Art and Buddhism or Killing the Ego by Letting it Be


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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