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Posts Tagged ‘huston smith’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  81                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 82

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 677

I’m not riding my stationary bike as I dictate today’s posting. I will climb on it later. As I noted yesterday, some days I feel the need to walk. Today I felt the need to start a fire to burn off some of the dead branches and trees I thinned out over the summer.  I’m walking in the woods along the river thinking about yesterday and my visit to the High Art Museum in Atlanta. I enjoyed the smorgasbord of artistic images.  We started our visit in the European wing of the building.  The show featured a number of Renaissance era paintings and as might be expected, most of them had religious themes.  The Madonna and Christ child were popular topics.

Contemplating Nothingness!

This got me thinking about the connection between art and spirituality.  Art historians and anthropologists might argue that the two have always gone hand in hand.  The prehistoric cave painting and objects found in early burial sites clearly had spiritual meaning and significance to members of ancient communities and cultures.  These early artists were as much “craftsman” as they were what we would now call artists.  Huston Smith in his book The World’s Religion, notes that in the early primal or earth based tradition such as the American Indians: “there is no word for art, because to Indians everything is art.  Equally, everything is, in its way religious.”  There was no distinction between secular and sacred objects. A cave painting, a weapon, a bowl or spoon; all had spiritual significance for there was no dualistic division of the spiritual world from the mundane world. When the world and its objects all contained the divine and were interconnected, there were no distinctions between object, function and creator. All were intertwined.

Does it Bite?

Prior to the Renaissance in Western Europe, all art was tied to spiritual themes such as the old and new testaments or the ancient myths of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  This was to be expected because the church was the primary consumer of art with its need for icons and symbolism to present beliefs and teachings to an uneducated mass of followers.  The church, meaning the Catholic Church, dictated what was defined as art and what was defined as heresy. With the arrival of the rich mercantile and powerful aristocratic classes art work broke free of religious oversight and control.  Art became eventually what we know it to be today, both functional art and art for “art’s sake” (i.e. the artist’s needs and desires). 

Hurry get a Nail!

Turn on the TV or open a magazine and you will see functional art used for the purpose of commerce.  Watch a political rally, like the recent tea bag events, and you will see art used as an emotional “call to arms” (e.g. Obama drawn with a Hitler mustache; or a cartoon of Mohammad as a mad bomber) to inflame emotions or steel a group’s resolve.

Where do you want this?

Art has also come to serve an individual purpose for the artist and/or the viewer.  It becomes a means for the artist to explore their beliefs and attitudes and  to make a statement about their view of reality.  As such, it may convey a sense of connection if that is what the artist “knows,” or a sense of anger and disconnect, if that is what they are experiencing.

The denial of saint Peter

One of the religious paintings I studied for some time, scribbling my thoughts into my pocket notebook was Nicholas Tournier: The Denial of Saint Peter, painted in 1630.  The painting presents the story of Peter’s denial of his relationship to Christ. The size and lighting of the figures makes it an imposing and powerful image. I was struck at how this painting points to a simple fact of human nature. Understanding is always embedded in the current world view!  The painting is populated by Peter, a pair of accusers, and a group of disinterested Roman soldiers playing dice.  I read the description twice to make sure they were noted as Roman soldiers.  I smiled and shook my head because the soldiers bore no Roman style uniforms or weapons!  Several wore armor that was common during the European middle ages.  Obviously the artist used images and items that the viewers of his time could identify with!  However, it was interesting to note that only the figure of Peter wears facial hair and a garment close to what might have been worn in Christ’s time.  Why would the artist make it easy for the viewer to identify with the accusers and uninterested soldiers and not the Apostle Peter?  I’m sure some religious historian would have a lot to say to that question.

It ain't heavy its artwork!

Why bring this up you might ask?  Because what fits for artwork, it’s “rootedness” in a particular time and place, also fits for literature, even for sacred scriptures.  Academic careers can be based on the study of the meaning of a particular symbol, word or phrase, especially if the words have gone through repeated translations or the symbol survives an illiterate “lost” culture. Some individuals and faith communities, recognizing this fact, have abandoned sacred scriptures and ancient myths.  They embrace the revelations of the present, the mystical experience arising moment-to-moment. More traditional approaches embrace the words and symbol of the sacred stories and the idea that the meaning will be revealed through study and contemplation. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses and both use art in different ways.

