his work, however beautiful a work he may have produced. Some people may account for this by saying that in those days the custom of signing was as yet unknown. But perhaps the situation was still simpler. Perhaps the more correct reason was that the work was the product of mere craftsmen whose social status was extremely low. As everybody has noticed, none of the potters of Sung ware were artists of personal character. Nor were they learned scientists. Craftsmen of those days, who worked only to make articles for daily use, were perhaps very ignorant, scarcely educated people, who moreover were extremely poor and had to sweat with hard work from morning to night. They were not of that privileged class who could work only when they were in a creative mood. Perhaps, either in China or in Korea, in particular, potters belonged to the humblest layers of society. Yet, lying so low in society, they could produce, without the least trace of difficulty, those articles of high beauty like the Korai celadon. None of these people were to be compared with the self-conscious, learned, individualistic of today, with all their aesthetic theories and scientific knowledge. Yet these humble craftsmen were able to produce works of consummate art which have become models for this refined posterity. How has this come to pass? These superb works of art were apparently produced with great ease. What is more surprising, it was not a few out of many that could produce works of this kind. There were a great many craftsmen who, every one of them, could produce equally good articles. Nowadays, even accomplished artists find it difficult to produce works of real merit. A stupendous amount of effort, practice, meditation and ingenuity is needed for success, so that only a few artists with more than usual talent can work on objects of real value. But no such individual geniuses were needed for the creation of Sung and Korai potteries. How is this mystery to be explained by Buddhist meditation?
Buddhism teaches us that there are two ways of becoming a Buddha; one is called jiriji-do or the way of self-reliance, and the other tariki-do or the way of reliance on others; the one is the way of reaching the destination by one's own power; the other that by relying on an external power. The one may be compared to going by land on one's foot; the other to going by sea in a sailing boat. The way of self-reliance is for men of capacity to follow, and that of reliance on others is for men without the power, or one may even explain the former as the way for geniuses and individualistic artists, and the latter as the way for ordinary people and craftsmen. In the former, one believes himself to be possessed of some greatness, and endeavours to find out and display the greatness. In the latter one reflects on one's smallness, renounces himself. As to the second way, I shall now talk this evening.
But we might do well to expand the similarity we introduced above. The way of self-reliance is a land-route, and one who follows it will very often have to go over rugged roads, traverse muddy pools and get over similar difficult paths, time and again losing oneself on the way, getting tired and suffering in various ways. Hence it is also called the Nangyo-do or the Way of Hardships, and this is the way of artists relying on their own individual strength. Only those of extraordinary calibre, or genius, can complete this difficult trip.
But not all living people can be geniuses. That the percent age of geniuses appearing in a generation is extremely small is a cold fact proved by statistics. This shows that there are a great many ordinary people who are not geniuses living side by side with the latter. Are these masses of people simply doomed to obliteration? Will there be no salvation for them? Buddhism tells very clearly and definitely that these masses of people also can become Buddhas. Those sects of Buddhism that preach this doctrine are called Tarikishu (sects of Reliance on Others). They teach that to those who are not endowed with genius is equally granted the bliss of reaching their destination. Since everybody is to get there safely and unfailingly, the way is called Igyo-do or the Easy Way. The ship entering the harbour with swelling sails, to which we have likened the process, is not going by its own strength but is giving up everything to the great power called wind. In a similar way the masses, even if they are without talents of their own, can be carried to the goal by the assistance of a great external power. Relying on the power of somebody else, they make the travel with complete ease. With this Way of Reliance on Others or the Easy Way provided for the common folks, Buddhism teaches that it is possible for everyone to become a Buddha.
When this view is properly extended, we find that the beauty of Sung pottery of China is an instance of the goal arrived at by following the Way of Reliance on Others. Rather than to attribute it to the personal ability of the potters, we are to conclude that their environments protected and assisted them. The long tradition behind them, the abundant natural resources, the repetition of work needed for producing in large numbers, the objective of making articles for daily use all these factors collaborated to protect and develop their work. The potters meekly accepted these circumstances and betook themselves to the kiln with their bodies and souls ready to meet them. Should a craftsman of mediocre talent try to resist these forces and stand on his own footing, he is bound to meet with difficulty, get lost and collapse before reaching his destination. There is but one way for him to choose and that is by relying on the power of others. He has only to follow that way submissively.
It is noteworthy that, when this Way of Reliance on Others is followed, not much difference results in the beauty of the products, whoever may be making and whatever being made. There may be individual differences, but they are reduced to nothing by the external power. On the other hand, when the Way of Self-Reliance is followed, who makes it causes great difference in the finished goods, personal taste asserting itself strongly and the quality of talent largely controlling the merit of the work. Needless to say, even anong Sung wares that are made in the Way of Reliance on Others, slight differences are to be observed in the quality of individual articles but, significantly enough, not one of them is found to have positively deviated from the right course. Putting it in Buddhist terms we might say that everyone of them has the look of having attained Buddahood. Alas, what a great difference from the situation of the present-day industrial art, in which the uglier goods are being produced in ever increasing numbers!
One remarkable aspect of Sung wares is that they are not manifestations of the personality of individual makers, but that their personality is submerged beneath the surface and the article itself has come to the fore. Sung potters were working in a world where who made it does not count. In that world no effort is made to manifest individuals through the medium of things; on the contrary it is aimed to produce things through the medium of man. The beauty there created is the beauty of articles, not that of man. If there is beauty also on the side of man, it is assuredly the beauty of the submissiveness with which he has placed himself at the mercy of the great external power.
All of you perhaps know that there are many Sung wares on which fine pictures are drawn. The techniques of the brush and the rendering of figures exhibited in them are so masterly that we are often induced to conjecture that there were excellent artists to work on these superb designs. On the other hand, we never meet with a design that may be called ugly or distasteful, from which we are apt to conclude that so many of Sung potters must have been gifted artists to have drawn invariably well like that. But if you think so you are greatly deceived. In Jishu (Tz'u Chou) where this type of wares was produced in great numbers, drawing pictures on pottery was almost always the job of boys. No famous painters of the day had been hired to work the kilns. Usually children of about ten years of age worked on them, and they were all of poor families. Some of them, to be sure, were juvenile delinquents, some worked only reluctantly, and had to be scolded by their parents to take up the brushes, with tears in their eyes. Like children of all times they might have sung loudly, or even quarrelled while drawing. Sometimes we see Chinese characters written in the pictures, but presumably the boys were writing them without knowing the meaning of them, or without being able to read them. The children were mostly illiterate. And yet no matter what kind of children they were, or what kind of pictures or characters they drew, the result was invariably of marvellous beauty.
