There is some really important common ground between spiritual practice and art. In fact, one could possibly say that spiritual practice is the ultimate art. Just as we have music and painting and poetry and various forms of art, each of which has a specific medium, spiritual practice is the art in which the medium is simply life itself.
Can one turn one’s life into a work of art? Even in this statement or question there is a kind of paradox. An artist is, we can say, somebody who turns a piece of stone into a statue. But the artist’s sense of turning the stone into a statue is that he doesn’t do it completely himself. He or she is inspired in some way. When the artist looks at the block of stone, some sort of vision comes to him. When the painter stands before his canvass, he doesn’t at that point know exactly what the finished art is going to look like. It’s not the same as producing widgets in a factory. There is a, as we say, creative process going to happen. And in the creative process, the artist is not wholly in control of what is happening. Not only is the paint and the canvass material for the production of the piece of art, but the artist herself is one of the materials and something more powerful than the individual is, as it were, coming through. And the sense of being inspired in this way is not exactly the sense of deploying one’s own talent or one’s own ability. For sure, the artist has talent and does have abilities, but something is working through them.
I’m not good at painting or sculpturing or any of these things, but occasionally I write poetry. On one occasion I went on a solitary retreat for maybe it was ten days – maybe it was a week, I can’t remember. I went off to a very isolated cottage and I had a retreat and I did a lot of practice. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would start writing poems. Suddenly, a flood of poems came. I would wake up at three o’clock in the morning with a fully formed sonnet in my head and all I had to do is write it down. Where did that come from? I say this as an illustration of the way that one becomes a vehicle for some power or influence, or “the muse”, or whatever you care to call it, that doesn’t feel to be oneself, but which acts through one or upon one or that one is in relation to.
Even producing a podcast is a bit like this. If I start to sweat over it and think: “I’ve got to produce a podcast for the day after tomorrow” and I am caught up in producing a perfect podcast, it doesn’t work. Somehow, I have to surrender myself to the process. I start something, knowing that what I first do will be poor - will be inadequate. And then I leave it. And then I sleep, and then I wake, and then I produce something – and here it is!
Spiritual practice, whatever form it takes, whatever religion it belongs to, whatever system it follows, whether it’s Buddhist, whether it’s Tibetan or Japanese or Zen or Pureland or Sadhanas or whatever it is, it respects this power. There is a kind of surrender involved, but it’s not a passive surrender, because there has to be a diligent application as well. One becomes like the good servant of that power that is flowing through.
So spiritual practice is the art of living, a living art. It doesn’t produce a static statue; the stone figure sings and dances. The power by which it does so is something for which we should have the upmost respect. And in Pureland we express that respect as “Namo Amida Bu.”
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much