Dao of Arts

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.




Zen Art of Johndennis Govert

In grade school I wrote with pens filled with fluid inks on porous paper that absorbed ink into so many blotches. Its aftermath was often a mess of black and blue indelible smears on hands, shirts and homework. A good hand was the ability to produce consistently beautiful script that energized a whole page even though it slowed the eyes of the reader. That experience of hand writing was very different from what I would pursue decades later when several influences unwittingly converged to connect me with shodo, the way of the brush.

One influence was my encounter with the I Ching.  The six yin and yang lines of the hexagram of the sixty four gua depict all images of all possible patterns of change in the universe. Wow! It is simple, mathematical, and vast. As I studied the I Ching or consulted it as an oracle, I drew the images in patterns of straight broken and unbroken lines with pencil, bamboo pen, ink or brush. Through this study I became interested in writing the Chinese language because I wanted to connect more deeply with the I Ching’s wisdom. Part of that wisdom emerged as I drew the lines of the gua.

A great influence has been my practice of Zen through which the profound depths of life activities flow. I practiced at small temples in Chicago and Long Beach, California with Matsuoka Zengaku Roshi. Within the structure of chanting, bowing, meditating and sharing talk, tea and time, I learned that everything is art and every action a ritual. Because Matsuoka Roshi was one of the first Japanese Zen Masters to live in the US, a steady stream of visitors from Japan came to the Temple. Many were practitioners of the Zen inspired arts or masters of the Ways. Encountering their conversations and examples of their art opened me to how integral the Ways extend into Zen meditation.

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Zen Gardens

Where can you go to re-connect your own root? A nature trip works well to restore the memory of connection to the earth and the cycle of seasons.  A hike up and down a mountain trail, a walk through the woods, or simply watching the sun slip into the folds of the distant landscape are ways we return to that greater, more profound experience of now.

“Riverbanks lined with green
Willows, fragrant grasses:
A place not sacred:

Natural settings under the open sky are places we can wander for a while to hold back the torrent of pressures, demands and unfilled expectations of the day. In a moment, between the pull of undone errands and the hovering flight of a dragonfly, we can sense what has been important since before time began. A garden offers the same opportunity as serene meditation to contemplate the horizons of our lives where they blend seamlessly with the heavens.


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