Obviously this was not because each of the children was endowed with rare talent. If the work had required the hand of genius, how could such a large number of boys draw equally good pictures? The reason may have lain partly in the materials used, but more characteristically the repetition of work which was demanded of them made their pictures excel in quality. The easy use of brush and the boldness of composition were the outcome of the labour of having to draw the same picture hundreds of times a day. This repetition brought an amazing skill to the technique, making possible a quickness which was almost miraculous to see. Hesitation had no place in it, nor anxiety, nor ambition. Forgetful of all these they worked in perfect nonchalance. This monotonous repetition which to the present-day makers would have been a horror, and the strenuous labour which the Chinese boys had to accept as inevitable destiny these things had the requiting effect of imparting "beauty" to their work. Having to draw the same picture hundreds of times a day will make the painter forget what he is drawing. He will have been liberated from the dualistic opposition of cleverness and clumsiness. No longer does he need to think of the distinction of beauty and ugliness. All that he does is to move his brush quickly and unhesitatingly, without even being conscious of what he is drawing. The children of Jishu may have been thinking of chrysanthemums while drawing the designs of bamboo; nay, they even drew animals they had never seen, wrote characters which they could not read. These circumstances never interfered with the work. They forgot themselves while working, or it might be more correct to say that they worked in a world which was so free that they forgot themselves. Might we not say that it was exactly here that the beauty of their product had been promised?
It was the submissive reliance on tradition. Tradition, as everybody knows, is not the work of individuals but the accumulation of the experience and wisdom of long generations of our forefathers. It is the Given Power as Buddhists would call it. Tradition is an aggregate power which in all cases is above the individuals. Illiterate craftsmen, as individuals, may be small and weak, but supported by this Given Power of tradition, they can accomplish surprising works with the utmost case. Indeed the importance of the role of tradition in the work of craftsmen can hardly be exaggerated. We realize that Sung pottery was not the offspring of individual geniuses but the product of the non-individualistic power of tradition. Hence it follows that its be cuty was not individualistic, and there was no need to question by whom it was made. When one abides by tradition, the distinction between talented and untalented individuals all but disappears. To the craftsmen, tradition is the saviour and benefactor. When they lose sight of this tradition, craftsmen can but be helpless dullards, but as long as one works according to it, any craftsman can produce unfailingly a beautiful piece of art. Tradition never asks who is enlisting its help. Until now I have been speaking only of potters, but the rule holds true with other branches of practical art s well. In the Coptic textile, one of the greatest marvels of textile industry, we see, not the hands of a small number of geniuses, but of a great many ignorant women working indefatigably according to tradition. We may do well to ask ourselves, how many individualistic artists in more recent times have been able to give us articles more beautiful than the Coptic textiles. If the Way of Reliance on Others had not existed in this world, what a great deal less of beautiful objects might have been created! Certainly, to regard beauty as the product of genius alone is too narrow a view.
I will relate to you an episode of a devotee of the Sect of Reliance on Others. Once in Mikawa Province of Japan there was a woman devotee named O-Sono, who had been deeply instructed in the doctrine of the External Power. One day, in front of the temple she was earnestly discussing the problem of faith with her friends, when a priest who happened to come by, patted her on the shoulder and said: "What are you talking so intently about? We may be dead any time. How could you be so careless about it like that?" Hearing this she turned to him and said, "Will Buddha Amitabha ever be careless?" And the priest was greatly moved to hear the answer. The meaning of her answer was like this: "A petty woman like me is full of relaxations, but Buddha Amitabha is always on the alert for my sake, and therefore I feel no uneasiness about it".
In this story the woman had given herself up completely to the power of Buddha Amitabha. In the same way, many craftsmen give themselves up once end for all to tradition. If they entertain the slightest doubt in that power, their work will at once be deadlocked. They are but poor creatures not worth a second thought, but tradition enables them to do a big job. It is not they but tradition who bears the burden. The craftsmen do not put their signatures, but on the articles coming from their hands, Buddha Amit abha signs his name in large characters. Only our mortal eyes cannot see it.
One who admires Sung pottery and Coptic textile is admiring, without knowing it, the Buddha's signature. One who is attracted by the beauty of folk-crafts, is in reality being attracted by the invisible power lying beneath their outer features.
As has already been pointed out, in Buddhism there are two ways of
becoming a Buddha, one the Way of Relying on Others, and the other the Way of
Relying on Oneself. The latter, the way of going ahead by cultivating one's
own capacity, corresponds to the way of individualistic artists. Among the
various sects of Buddhism that advocate the way of self-reliance, the most
typical is perhaps the sect called Zen, the doctrine of which is thoroughly
individualistic, corumanding one to discipline oneself by relying on one's own
power until enlightenment is attained. One who follows this way, therefore,
must have above all things a firm will and a clear wisdom. Their objective
which they strive hard to attain, is liberation from all duality. Day in,
day out, they go through rigorous training in order to expel everything that
is relativistic or duelistic from their mind, because so long as they are
pent up within the world of "two" they cannot obtain peace of mind. Good
and evil, true and false, beautiful and ugly, oneself and others, life and
death, consciousness and unconsciousness all these dualistic forms must be
discarded, or else Buddhahood is not to be reached. That is why they
strive to live up to this funi or non-dual entirety. In Buddhistic terms
a true artist is not one who chooses beauty in elimination of the ugly - not
one who dwells in a world after the distinction of the beautiful and the ugly
cane to be. Only the man who enters the realm where strife between the two
things cannot exist is to be hailed as a true artist, because in a work of the
man who has attained this frame of mind there can be no room for encroachment
by the ugly, nor is there room for any relativistic beauty comprehensible only
as an antithesis to the ugly. Wise Zen monks always endeavour to direct their
disciples to this realm of non-dual entirety through various forms of training.
When a disciple asked his master, "What if I gazed on Buddha by whisking away dust?" the abbot is said to have answered at once, "Buddha is also dust". This is a piece of typical Zen catechism. As long as one is concerned about whisking off dust or gazing on Buddha, the Buddha he can see is as good as the dust - so the abbot meant to say. Or did he mean to ask how the disciple could not see Buddha in the midst of the dust, without bothering about the dust? We usually wish to make a beautiful object, believing that by whisking away the dust which we consider ugly, we can bring forth the beautiful Buddha. Zen monks, however, ask us if we ought to be content with a Buddha that is so plain.
A disciple asked his master, a monk named Joshu, "How shall we be mentally prepared all the twelve hours?" Joshu answered, "Most people are employed by the twelve hours, but I employ the twelve hours". Zen demands that one shall always be the master, while most people suffer themselves to be enthralled by others, or even to become slaves of themselves, of their desires, emotions, principles, so that they are seldom their own masters. This is because they are under the spell of the two: oneself and others. "Do not abide in dual view" is the constant remonstrance in Zen Buddhism. A beautiful work as understood in Zen Buddhism is a work of a man who is not in any bondage. He should not be at the mercy of beauty and ugliness. He should not be enthralled even by himself.
On another occasion Joshu exchanged the following conversation with a priest: - Joshu - "In which are you, in the light or in the dark?"
Priest - "I am not in either"
Joshu - "Are you between the two?"
