Dao and the Arts


The Dao or Ways are an engagement of great spiritual development through the arts. They are complimentary to any system of spiritual belief, practice or development. The Dao (Chinese) or Do (Japanese) evolved in East Asia and literally means the Way or the Ways. The Ways all converge in higher consciousness, but the paths leading to that convergence begin in each art form. The Ways are often taken up as parallel paths to one’s religious or spiritual practice.For instance, my Zen Teacher, Matsuoka Roshi, was a black belt in karate and jiu jitsu and very skilled in shodo or calligraphy in addition to being a Zen Master. Practicing a Dao provides a field of opportunity in which to refine the greater art of living while projecting one’s spirit through the lens of a particular art form. Healing Ways include acupuncture, herbology, kiatsu, tui na, shiatsu and others. Dao Ways also include the many martial arts, poetry, ikebana, tea ceremony, brush painting and shodo among many other arts. When an art is pursued as a Way, the word for that art has –dao or –do attached at the end, like Aikido, Chado or Kado. It signifies an extraordinary path.

The practice of any one of the Ways is self-transformative. The art works produced by a Ways practitioner carry that same quality of spiritual transformation to others. To reach mastery of any of the Dao, you have to learn, perform and experience that art from the core of your being. You have to forget yourself and all the techniques you’ve ever learned and integrate them completely beyond all bounds in the uncreated mind. From that original mind, recognized by its radiant qualities of emptiness, bliss, spontaneity and clarity, the master of a Dao brings his or her art forward to transform the world positively.

Feng Shui Dao and the Arts

You can practice Feng shui as a collection of techniques or you can integrate its practice as a Dao. This is outlined in Learning Feng Shui.  From the personal perspective of experiencing artworks in your home or workplace, the feng shui view considers how the art we display conditions and changes our lives. From this perspective, a priceless El Greco painting may be the worst art choice to grace the walls of your living room, especially if it conflicts with the life goals you are striving so hard to manifest. This has nothing to do with the greatness of any single objet d’art as recognized by art historians or art museums or as valued for sale by art galleries. The important question for you is how does it affect you and those you work or live with?

Calligraphy Zen and Daoist

Chinese characters, like the hieroglyphs of Egypt, originally came from pictures showing a story. Ideas were convey by images, which over time, became more stylized and simplified.  Eventually, as in Egypt, the images came to be associated with sounds as well.  By contrast, most modern languages are written as a string of sound symbols.  So Chinese characters, (haizi in Chinese, kanji in Japanese) are a hybrid symbol writing that conveys images, abstract ideas and sounds.  Brushing kanji with sumi ink on handmade paper constitutes the traditional form of this art.

The images, the style, and the artist’s skill and energy combine to create a connection from the heart of the symbol to and through the viewer. All the elements of the art combine to create a weaker or stronger connection. First, there is the symbol image itself which tells a story, but gets reduced to one spoken word. An example is the kanji sometimes translated as good luck, fortune, prosperity, wealth or happiness pictured here. On the left side of the kanji is the image representing sprits, gods or divine beings. On the right side from top to bottom is the number one, a mouth, then a field. The whole idea is that fate, fortune, spirits, gods or angels are providing the grain from an entire field to feed one person. The different word translations each reflect an aspect but the whole image conveys that “you have continuously directed divine abundance to nurture and satisfy you.

There are many styles of kanji from the most ancient oracle bone images to seal styles to modern formal and informal styles.  Brushing kanji does not take much time.  It’s an instantaneous effort that shows the mind and skill of the calligrapher as much as the symbol artfully brushed. In a moment proportion, qi, interpretation, and intent all unite to connect beyond the paper.  Calligraphy art conveys much more than a printed kanji or the symbol itself which is why it is remains an integral part of feng shui in East Asian cultures. When your intent is for prosperity, the brushed calligraphy hung on a wall engages more energies on more levels than the written or spoken word alone might evoke. The shodo expression displayed as art can be a direct portal to the experience of prosperity, or any other goal, that draws you closer to realizing your aspirations.