Art and Buddhism or Killing the Ego by Letting it Be

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I am, as much as I can be anything, a Buddhist (I’m other things, too, of course, especially when it comes to faith, since I like reimagining myself but that doesn’t matter now). Now there is no chance of me being a Buddhist in the Asian sense…I have lived with Buddhists and seen that the rules and private laws that I follow are fundamentally different to those that they follow…their world hangs from a different frame.

Yet I do believe, not in the Buddha as an attainable transformation of self into superhero, neither in enlightenment, but in the sensual world as maya, as “malleable illusion” or magic. I also believe, following that thought, that the ego is one big illusion, a mindfuck that each of us has developed in order to deal with the external world.

I believe that beyond the personal, there is something transpersonal. That it is possible to see yourself as a tiny speck in a vast whole and not lose any sense of self or purpose, but come out of it stronger and more confident and less controlled by the ebb and flow of emotions. This does not mean that emotions are less keenly felt, quite often they are stronger, but they exist on their own terms and I have learned to swim in them and sometimes to build bridges over them.

Yet one thing bothers me, particularly.

Art in some sense, especially a modern sense, is an exaltation of the one thing that I think illusory: the ego. In simple terms, I wonder how one can be an artist without completely disappearing up one’s own ass.

In one sense one has to believe in the art one creates and to make things that are fundamentally unimportant appear grand and important. It’s a sleight of hand, a magician’s trick. Yet there must be a balance between treating it with too obvious disdain (for that is another sign of an out of control ego, only the other side) and between not caring about it at all. Not giving a fuck leads to bad art. Giving too much of a fuck does too.

So…what to do?

Believe without believing? I don’t know.

Writing makes this split easier. Not believing in the reality of the ego, I can simply make up a hundred more and let them go at each other. I don’t come out of this experiment with any change of heart and soul, but I understand more about the unreality of personality. It is play, maya at work.

Photography makes it hard. You see everything except for the photographer yet for some reason the photographer is all you see in a good picture. By making himself invisible, he becomes the most visible thing of all. It runs contrary to what I believe.

Essentially I think the answer is just doing it without much worry about the what, the why and the what after. Finding the act, the sense of the act and the communal sense of the act (the dharma of Buddhist thought, where an act needs to be connected to all beings in order to be considered an excellent act…of course this is often a gesture more than anything, another sleight of hand, perhaps) in the doing itself.

Perhaps it is also helpful to consider that what is obvious to you (the inside of your head) may be both mysterious and new to another. Why this may be so, I do not understand, but I suppose it is just so.

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Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner or the Illusions of Morality

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Hate the sin but love the sinner. This is one of the Christian morals that I can attempt to understand. It is certainly better to despise an act and not a person, although in its more extreme form this view will lead to an utterly inflexible worldview where every act is considered separate from the circumstance necessitating it and where there is a hierarchy of sinful acts, each considered more atrocious than the one before and each deserving of a progressively prohibitive punishment.

In my view an act is not separate from the person acting. Cannot be. We’re not automatons that certain acts happen to according to a divine scale of retribution but we decide because of various interdependent motives and we can change our motives and our actions to better adapt to a situation and improve the chances of a positive outcome. We’re born improvisers. We’re born spontaneous and every mental construct is a burden to the natural expression of mind and spirit (yet, quite paradoxically, rather often the natural expression of the mind is the construction of such burdensome mental ballast out of spontaneous moments).

We’re variables, not constants. In fact, we’re a chain of variables so complex and diverse that the concept of “we” and “I” are probably no more than temporary illusions.

The Christian belief is that a sin creates an indelible tear in a permanent moral space. That is why it is so frightening. It is an intrusion of a demonic entity into otherwise pure space. Original sin changed the world utterly from a paradise into the occasionally hellish limbo that we find ourselves in. Yet we have a chance to return to it, to this childlike world of wonder and speaking animals. I like the second part from a purely psychological view. We all yearn to a certain degree to return to childhood and safety, so why not dream of Eden?

Yet safety and the childhood dreams are all illusion and if taken as literally real become prisons of thought. The pain and the moral anguish that we suffer as we grow older is equally an illusion. It is a drama of the senses and the intellect that has very little, if anything, to do with our actual experience.

Of course it is frightening for a devout Christian to consider that sin is not real and that an act, kind or awful, really makes very little impression on the universe. It may make a lot of impression on another person, equally inhibited in their eternity of morals or entirely free of them, but the universe really couldn’t care less. Whatever you do, it will just continue being the universe and that is being naturally spontaneous in infinite variations.

In the mind of some people declaring sin unreal equals declaring salvation unreal. Declaring the most trivial aspect of god unreal equals declaring god’s most essential aspect unreal for a mind trained in literal rigidity or for a person who has quite a lot invested in the hope of personal salvation by an ultimately benevolent deity.  

Of course most of us fall right in the middle. Between childlike faith and existential reason. We fluctuate and that is a very good state to be in.

Conversations with a Nomad

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I am a nomad. It’s a perfectly normal thing for me to change places every other day. Pack my bags and go. I spend the summer touring for work and visits and, even though I suffer from a certain fatigue after a while of working unpredictable hours, I enjoy it a lot.

For the past years I needed to balance this with friends and family. I have very close bonds to my friends and my family, so the time I spend with them is (as perceived by me) rather intense and important. Because I know I will be going away again.

I have very rarely entertained serious thoughts of settling down. In my mind and heart I am very settled down. I have a clear idea of where I want my life to head and I am working on it. I don’t think there is a better idea of home than this. That’s why I am a nomad.

Now while I am settling down in the most impermanent of fashions – looking for a job to tide me over the winter months – I still feel this to be an unnatural strain. Or rather, I cannot quite understand the priorities and principles of settled people. My backpack is still packed after six weeks at home.

When I am travelling I realize how large and how interesting the world is. You don’t even need to travel to understand this. Walk for ten minutes and it has changed. Turn around and talk to someone else and it has changed.

The most important topic of conversation for a nomad is this: Who are you and where are you going?

Now the answer to this is not necessarily, I’m Dave and I’m going to get some beer.

What I am asking is, In your head and heart, who are you at this moment and what is your goal, be that spiritual, physical, emotional or financial?

You see, I assume that these things change, after all you are human not static. That’s why I want to know them. They are, truthfully, the only questions that interest me. If you are someone interesting and if you’re going to a nice place, I might come along. Or I might invite you to come along because I am heading to a similar place.

I don’t want to talk to show off how clever or funny I am. I’m not interested in a contract or an agreement or a plan for my future. I have all these things, as much as anyone can have them.

I’m not interested in hearing how hard life is for you or what you dislike. This does not turn you into a deeper person for me. If you are sad, show me the depth of your sadness and if you are happy I want to see the depth of your joy. I want to see you be a human being.

I think there’s a secret world behind even the most ordinary things – one of strong emotions, the imagination, of occasional madness and passion – but this world or these worlds, for there are many, only work when contrasted, merged or shared with each other. If the worlds are as different as possible to your own, it becomes much more intriguing and rewarding to share and so I like to move around and talk to people from walks of life and from backgrounds that are utterly removed from my own. This is much easier if I am a nomad.

Diversity and contradiction keeps my mind alive and my interest in everything intact.

So…who are you and where are you going?