Priest - "I am not there either"
Joshu - "Then you simply dwell in the words 'neither in the light, nor in the dark, nor in between!"
Priest - "I am master of those words and employ them"
Joshu - "That is the answer I wanted to hear"
The admonition not to stay in duality is a warning not to be enslaved by duality. Even if one dwells in duality one may be free if one can be a master who employs duality. This is the freedom pursued by Zen. Seen from the Zen point of view, beauty is the state of absence of preoccupation, or that which is in every respect free cleverness which is not in the yoke of cleverness, clumsiness which is not in the bondage of clumsiness. When this state is reached, everything is beautiful. Beauty cannot exist outside the realm of freedom from impediment.
As I have already explained, stress is placed, in Zen discipline, on the pursuit of the world before the differentiation of dualistic aspects has taken place. With this objective in view, highly interesting questions of various types are asked by Zen monks, for example: "How about the time before Bodhidharma (the first patriarch of the Zen Sect) came from India to China?" and "How about an old mirror before it is polished?" and "How about a lotus flower before it emerges from water?" and so on. Interpreted as a question of aesthetics, these will mean, "How about the time before the beautiful and the ugly are yet differentiated?"
Art, usually, is so to speak a struggle between the beautiful and the ugly, or our endeavour to subjugate the ugly and bring victory to the beautiful. This is a process after beauty and ugliness have been separated. From zen point of view it deserves the warning: "That is no final solution of the problem. One ought to dwell in the world be fore there are beauty and ugliness. Salvation for art is nowhere else to be found".
This "undifferentiated" or "unborn" state is the very basic quality and is expressed in Buddhism as Inherent or Innate or Inborn nature. The distinction of beauty and ugliness is post-natal and artificial, and therefore one is also constantly advised to "go back to one's original phase", since this means liberation or isolation from dualism. The object of Buddhist aesthetics is to clarify the following truths:
1. That the inherent nature of man is not dualistic; that non-dual entirety is the primordial home of us all; that the place is purity itself.
2. That the division of things in two is merely a later event and is against nature; that the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly is based on man's delusion and is purely artificial.
3. That therefore we are to forsake our dualistic fallacy and go back to our old home of non-duality, in which our salvation is promised.
Zen Buddhism looked forward to the state where there was no dualistic strife, and expressed its quality by the words buji and bunan, which mean "no event" and "no trouble". respectively. They mean the absence of storm, of conflicts, of disease. Hating the ugly and adoring the beautiful is still too immature an attitude. Zen admonishes us to go to a world where no such antagonism exists.
Once there was a wise priest named Nanzen. One day his disciple asked him, "What is the Way like?" "The everyday mind is the Way", answered Nanzen. The everyday mind is the mind inherent to one in which there are no raging waves or winds. Are not the sufferings of modern artists ascribable to their inordinate pursuit of the extraordinary? One ought to reflect more deeply on the meaning of what is ordinary.
In Korean pottery there is a type known as hakeme or brush-ware. This is produced by sweeping the green hard pot with a large coarse brush full of white clay. Because of its elegant taste they are often used as tea bowls in Japan. They are made with a very simple technique and one has the impression that they can be made easily, and many imitations have been in Japan, but none of these imitations are as beautiful, or as rich in flavour, as the Korean original, and they are now almost the despair of Japanese artists. Strange to say, the Koreans themselves make it in a very off-handed manner, and very quickly too. This is because the white clay clings to the pot better when so treated. The objective is not effect, but that end is incidentally achieved. The craftsmen are doing that as a matter of course, and herein is the 'everyday mind' spoken of by Zen Buddhists. They are working very eventlessly'; and the product, moreover, was at one time the cheapest pottery of the day. But the hakeme attempted by conscious artists are the product of the extraordinary mind in pursuit of beauty, and is in its nature eventful. As a result, the Korean work is indisputably the more beautiful of the two. To explain this in terms of Zen, the Korean hakeme is produced before the formation of the ideas of bucuty and ugliness, and the imitation, after the separation of the two ideas. The latter, clinging as it does to the dualistic view, can in no wise excel the former. The consciousness of beauty avails little as a final arbiter for the beautiful, while eventlessness and the everyday mind does not allow anything to be ugly that dwells in it, because it is the state where dust cannot collect from the beginning.
Once there was a Zen monk named Eno (Hui Neng) in China, who later became the 6th patriarch of Zen Sect. His master Gunin (Hung-jen) was going to select his successor from cmong his disciples, and demanded that they would each compose a poem in which they were to epitomise their idea of Buddhism. Whereupon his first disciple, named Jinsh, wrote a poem on the wall of the corridor, which was to this effect: "We are like a mirror. Polish the mirror every day, and do not allow a particle of dust to rest on it". Gunin read it and thought it fairly good, but still he was not wholly satisfied. Next day he found another poem written beside the previous one. It was something like this: "We are nothing like a mirror. Since there is nothing from the beginning, there can be no place for the dust to rest on". Gunin was greatly moved to read this poem, thought its composer deserved to be his successor, and decided to make him assume his mantle. This able disciple was the youthful Eno.
We always endeavour to whisk away the dust called ugliness, and we are apt to forget that there is in store for us world where dust cannot collect at all. Zen monks try to make us realize it through various means. Thus we are taught that the road to Buddhahood is open to us all that everybody is born with the foregone conclusion that he is to be saved. It is for this reason that we are told to remain a Buddha instead of becoming a Buddha, since we are primordially a Buddha. If we cannot do so that is because we are hindered by the man-made durlistic distinction, or the deep-rooted Ignorance underlying it.
The idea that salvation is already prepared before we are born is also to be found in Christian ideas. In his famous book, Religio Medici, Thomas Browne says as follows:
"I was not only before my selfe, but Adam, that is in the idea of God, and the decree of that Synod held from all Eternity. And in sense, I say, the world was before the Creation, and at an end before it had a beginning; and thus was I dead before I was alive, though my grave be England, my dying place was Paradise, and Eve mis carried of me before she conceiv'd of Cain". (1643)
Once two devotees of Buddhism were travelling together. One said to the other with a concerned look, "What shall I do if I should fall to Hell?" Too late, too late", said the other, "Before you commit a sin, Buddha Amitabha will have saved you. How can you but be saved? Or dare you think that your sin will be too big for the mercy of Buddha Amit bha? las, too late, too late!"
