1 about the Zen Buddhism concept mu
Much has already been written and said about the Zen Buddhism concept mu. In Buddhism, and particularly in Zen Buddhism, mu is regarded as having the same meaning as “infinity”.
But what does “infinity” mean here? In this case, it is the limitlessness of all possibilities, or more specifically, the “transcending” of the limited objects and phenomena of our material world.
“Transcending”, more simply expressed, means “going beyond” the normal state of things towards a divine existence.
In the west, the concept of mu is always very simply translated with the word “nothingness”.
This, however, is a far too literal rendering, which completely disregards the deeper meaning of the concept of mu.
According to Zen Buddhism, mu standsfor the eternal, immutable world, the world of the divinities and of the satori the Buddhist enlightenment.
The opposite of this forms our material world, the world of “spiritual darkness” and “ignorance”, a world which is subjected to continuous change, and in which all people succumb to the illusion of their worldly desires.
Ultimately, mu can be compared with another Zen Buddhist concept, ku, meaning “emptiness” or “independence”, and which describes the perfect, transcendent world after enlightenment.
2 The Zen School is
The Zen School is a school of Buddhism which conveys the essence of Buddhist teaching. The philosophy of Buddhism grew from the experience of enlightenment, the satori, of Shakyamuni, the first Buddha, and it is considered the highest goal of every Buddhist to be able to attain this enlightenment.
Buddhism is also a religion which began as a result of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, although Buddha himself never explicitly taught Zen philosophy.
The Zen school emerged long after Shakyamuni’s death in India, based on his teaching. It reached completion in the 7th century AD, in the Chinese Zhan school of Buddhism.
Zen aims to awaken the absolute wisdom which lies dormant, deep in the consciousness of every person, and to guide him to new strength.
In doing so, Zen means not only silence and solitude. In this respect, Zen differs from religious currents such as Catholic quietism. For Christian quietists, perfection of the believer lies in the rejection of any physical activity, and in passive contemplative devotion to God.
Zen Buddhism on the other hand, can be described as active and we can discover time and again more aggressive aspects of it. This becomes especially clear when we look at the Zen master’s method of instruction.
A pupil asked the master: “What does the bottom of the river look like?” Without hesitation, the master pushed the pupil into the river.
The pupil wanted to know about the nature of the riverbed, and the only way to do this was for the pupil to see the bottom of the river for himself.
Zen is said to be a technique which allows one to understand the true being of his own nature. People have by nature a creative and a loving soul. It can of course be said that it is only because of these two souls that we have all that we have.
We can guide ourselves to happiness, depending on how freely we allow our creative and loving souls to move. We can say that these two souls represent man’s greatest inherent potential. If we do not realise this, the result is conflict. All the conflicts of this world arise mainly for the reason that these two souls, or more specifically, human potential, is not recognised or not understood.
We need to look at our true nature and seek out the greatest potential lying dormant deep down inside us. It is precisely this that means freedom from ignorance. Only when these walls of ignorance have been demolished, will a world of unbounded fertility open up to us. Only then will we become aware of the meaning of life. We will also realise that all quarrel and strife is no more than a display of brute force. From this there will finally arise in us a great feeling of contentment and the never-ending happiness of life, and we will be released from all doubts.
3 Where are Zen practices to be found in my works?
Where are Zen practices to be found in my works?
Or do the completed works portray Zen itself?
The particular characteristic of my works, so to speak, is that even in the process of producing the picture, very clear Zen practices take place. It could be said that I meditate on my works.
For example, as I was painting my picture Fertility, and applying countless yellow-green spots to the surface, I lapsed into a completely mechanical, unconscious state, and remained in this state for many hours. During the course of the work, my soul detached itself from my body. I produced a work that arose from a work process that had transformed into meditation.
I did not apply the spots according to any preconceived schema. The places where I put the spots emerged at random. I examined the picture occasionally, or contemplated it. I quite simply followed the picture from a distance of 20 to 30 centimetres. As a result, the process, or the pattern of the spots, became a unique part of the picture.
Before I added the spots, the picture, my mind and my eyes merged together. From that moment on, the brush moved of its own accord.
For these reasons, the process of creating this work can justifiably be described as meditation.
As I was painting the circles on the music picture, I was overcome by a feeling of absolute serenity, which in Zen Buddhism is referred to by the Japanese word mushin.
Instead of asking myself whether the circles I was painting were perfect, I painted in the state of mushin, that is to say without thinking of anything, like an animal.
In that moment, my senses abandoned me completely, and I became indifferent to my own body and thoughts. Or rather, my soul radiated out from my body. It rose up, scattered to the four winds, to the gods. After a while, the gods gave me the understanding to paint, and, like an animal, simply to accept the picture as it developed before my eyes.
Why do I speak of gods?.... I can just not describe in words my behaviour in that moment. It went beyond all things natural.
You could say the gods allowed me to paint.
I shall now explain the work on the gold leaf in my picture Music, which came about under totally different conditions. This work took place in complete silence. I even restricted my breathing. This had to do with , among other things, the material I was using, gold leaf.
I remained in this state of total silence for a full twelve hours. I had to apply a strip o f gold leaf, one centimetre wide and 72 metres long, with constant weight and speed, evenly over 26 individual pictures.
This task can certainly be described as meditation.
During those twelve hours, I drank only the occasional glass of water, and fended off every outside distraction.
My work Kibo, “Hope”, a huge picture measuring a full twelve metres by two metres, consists entirely of gold. The picture portrays the existence of the Divine.
This is precisely one of our greatest hopes, that the Divine exists; a compassionate, merciful spirit.
The question which now arose, was how to portray this divinity.
As I was applying the several layers of gold leaf to the picture, some phrases suddenly flashed through my mind: “The gods constantly watch over us”, “and reveal themselves to us” and “The gods are with the light”. I could just not get the last sentence out of my head. I interpreted this to mean that the gods appear before us at the speed of light, and that they then, again at the speed of light, depart from us. I thought to myself that was the way it had to be. But it would be a great challenge to somehow portray this in a picture. So, naively and unselfconsciously, I set to work. Without any inhibitions and with great self-control, I looked at the picture. And without thinking about any particular place on the picture, I began in a detached way to scratch and scrape the gold leaf layer, to destroy it. I did not find it so easy to damage the gold leaf which I had so carefully applied. It was a kind of self-destruction, the annihilation of the soul. I had grave doubts. Or maybe it would be better to say I remained silent with the picture.
But soon, little by little, the silence was broken by my recitation of the Hannya Shingyo-Sutras, the sutra of the wisdom of the heart. The constant recital of the sutra over a long period of time increased my power of concentration which was the radiation of body and soul. In this way, every plan for the picture which had been forming in my mind during the work, every desire that arose as I stood before the picture, was eliminated. As my voice became louder with time, and the radiation of the self reached its climax, I was standing 20 centimetres away from the picture. Without looking at it, I worked in one single flowing movement which lasted only a few seconds. Maybe that is how fast gods are. That is what I believed. As my energy dwindled, so the work on the picture came to an end. The gods withdrew again. But I was absolutely convinced that they would live on in my picture.