Continuation Through Art
March 10, 2012

A visual sense of order is important to me; it has everything to do with my desire to make art. I want to share and express the beauty I see. It takes many forms. It can be a warm greeting, a friendly smile, or a kind gesture. It can also be a beautiful painting, a well-appointed room, or a smartly coordinated outfit. It can come from beautiful prose, beautiful music or quiet sitting meditation. I came across something from Thich Nhat Hanh and it introduced another perspective on my question about what compels me to make art. He answers a question about reincarnation in an interview in Shambhala Sun (Be Beautiful, Be Yourself by Andrea Miller, January 2012, Volume 20, number 3). It makes me wonder if my desire to make art is a way of claiming my immortality. I hear him talking about immortality or the afterlife in his answer and what he says rings true. Buddhism is essentially a-theist. There is no single god in this belief system. We do not have souls in the way it is thought of in Western culture. Thich Nhat Hanh explains that we have only consciousness and action. What we think of as our Self is impermanent. This is one of the main differences between Eastern and Western religious philosophies.

Here is what he says, "There are 5 skandhas, or elements of our human existence: form, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness. There is no soul, no self outside of these five, so when the five elements go to dissolution, the karma, the actions that you have performed in your lifetime are your continuation. What you have done and thought is still there as energy. You don't need a soul, or a self, in order to continue. It's like a cloud. Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue."

This is the Buddhist idea about immortality. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition we believe that our souls, or spirits, are distinct beings that move into eternal life intact after we die. In reincarnation that intact soul moves from one being to the next. But if we are to accept the Buddhist view, we are living and creating our own eternity now by our actions and by what energy we leave behind. As the Beatles said, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." The impressions we make on our environment, both with others and how we treat them, and with the physical world, are all part of our continuation, our eternity. Perhaps I am trying to create a continuation of my thoughts and visual viewpoint by making and sharing my art. Perhaps art making is a small path to a sense of immortality.