As everybody notices, there is nothing in children's pictures that is detestable. This is because in them the inherent nature of man finds an expression without being thwarted. The moment children become self-conscious, their pictures deteriorate. Only children's pictures are lacking in depth because theirs is not like the work of a man who, having intelligence, has gone beyond intelligence. Their pictures are naturally inferior to really good works by grown-up men. To put it the other way, but few good pictures can be produced by adults because their dualistic intelligence spoils the inherent nature of man. If a man abides by his inherent nature, which is Buddhahood, everything he draws will be a work that has already been saved, whoever be the man and whatever be the subject. It would then be impossible to produce anything except the beautiful. For the same reason, among works of primitive races of men one finds many beautiful objects that are strangely rife with vitality. It appears that the nature of the primitive power of man is like that. Therefore, even if one lacks intelligence or technique, one can produce articles that are at once clumsy and beautiful, if only one is true to nature so that his innate Buddahood can shine out. The reason why artless objects are very often worth loving is because in them one's inherent Buddahood is revealed to the observer. Therefore both Christ and Laotze adored the innocence of children. William Blake's Songs of Innocence are too well-known to need quoting.
Buddhism pushes this idea one step further and teaches that the road to salvation is prepared for anybody to the obscurest person in the world. Salvation is not accorded to great men alone. One need not be wise to be saved. Everyone is to be saved as he is. Even to those poor creatures who do not deserve to be saved, Amitabha, the Buddha of Mercy, has prepared a salvation that is theirs before they commit a sin. It is to be remarked that, although the God of Christianity and the Buddha of Buddhism both partake of the properties of Compassion and Grace, their natures are not the same. As is stated in the Bible, the God of Christianity is a stern arbitrator who sends the righteous to Heaven and the wicked to Hell. Amitabha, the Buddha of Mercy, is not an arbitrator, but an inviter, who accepts all the people without exception to the Pure Land. Amitabha calls to everybody to come in his usual form. He tells you not to fear because of the distinction of wise and foolish, clever and clumsy, and so on. He prefers that you will be naked and empty-handed, because that is the state leading directly to salvation.
One priest, producing something, said to another, "Take this without your hands". The other instantly responded, "Give it to me without your hands". In a conversation like this we see truth revealed as taught by Buddhism, for to be handless is to live in the land of the Buddha.
We will again turn to concrete examples. There is a class of Korean
pottery called Ri-ware. Ri is the name of a Korean dynasty that lasted for
about five hundred years from the 15th to the 19th century. During this
period many interesting kinds of pottery were produced, which are referred to
as Ri ware. It is to be regretted that very few people either in Europe or
in America know about them, their worth being eclipsed by the fame of another
class belonging to the preceding period, namely the Korai celadon, the Ri
ware is more naive, simple, rough and healthy. The designs drawn on them,
sometimes so crude and primitive, might have been drawn by children. One may
with reason call them childish. But strangely enough they are beautiful as
they are. Obviously drawn without the most rudimentary knowledge of technique,
they are rich in an inexplicable flavour. It is surprising to see
how these apparently most casual pictures are invariable beautiful. No trace
of intellectual consciousness is to be detected in them. No device,
hesitation or perplexity is present. As we look at the pottery of the Ri
Dynasty we learn that its beauty is not of the type captured by eliminating
ugliness, but of a type that springs up before such idea occurs to man It
is not made after the knowledge of the nature of beauty has been acquired, but
is completed before one begins to be concerned about knowing and not knowing.
To apply to it the criterion of cleverness and clumsiness, beauty and
ugliness, and so on, does not make sense. Yes, it is a work which makes all
critical comments meaningless. It is not presented in any assumed posture.
It simply lies there in front of you in all its naturalness, looking as if to
say to the ingenious moderns, "We do not want anything", and "Come down and
join our society", and "Everybody will be saved". It belongs to a world which
is singularly pure and immaculate and free from dust. Perhaps there is no
place in it where dust can collect itself. The problem of ugliness is not
known there. It was in such a world that the Ri ware of Korea was made.
But how is it that we cannot easily produce works as beautiful as the Ri ware? To explain it in Buddhist fashion, it is because we have obsession in our mind because there is some attachment in our mind which deprives us of freedom. In particular our tenacity to our ego forces us into thraldom and binds us to duality. In their favourite admonition, "Give up your own self", the Buddhists tell you immediately to tear the root of duality. But since this is not as easily done as it is said, our existence usually remains in the trammels of obsession and cannot emerge from it. The ignorant Korean potters, however, did not have anything to be attached to. They had no learning to boast of, no principles to advocate. They had no ambition to have their works displayed at an exhibition, which of course did not exist in their time. They did not expect that their product could be sold at high prices, nor did they proudly look upon it as a piece of art. Their attitude was the most commonplace and matter-of-fact, but this very fact brought salvation to beauty. Their product is immaculate because it was made before there were causes for impurity and shadow. The product is therefore highly normal. I do not deny that there is a kind of beauty in the extraordinary and the abnormal, but these are not of the realm for man to reside peacefully and contentedly in. Something morbid always hangs about them. It is only the normal and the healthy that reveals the most proper beauty. This "normal beauty" is the very ideal of the Buddhists. Articles laden with ambition, articles in which coarseness is knowingly simulated, articles in which strength or keenness is exaggerated these will not long be the delight of us all, though they may create a temporary furor.
Generally speaking, we notice that articles of useful art showing healthy and normal beauty are those meant for daily use. From this we learn that practical use endows the articles with healthfulness. As men who work hard are generally healthy, so the articles that serve the daily purposes are of necessity healthy. On the other hand, weakness and bad health usually go with excessive embellishment and too much complication of shape, by reason of their being unfit for daily use.
Practical usefulness does not permit of disease or frailness. Between practical use and beauty there is a close relation. Practical use demands faithfulness in things, and does not connive at men's self-indulgence. In articles for practical use, the makers do not push themselves to the surface or to the foreground. In them personal fallacy, if there, is reduced to a minimum. Perhaps this is one reason why practical goods are beautiful. Articles of which we need not know the makers have, it appears to me, an easy access to beauty. The best works of practical art existing in the world are mostly those which have had no opportunity of being signed - a fact deserving our most careful attention.
Most of the practical goods of the present day are so external that they can scarcely supply our daily inner need. They have been victimised by the commercialism that is infesting the artistic world of today. Commercialism is a terrible enemy which drives beauty from the culture of men. This evil having become too pronounced, a number of awakened people are now endeavouring to check the degeneration before it is too late, by working with their indiv- idual hands. This is the raison-d'être for individualistic artists. But since all artists are men of aesthetic sense, they dwell in the world after the separation of beauty and ugliness, and they are heavily burdened from the start. They have to avoid great dangers, correct their errors, and endure hardships to reach their goal. Zen monks are endeavouring through religion to discipline themselves along this line. Their objective? Well, to realize the state of mind not in the bondage of duality, all the while abiding in duality. Artists, so to speak, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree when they divided beauty and ugliness, and for that offence were sent to the hell of duality. If they should remain where they have fallen to, they will not for ever be able to get rid of their suffering and delusion. Meanwhile, the fact that they fell cannot be undone. Therefore the task of artists is to stay in the world where beauty and ugliness have been separated, and yet live a life that is not enslaved by that duality. For this end, Zen monks teach them that they must understand the world where two is not-two, and not-two is two. Thus the starting point of Zen discipline is to meditate on the question, What is Non-dualism? But since meditation itself is dualistic, the sole course possible for the artist is to stand face to face with non-dualism itself means becoming a Buddha, for Buddha is no other than an incarnation of non-dualism.