Who ordered the large slice?

What did I enjoy most about my visit to the museum?  What I enjoyed most was interacting with the art! The images were thought provoking and I appreciated their beauty. I apologized to the museum guards who looked puzzled, and to the young art history major who looked askew at my irreverent actions and attitude.  I took the art and made it a part of “the moment,” we had a relationship and became a larger work of art!  My partner laughed and the art said nothing.  I carried images of this interaction with me when I left, the images I now share with you.

I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything!

My suggestion to my readers: create art if you are so inclined.  Appreciate and study art when you are given the opportunity.  Find a way to have a relationship with art.  For whether it is inspired by some celestial deity, or a product of some divine creative process which is God, it is always a gift!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 59                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 60

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 522

Red line marks our progress.

Holidays and Holy Days on December 8:

Bodhi Day – Buddhist celebration of the time when Prince Gautama took his place under the Bodhi tree, vowing to remain there until he attained supreme enlightenment. Once this state was attained he became the Buddha (the enlightened one).  

Immaculate ConceptionCatholic Christian day of celebrating the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was preserved from original sin all of her life.

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As I ride this morning I want to wish a Happy Bodhi Day to all my family, friends, and fellow pilgrims. All of the world wisdom traditions (religions) have their major holidays.  Today represent one of the two most sacred days for followers of the Buddhist faith. 

Bodhi day is celebrated by the majority of Buddhists around the world to commemorate the day that Prince Gautama became The Buddha, “the enlightened one.”

Buddha at the moment of enlightenment surrounded by temptations, desires and demons

the "earth witness" hand jester

The sacred story states that Siddartha Gautama was a prince from a small kingdom in northern India.  After fleeing his palace in search of the true meaning of life, he spent seven years seeking answers with various Hindu holy men (Yogis). Having tried some of the most austere and demanding techniques of the Hindu faith, he is reported to have seated himself under a Bodi tree and committed to stay there until he found his answers.  It was here that he was confronted with all of the desires and temptations the world had to offer.  At one point while being tempted by the demon Mara, he reached his hand down to touch the earth as a means of grounding himself. At that moment he attained enlightenment.

He recognized the true nature of reality as summarized in the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; Desire leads to suffering; Cease desire and you cease suffering; the way to do this is through the Eight Fold Path.  He then spent the remainder of his life, close to fifty years, wandering India preaching his wisdom and teaching his followers. Some would go on to attain enlightenment (Buddha hood) themselves.

Buddha displaying the "transmission of teachings" hand jester

His was a radical message within the Hindu world, enlightenment (salvation) within a single lifetime, for everyone regardless of your caste, gender, race or place of origin.  Buddha did not speak of God or the afterlife, he did not see himself as divine, he focused his teaching on the present condition (suffering) and it’s causes (desire and ignorance). His followers turned his teachings into sacred scriptures (the Sutras) and spread his words to the far reaches of the ancient world, becoming the first of the great missionary wisdom traditions.  

How should we in the west approach such teachings which seem so inherently different, using symbolism and faces that appear so foreign? Huston Smith, the well known Comparative Religion scholar, in his book The World’s Religions, argues that it is critically important that we listen to the faith of others.  In our crowded modern world, which technology continues to shrink on a daily basis, he argues that “understanding is the only place where peace can find a home!”

Smith notes that understanding can lead to love, but the reverse is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. It is impossible to love and be compassionate toward another human being, something all of the wisdom traditions espouse, without listening to them! Furthermore: “We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to de-personalize another than to speak without listening.”  Many people would say that such “de-personalizing of others” is a core pathology of our current culture (e.g. angry talk show hosts, screaming mobs at town hall meetings).

“Where do we find the divine?” asked Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, interfaith pilgrim and author.  God speaks to us in three places he noted: in scriptures, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger.

When I listen to “the truths” of other faiths and peoples I remind myself that they hear the voice of the divine in their sacred scriptures, that they feel the presence of the divine in their deepest selves, and that they are a mirror for me to see and hear the divine in myself!

Buddha Sunset over Southern California

 The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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