Creativity and Spirituality

By Das, Lama Surya | Tikkun, March/April 2004 | Go to article overview
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Creativity and Spirituality


Das, Lama Surya, Tikkun


First Thought is Best in Art, Second in Other flatten.

-William Blake

Who or what is the creative genie? One could say that it is the natural mind open to itself. Open, vividly aware, and without constraint or expectation. Open, and full up with delight and childlike grace. Beyond poetry, beyond music, painting, sculpture. One could also say that the greatest art form of all is the fine art of living. Living day-to-day, moment-to-moment is the most basic, even authentic, art medium we have: it is the means for allowing the creative genie out from inside us. When we create our experiences, ourselves, through every moment-isn't that art?

One could even say that this is how God creates the universe. The fine arts have always been connected with mysticism. Prayer and contemplation have always been in themselves art. Artful. Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally draws us closer to the wellspring, the source of creativity. Many American churches today hold open-mike poetry readings, often outside. They recognize the unity of faith and culture. As Emily Dickinson wrote, in 1860:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

I keep it, staying at Home

With a bobolink for a Chorister

And an Orchard, for a Dome

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice

I just wear my Wings

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton-sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last

I'm going, all along.

Authentic creativity is the art of freedom. It is pro-activity, like Buddha activity, which selflessly and spontaneously occurs according to needs, conditions, and circumstances. Wu-wei in Chinese expresses the Taoist notion of nonstriving, of going with the flow, of oneness. It expresses effortlessness, rather than over-doing, which is so unlike our ordinary conditioned reactivity-the totally predictable and conditioned stimulus-response known in Asia as karma. Creativity is pro-activity. It comes forth freely and fearlessly, impeccably, as we must respond. Not simply in reaction to what others think and do, or what the circumstances around us seem to call for, but freely, according to whatever arises. Enlightenment embodied means unobstructed, uninhibited, spontaneous Buddha activity-the ultimate creativity.

We may feel in the thrall of others; we may go through life with a victim mentality. But it's really a matter of following, or not, our own creativity and accepting responsibility for our own karma, our own character and destiny. Not fooling ourselves about this. We don't benefit by editing out this scene or that memory; we don't benefit when we deny the truth and pretend even to ourselves. We may blame others for our problems, but if they obstruct us, it s because we empower them to do so. There have been realized masters in prison, such as Mahatma Gandhi, and Sri Aurobindo, who said, "the British can imprison my body, but they can't imprison my mind."

Unfortunately, so many of our responses today are aggressive, neurotic, and violent-just like eruptions of the unconscious in dreams. There is an outpouring of aggression. We can see the confusion in some modem art. Natural creativity is spontaneous: there's joy in it, the joy of mind untrammeled by limitation. But what we think of as spontaneous may well be nothing more than the knee-jerk spasm of conditioning. Karmic reactivity. Unkindncss toward another, trashing the immediate environment like a child in a tantrum, or even the smearing of neurosis on canvas: all this is an expression of egotism, of self-preoccupation.

The total attention and precision, the discipline required for true creativity to blossom through craft, requires fully inhabiting the present moment. Free of self and other, past and future, in a nonconceptual state of wakefulness-one is free of fabrication, unadulterated by artifice.

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