Becoming a Buddha does not mean that you go to the Budda who exists independently of you, but that you enter a world where there is no distinction between you and the Buddha. Therefore Buddha in reality does not stand opposite you. Buddha is something that cannot be objectified, and until we become one with Buddha we cannot see Buddha. We have to be in a realm, as it were, of "Subject that is Object". In Buddhism the character (soku, lit. "namely, viz.") is very often used, and one may say that the whole vastness of Buddhistic truth revolves round this single character. Soku does not mean identity or equality; it refers to two things that are not in reality two.
Once Baso, a well-known Zen monk, sat in Zen contemplation, when his teacher Nangaku asked him, "What are you doing?", "I am practising Zen contemplation", answered Baso. What for are you doing it?" "Because I wish to become a Buddha".
At this the teacher picked up a piece of broken tile and began to polish it.
Baso: "Master, what are you going to make?"
Nangaku: "A mirror"
Baso: "You cannot make a mirror out of a tile by polishing it, can you?"
Nangaku: "You are right. In like manner, you cannot become a Buddha by Zen contemplation"
The meaning of this is that the idea of becoming a Buddha by practising Zen contemplation presupposes the separation of oneself and the Buddha and the objectifying of the latter, and therefore is a wrong starting-point. So long as Zen contemplation is regarded as a mere expedient one cannot dry the cup of Zen. Contemplation for the sake of something else is not true contemplation. Unless the act of contemplation becomes an act of the Buddha himself, the contemplation will be of no avail whatever. The problem is not to be solved while contemplation and the Buddha are two different things.
Let us try to apply this idea to the world of beauty. We are accustomed to say, 'draw a picture" and "I make fabric on the loom". But according to Buddhists, the relation is only dualistic in the expressions, and no true picture or fabric can result from them. They say that the root of the dualism named "I" must be cut off, and the stage in which picture draws picture or fabric weaves fabric must be roached. In one of the Buddhist scriptures is the famous phrase, "Buddha with Buddha" (From Buddha to Buddha), which means that all true actions take place between Buddha and Buddha. Instead of men turning to Buddha or Buddha to man, 3uddha is turning to Buddha himself, all distinction or opposition between Buddha and man having disappeared. Or if you prefer you may say, the thing is turning to the thing itself. We are accustomed to say, "Offering prayers to the God", but true prayers are not those offered by man to the God. They ought to be, so to speak, the God's voice whispered to the God himself. Plotinus, the most religious-minded of Greek philosophers, concluded his book Enneads with the words, "Flight of the Alone to the Alone", a phrase of unusual depth of thought. Will it not be possible to say that all beautiful work is the work done by work itself? When you are doing your work, you and work are two different things. When you become the work itself and do the work or in other words when the work alone is doing the whole work - true work becomes possible. It is not the artist but the work itself who should say "I am". When this state has been reached, a true work deserving the name has been done. Eckhart, the mystic thinker of the 14th century, said, "The words 'I am' none can truly speak, but God alone". It is not I who see the God, but the God is seeing God himself in me. As Buddhists would say, all true work consists in the dispensation between Buddha and Buddha. Here is a poem by Sufi, the Mohammedan rystic poet :
"When my beloved appears,
With what eye do I see Him?
With His Eye, not with mine,
For none sees Him, except Himself".
In the Diamond Sutra is the following famous passage:
"There should be nowhere to live, And in the nowhere thought should be born".
This nowhere where I dwell is the abode of the Buddha, and the moment when I do nothing is the moment when a great activity takes place. Buddhism refers to this by the words, "Abode of no dwelling" and "Mind of no thinking".
Let me cite another Buddhist term, Fusoku furi (unattached and undetached), the meaning of which, though a bit hard to interpret, will readily be grasped from an exemple. Those of you who have carefully studied Buddhist painting must have noticed that the ideal way of drawing the Buddha's eyes is to represent them neither as open nor as closed, this being the features in contemplation. Through that it is intended to suggest what is beyond duality. One reason why Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa has had that much attraction, to be sure, lies in the position of the lips which are represented as neither open or closed. This is not to say that eyes and mouths plainly open or closed do not make good pictures. What I want to say is that when they are open and yet not open, closed and yet not closed, a more profound beauty will be the result.
The charm of the beautiful Sung pottery admittedly derives itself from the treatment of the glaze, which as we see is melted and yet not melted, not melted and yet melted. In Buddhist phraseology this is the beauty of the "mean", provided that this mean is not understood by the juxtaposition of the dualistic right and left.
It means the centre everywhere, while circumference nowhere.
Here I would like to say a few words about tea-ceremony, which illustrates
well the oriental conception of beauty. Tec-ceremony is a kind of beauty
cult which has been developed in Japan. It does not consist simply in drinking
tea, but embodies our aspiration to fathom the deep bottoms of beauty. The
choice of the utensils, the successive steps and etiquette of drinking, the
structure and decoration of the room, the arrangement of the gardens - these
and other visible forms are the media for the pursuit of beauty. The objective
is not mere appreciation, but experiencing the beauty in the midst of our daily
life. Therefore not only seeing but the act of using constitutes the integral
part and most characteristic feature of the cult. It tries to see beauty in
the motion of things in its dynamic instead of the static aspect. Now the
cult has had a history of some 400 years, all the while giving refinement to
the mind and senses of the nation, so that the influence it has exerted on the
aesthetic eyes and aesthetic views of the nation is truly immeasurable.
It is remarkable that this tea-cult has always developed in close relation with religion, more especially Zen Buddhism. Zen-Shu is one of the sects of Buddhism, but the meaning of "Zen" is something like "contemplation", and the sect may be understood to stand for a contemplative type of Buddhism. In the end learning tea-ceremony and learning Zen came to have the same significance. Tea-ceremony was as it were an aesthetic manifestation of Zen, or the way of practising Zen in the world of beauty. The tea-master may be called a Zen monk living in the world of beauty. True, not all toa-students may have realized this, but that the spirit of tea should be the same as that of Zen is the ideal of the cult. This is no place to go into the details of its history, or the technique, but there are two things which I am sure will interest the people of foreign countries.
