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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 13 |summer 2005 guage, so is Christianity, but not Buddhism. When she inquired at a local Buddhist center about mate- rials in Braille, the monk told her, “We don’t get people like that here.” A friend referred her to the Dharma Access Project, a free service that encourages dharma centers, family members, and friends of the blind to provide Brailled versions of at least the Four Immeasurables, the Prayer of Shantideva, and the Heart Sutra. The Dharma Access Project (DAP) mails them free to anyone who requests them; their website address is www.dharmaaccessproject.org. But DAP has yet to receive any donations, even though their bound prayer books have been sent to places as remote as Mongolia. They even have the Tibetan alphabet in Braille, but who’s to notice, huh? Books on tape are great, but when studying the dharma, there’s nothing like a book. When my friend Shirley did get to a Buddhist study group, she was asked to leave because some members of the group might be allergic to her guide dog, Cricket. And, what if Cricket bit someone? They didn’t have insurance for that – even though Shirley has insur- ance and Cricket has yet to bite anything but her food. Shirley doesn’t bite either. “May all beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering.” let’s think about that, shall we? “May all beings never be separated from the happiness that knows no suffering.” Just what is that? Can the able-bodied Buddhist community – to whom I am greatly indebted – please remember to remember the sightless and disabled sangha? Wouldn’t it be great if there were Brailled materi- als at every event where His Holiness the Dalai lama was speaking? It’s terrific that there are American Sign interpreters at these events – so now, think about creating the imprints for perfect health, perfect vision, and a clear mind to attend to the dharma by providing access to these treasures beyond words. Just because you may not have ever seen a blind or disabled person in your dharma class does not mean the interest is not there. Just like in the movie Field of Dreams: build it, they will come, and we will all be better for it. StandinG naked and empty Cuban-born Ernesto Pujol is a visual artist who, before encountering Buddhism, spent six years as a Catholic monk. In the anthology Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, he reflects on the humble, vulner- able path of both the artist and the monk. My art-making is not about suffering, as the Buddha would say, but about transcending it. If life is about suffering, then art, like spirituality, should be about transcendence. Thus, I pursue the notion of the hum- ble bodhisattva, quietly pointing ways to freedom from suffering through wakefulness. My art-making is a hybrid practice, not just in a multidisciplinary way, but also in this mix of art and faith. When I am commissioned to create a community- based, site-specific project, I must risk revisiting that fundamental place, that essential self-critical process, from which new art emanates. I struggle to become a humble, vulnerable entity, standing naked and empty before a community, waiting and wanting to be filled again. This process requires a respectful assertive- ness and a humble strength to balance a community’s needs and aesthetics with the artist’s analysis, formal training, and style. This enterprise demands a cer- tain belief in one’s practice and, at the same time, a conviction that there is something bigger than us, a transformative transcendence. In the case of the Zen novice, it is the billions of waves in the Sea of Being constantly rising and vanishing towards nirvana. For the artist, it may be the goal of an artwork that truly portrays and, thus, can be embraced by the com- munity, transforming them, transforming a museum, and transforming oneself. The monk and the artist alike must be mind- ful and constantly ask deeper questions that both transcend and ground them in the present moment, or little questions that amount to a bigger one that may be at the root of all things. This practice demands a letting go of the belief that the monk or the artist has all the answers, learning to publicly say, “I don’t know.” It is a humble expression of “wise ignorance” that, nevertheless, ends in, “but we will find answers together.” I am committed to truth, but perhaps more important than arriving at the ultimate truth is the humble process by which one slowly experiences growing clarity and deeper insights along the way. Art-making is not unlike Zen meditation: emp- tying the mind of all that is superfluous. Making site-specific and often ephemeral art is, repeatedly, a reopening of this intimate conversation between your inner core and transformative transcendence. This is the ancient monastic way: unknowing of the outcome, but patiently trusting the process, generously open to the unknown. I respect and embrace a way of making art where one is constantly willing and able to sacri- fice everything, risking oneself with little outside support and even adversarial, destructive criticism from the art world. This is painful, but to develop a very tough skin is not the answer, because those high-walled defenses can make you cynical. You must remain vulnerable even as you suffer, because it is in the capacity to remain vulnerable that your openness to newness and true creativity is possible. The little monk always looks insignificant, of no importance: weak, harmless, foolish, and dismis- sible. But that humble state is intended, because it is the root of wonders. That is how I live as an artist, not unlike how I lived as a monk. (See kEITHABBOTT