In the first place, tec-cult aroused in the mind of its followers a strong interest in the utensils. It enlightened them not only in the appreciation and choice of the utensils actually used in drinking tea, but improved their attitude towards practical art objects in general. It is noteworthy that those utensils that were used in the ceremony, although they were articles used for daily use, came to command the same respect and affection as painting and sculpture did. Or rather these people made painting and sculpture serve the practical purposes as part of the interior decoration of the room. For example, they do not even hang a picture at the Tokonoma (alcove) without first applying to it the elaborate handicraft of mounting. Thus one may say even painting is being treated as a work of practical art. One of the contributions made by tea-ceremony is that it taught men to look on and handle prac- tical utensils more carefully, and inspired them with a deeper interest and greater respect to them. For example it helped spread the liking of the nation for earthenware to such a degree that it would be hard for foreigners to think of. In Japan the love of pottery is almost ubiquitous and there are naturally a great many pottery collectors. Exhibitions of pottery are held very frequently. The great number of books and catalogues on pottery and porcelain in Japan is another indication of the fact. Japan indeed is a paradise for makers of pottery, because their works are greeted with deserved enthusiasm. The se circumstances make pottery-making an easy trade to follow. It must be admitted that there are dangers at the same time.. Since a huge quantity of pottery is consumed in the homes of the nation, the undesirable result is that even potters of dubious merit can somehow make a living.
The second point to which I want to call your attention is that tea- ceremony taught everyone of the Japanese nation the criterion for recognizing the beauty of the highest quality, and that not idealistically but through such concrete features as form, colour and design. Many words were invented to qualify the beauty that was to be the criterion. Prominent among these is the adjective shibui (noun shibusa), to which there is no exact counterpart in English. Those nearest in sense may be austere, subdued, and restrained. The contents of the word, when analysed, will be quietness, depth, simplicity and chasteness, It is an introversive type of beauty, suggestive of the lustre lying on the inside. Some of its meaning will be grasped when con- trasted with its antonyms showy, goudy, vainglorious, and vulgar.
For example, the colour that shows shibusa best is a plain monochrome of some tranquil and unobtrusive kind. Black, brown and soft white are the best liked colours. Of shapes, simple and peaceful ones are preferred. If there is design, it ought to consist of only a few strokes of the brush. Reticence is always an essantial factor of shibusa. This, however, should not be merely negative; it ought to contain an infinite affirmation in it. It ought to show motion in stability, and stability in motion. It may be said that herein the spirit of Buddhism finds an expression. The reticence is sometimes referred to as "silence like thunder". Probably we find a parallelism to this idea in the "Eloquent silence", spoken of by Christian theologians of the Middle Ages.
Shibusais the word referring to this high standard of beauty. it has become perfectly common, and is used by every Japanese in his daily conver sation. Using it as a measure he decides the depth or shallowness of the beauty placed before him. A very interesting fact is that even the person of the loudest taste knows that shibusa is an incomparably higher quality of beauty than showiness, and looks upon shibusa with respect, hoping that he will be able to comprehend it when his mind becomes more matured. Western visitors to Japan who show a liking to the beauty of shibusa will be respected by the Japanese, and will be talked of as men who can understand oriental type of beauty.
Of oriental painting there is a school called nanga, usually characterized by the exclusive use of black clone, and by the extreme simplicity of presentation. Black may be called either a colourless colour or an all-including colour. The simplicity of style is the result of the boiling down of all complexity. Very often in the picture there may be a large space left blank, but this does not mean that there is nothing in the space. On the contrary it implies and suggests the existence of something of large dimensions. Nanga finds favour with men with refined sense of beauty because it is underlain by Buddhist philosophy which, in the field of beauty, gave the criterion of shibusa. Indeed, the aesthetics of the Japanese is most succinctly epitomized in the single word shibui. That is the nature of the beauty pursued by the nation either in poetry or in dance. The word is a great asset possessed in common by the nation, and one must not overlook that the criterion implied by it has been disseminated by tea cult, and nurtured by Buddhism.
A brief discussion on the nature of tea-bowls will not be out of place here. There are many kinds of tea-bowls, but those selected by early teamasters are treasured above anything else. It is interesting to note that almost all of the selected vessels were folk-craft articles. They were the cheapest goods, naturally with little or no decoration, to say nothing of signatures; they were in monochrome, simple in every respect, and were all of them miscellaneous utensils in daily use. None of them had been made origin- ally as tea-bowls, and none at the outset had any connection with "tea" at all. Curious as it may seem, not a single piece made from the first for appreciation was selected as tea-bowl. It is only in more modern times that the tea-bowls with the makers' signatures came to be made primarily for the purpose of conn- oisseurship, and then these later artists' works could not surpass in beauty the unsigned works of the earlier days.
How are we to understand that tea-masters found deep and sublime beauty in folk-craft articles and miscellaneous utensils meant for daily use? I presume that this was because the masters saw in the beauty of those articles what may be termed the "virtue of poverty". The notion of "poverty" had in all religions deep moral contents. It was best represented in Christianity by the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, who preached on the virtue of "Holy Poverty" and placed his Mendicant Order on this spiritual basis. Poverty spoken of by religion, of course, does not refer only to being hard up for money. As the statement "Blessed are the poor in spirit" shows, it means the humbleness of mind, and the forswearing of worldly desires. Yet this is by no means a mere negative mode of living. In Carlyle's words, it is an Everlasting Nay as the wisdom to lead one to the Everlasting Yea. In this sense, poverty in the present world will connote being rich in the land of the God. The "philosophy of emptiness" taught by Buddhism is virtually the same, advocating the renunciation of all dualistic opposition, and calling this sphere of nothingness by the name of "poverty". Let me quote a famous poem by a Zen monk named Kyogen:-
"Last year's poverty was not yet true poverty. This year's poverty is at last true poverty. Last year there was no room to place the ginlet. This year the ginlet itself is gone."
When this spirit of poverty reveals it self in the world of beauty, we call it shibui. The qualities referred to as subdued, austere and restrained are all qualities of humility in beauty. The words plain, simple and serene refer to the qualities of this "poverty". Old tea masters found beauty in folk-crafts because these articles, being simple, unpretentious vessels, were spontaneously connected with the virtue of poverty. Shibusa transmits the beauty of poverty. Articles which fail to transmit this are not qualified to be good tea-bowls.
Beauty is deeper when it is suggestive of something - when it has in it an infinite potentiality than when it is explanatory. When our taste arrives at maturity, we come to like plain monochromes and tranquil objects. Some people may regard this as the taste of old age. Certainly, being a deep type of beauty, it would be hard to understand for young people.
All works of art, it may be said, become more beautiful when they are suggestive of something lofty, than when they just end by being what they are. It was for that reason that articles that were too complete were not used as tea-bowls. Such articles, having exhibited all that they have and having nothing to suggest further, give one the impression of rigidness and coldness. That by far the greatest number of tea-bowls are pottery and those of porcelain are very rare, is also because articles of porcelain are in most cases too complete to be rich in after-taste. Recently, in the world of art, there is a remarkable tendency to attach importance to deformation. Personally, I do not like works in which deform is purposely attempted, but truly beautiful objects usually contain in them some kind of deformity. In that sense, one might even say that the grotesque is an integral factor of true art. A period which can tolerate grotesque art is usually a great age. Only, this grotesqueness must be supported by inevitableness. When planned and attempted it will result in morbidity. True grotesque art must be a healthy one. To put it in the reverse way, sentimental art can not con- stitute great art.
To my mind, if the Venus of Milo were complete with her two arms, she would not have been accorded the place of honour in the middle of a big hall of the Louvre. The loss of the arms added to her beauty. We notice that old sites in ruins are very often beautiful as they are, with eloquent poetry in them, evincing that here also the same principle is at work. Such quest for beauty had a strong hold on tea masters. I want to tell you a story, an interesting story which is so perfect that we are tempted to doubt its authenticity. But fiction or no fiction, it is illustrative of the beauty of tea cult.
Joo was one of the early masters of tea cult, and was the teacher of his more renowned disciple, Riky. One day the master and the disciple were walking in the street together, and happened to pass by a curiosity shop. Joo's eyes were arrested by a vase which, though beautiful as it was, would have been better, he thought, if it had lacked one of its handles. He was anxious to buy it, but fearing the disciple might also wish to have it, he said nothing at that time and went on his way, secretly deciding to return to the shop alone the next day. Early next morning he had an invitation from Riky, with the message that he wanted to hold a morning ceremony of tea with the magnificent pottery he had recently obtained. At this J88 felt something flash across his mind. He pocketed a hammer and went. On entering his disciple's tea-room, he at once recognized the vase, with flowers arranged in it, which he had seen at the shop the previous day - and moreover he was much gratified to see the vase had already been deprived of one of the handles. It is said the two men enjoyed the morning tea to their hearts' content.
Some collectors are interested only in complete pieces, but tea masters usually have a fondness for slight scars and irregularity of shapp. When carried to excess this will of course become morbid, but it is not to be denied that there is a close relation between beauty and deformation. Beauty hates to be enthralled by perfectness. That which is profound never lends itself to logical explanation. It entails endless mystery.
I would like to add that in the present-day Japanese pottery there are many pieces with purposely deformed appearances, but these products of conscious artificiality simply reflect a bad side of the influence of teabowls. True deformation of tea-bowls never result except from what is inevitable. It is totally free from both normality and deformity. Here again one can say that true beauty is that which is not bothered by dualism. Only the beauty of non-dual entirety can be true.
I have thus far tried to explain, from Buddhists point of view, what the
nature of beauty is like, and in what circumstances a work is beautiful. I
will now proceed to consider what is the best approach to the understanding of
such beauty, or more fundamentally, what is appreciation. It concerns the
sense of beauty which is the subject matter of aesthetics.
The best-known theory on the sense of Beauty in modern times is the Theory of Empathy (Einfühlungstheorie) propounded by Lipps, the German philosopher. He explains that. the sense of beauty arises from the transference of one's feeling into an object, and the resulting consciousness of the fusion between the master and the guest. Through this, he says, it becomes possible to understand the contents of the feeling which the object purports to communicate.
From Buddhists' point of view, Lipps' explanation presupposes the distinction between the subject that sees and the object that is seen, and does not go beyond the intercourse between the two, so that the theory stands thoroughly on a dualistic basis, and cannot be said to provide the means for a full comprehension of beauty. The sense of beauty is born where the oppos- ition of subject and object has been dissolved, and where the subject called "I" and the object called "thing" have both disappeared into the realm of non- dual entirety. The sense of beauty becomes possible when there is no longer anybody to transfer and anything to be transferred. Neither I facing the thing, nor the thing facing me, can come into contact with reality. The true nature of the sense of beauty is such that it lies where beauty is watching beauty, rather than where I am seeing, or the thing is being seen. Therefore the sense of beauty in which "I" linger on, or in which the "thing" is objectified, cannot reveal beauty in its entirety, but is revealing only a small portion of beauty. In Zen Buddhism we say kensho, in which ken means "seeing" and sho "nature". The phrase does not mean "seeing nature" but rather that "Seeing is Nature". In kensho the master and the guest are not two distinguishable ideas.
Chang-an was the metropolis of ancient China, in the same way as Rome was that of Europe, and it was the universal longing of people in China to see the town. A monk asked his teacher, "To everybody is given the way to Chang-an now how can I go there?" The master answered on the spot, "Where are you right now?"
One is used to ask where Chang-an is, how one can reach it, and how many years it takes to go, but in such questions Chang-an is not to be found. The town of spirit cannot exist except at "this instant" which is without past and present, and at "this spot" which is without right and left - such was the meaning of the brief answer.
Let me quote another piece of conversation. There was a monk who had been living for many years in his hut in the mountains remote from the society of men. A man who visited the place asked him, "How many years have you been living here?" The monk simply said, "There are no days of the calendar in these mountains". One who lives in the time that can be measured on a clock is only a man of the secular world. A monk ought to live in a world in which there are no passage of time and no length of time. That is a life not to be measured in terms of the calendar. The sense of beuaty, likewise, may be said to lie in "this very moment" not bounded by past and future, and a beautiful object to stand at "this very spot" not bounded by right and left.
I am often asked to explain how one can understand beauty. The answer is very simple one has only to do away with one's self. Doing away with one's self, however, is not as easily done as said, so that one cannot easily grasp the reality of beauty. In looking on things, one has recourse to one's intelligence. He estimates by his own ideas, end judges by his own experience. In doing this "I" em the master, and pass sentences on the "thing" which I record as my guest. Since one's self does not disappear in this process, "I" and the "thing" are two different entities, and no union takes place between the two.
That one's self lingers on is like seeing through coloured spectacles. Since one gazes on things through the colour called ego, one cannot see things directly as they are. One only sees then enwrapped in something else. One often uses the aid of some measure to see things. Its degrees are marked to fit his own intellect, and he tries to size up everything with it and give mathematical treatment. But in reality there remain many things that do not permit of such treatment. As a consequence he can see only those parts that admit of it. When a fixed rule like this is applied, one is able to see only a restricted part of the object. Since a being is an integrity, when we force it into the phase of dualistic distinction, its reality has already departed into the distance. It is like trying to catch the running water of the river, which, when arrested, is no longer running. In the understanding of beauty, intellectual approach cannot have much effect. In a book written in the 14th century entitled Theologia Germanica is the following passage:
"He who would know before he believeth, cometh never to true knowledge."
This means that if one employs one's function of knowing before seeing, his power to see is spoiled. Moreover, the function of seeing cannot be derived out of the function of knowing. We cannot make intuition out of knowledge. Integrity can be subjected to analysis, but it is not retrievable from analysed parts, just as one can cut a sheet of paper into many pieces but cannot get the original paper just by bringing the picces together.
Intuition plays an important role in the understanding of beauty, because intuition is the function that makes us look directly at our objects. In order to give free play to intuition, it is necessary to forbid that anything should intervene between one's self and the object. People often allow something to come in between and cause one's self and the object to remain separated to the end. When this happens intuition can have but a limited sphere of work, and can reveal to us only a partial view of the object.
It is only when one's self is reduced to nothing that intuition can wield its unrestricted power, because when this happens the opposition between that which is seen has been dissolved. Then one is not restrained by subjectivity, nor does the object end with objectivity. In other words, the subject is itself the object, and the object is itself the subject. Thus when intuition is at work, the thing is never objectified. To put it in Buddhist phraseology, to see intuitively means to enter the non-dual sphere.
Therefore Buddhism demands one to receive without hands, or in a more rhetorical expression, to play on the lute without strings, or to blow the flute without holes. Many people have the edge of their intuition to beauty blunted by neglecting to see with their naked mind. To be naked-minded means not to be restricted by the eyes that see. When this is achieved even the dust that spoils the vision will have vanished.
One often meets with collectors whose collections of art objects are of extremely uneven quality, real gems which alone ought to have been selected being mixed up with objects of inferior quality. This is because there is something that blunts the intuitive acumen and impedes their wise selection. The moment a collector begins to boast of the bulk, variety or rarity of his collection, or to seek to collect only articles in perfect condition, or yields to the world's opinion, these bondages which he brings on himself at once deprives intuition of its freedom. One ceases to receive things without hands, and so his viewpoint becomes restricted, and then beauty no longer reveals its own reality. One will then be deceived into believing what is ugly to be beautiful, and failing to accept as beautiful what is beautiful. These are maladies that are prone to accompany collectors. But when intuition functions powerfully enough, there is no chance for maladies to creep in.
As everybody notices, our first impression is often more reliable than we expect it to be, because we are so disposed as to receive others with living eyes, and se see objects with fresh perception. One may say that in the first impression intuition is able to function more freely.
To see things with ever new and living perception - this is the property of intuition. Its function is less active to things which we are accustomed to see, or which we have seen several times, and takes not much interest in them, though of course this means only that our perception of the things has become dull, and not that the intrinsic value of the things has diminished. A man of intuition is a man who has a power of always deriving fresh impression from objects. Intuition is a power of seeing at "This right moment".
Once there was a devotee named Kichibei, whose wife had been confined to bed with paralysis for two whole years. Every day he swept the house, cooked the meals, and washed the clothes, all by himself. The village people compassioned him and consoled him, saying, "How exhausting it must be!" But he answered, "I do not know what fatigue is, because my caring for my wife every day is each time the first experience as well as the last experience. There is no doing it again, and therefore I never get tired of it".
This answer shows that he always lived in the "right now". Indeed, "living in the right now" is the true phase of man's life. When one looks at everything with the eye of "seeing right now", beauty will never conceal itself to him.. Intuition means nothing more or less than "seeing right now". A man of intuition may be said to be one who creates an impression that is for ever new. In this sense, an art-object is created by those who look at it, A man of intuition is a competent artist.
Why do we long after beauty? From Buddhists' point of view, the world of beauty itself is the home of us all, and we are born with the love for the home. Longing for beauty is therefore the same as longing for home. The home, as has been said, is the world of non-dual entirety. Everything that has been divided in two has a longing to be united again. It is, so to speak, divided into two in order to long to be one.
Therefore, looking at a beautiful object is gazing on one's native home - or one may say, gazing on the original phase of man himself. One who buys a beautiful object is in reality buying himself.
Looking at a beautiful object is finding in it his original self. In an ardent lover of Sung pottery, the pottery is recognizing its own home, or conversely the man is finding his home in the Sung pottery. One who sees and the object seen are two existences here.
Before concluding I would like to say a few words more. All men in the world seek for peace and hate war; nevertheless, regrettably enough peace does not easily materialize. There may be many reasons for this, but one of them assuredly is the deeply rooted man's sin. The war that causes us so much pain, may be the chastisement for this sin. Both the winner and the loser share the punishment alike. But why is it that peace does not easily come? One reason, I believe, is that we are trying to solve the question chiefly by political means. But are we to believe so much in the power of politics? Politics is seldom free from egoism, and in all cases the benefit of the respective countries is the primary consideration. Therefore, nations are inevitably involved in war. To deliver politics from the evils of egoism I, for one, am anxious to do my small bit by promoting the friendly relations among the nations through the world of beauty. Perhaps it is in the realm of beauty that mankind can most easily break national barriers. It is true that even in the realm of art there are disputes arising from theories and principles; but beautiful objects are plainly beautiful and by their universal appeal can make everybody forget at least temporarily their egoistic ideas. The power to make one forget oneself and put an end to struggles, I am sure, is in the virtue of beauty. Fortunately, each nation has in its own art an expression of its own type of beauty. By looking at it, loving it, and respecting it, the nations of the world can achieve the mutual spiritual harmony. We ought to be grateful to think that beautiful objects are there to break the walls between east and west for us, and diminish the difference between north and south. Peace is broken only when east and west stand in dualistic opposition, and I most anxiously wish that they would shake hands in a world beyond this opposition where this dualism is eliminated. When approached through art, this ideal, to my mind, is to be realized with the least difficulty.
All our previous fallacy, I believe, was grounded on the mistaken idea that justice lay only on one side, or on the ambition of one side only to conquer the world. There are east and west in the world, but between the two there must be a road to connect them. By connecting east and west I do not mean that they should be made monochromatic; they ought to remain polychromatic, without ending in polychromatic feud. This realm of harmony, I believe, is the true abode of humanity. To seek abode oither in the west or in the east only is a partial and shallow view, and an unfortunate departure to make. I will quote an interesting Zen catechism between an abbot and a disciple being trained by him. One day, seeing the disciple going to leave the temple, the abbot asked, "Where are you going?"
Disciple: "I am going to my home in the west"
Abbot: "I want to invite you to the house in the east. Will you come?"
Disciple: "I am afraid I cannot go"
Abbot: "If so, your abode is not yet fixed"
This is a very interesting colloquy. A man of the west may do well to make west his home, but so far as he is tethered to it he cannot find his true home even in the west so the abbot was telling the novice. West as opposed to east is only a dualistic west - not the west where one's spirit can lie in peace.
The Zen monk Eno, to whom reference has already been made, visited Priest Gunin to be instructed in truth. The latter at once subjected the youth to examination:
G. "What did you come for?"
E. "I came to learn Buddhism"
G. "Where did you come from?"
E. "I came from the south"
G. "Men of the south are all like apes and cannot understand Buddhism. Go away quickly"
To this Eno answered: "There may be north and south on land, but there can be neither in Buddahood", and with this answer he passed the examination and was accepted by Gunin as a disciple.
I have come all the way from the East, and I have talked on things Oriental, but my object was to talk on that which is oriental and not yet oriental, riamely the things oriental that have become one with the occidental. If we both understand the truth that East and West are two and yet not two, there will be no greater beatitude for us. Let us shake hands in the realm of beauty, and let us believe that it is possible for us to do so. Aesthetics, I believe, finds its raison-d'être in putting forth this truth.
Reproduced from the conference report with the permission of the Dartington Hall Trust Archive.