Art – Hasegawa Tohaku and the concept of “Ma” 間

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“Pine trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku, dated 16th c. (Azuchi-Momoyama Period), Japan
– via the Tokyo National Museum.

This is one of two six-fold panels. Painted with ink on paper, it is considered one of the jewels of Japanese ink painting.

In Japanese and Chinese art, pines symbolise winter, wisdom and longevity, since they do not loose their needles with the cold.

By drawing pines in the mist, the author sought to illustrate the Zen concept of “Ma” 間, generally translated as “negative space,” where contradictory things can connect and co-exist. In other words, “Ma” is the delicate moment of total awareness when what is and what is not merge.

Looking at the kanji may help understand it better. The kanji is made of “gate” (門) under which is the “moon” 月. Together they denote the space filled when the light of the moon shines through a gate. Because of the light (what is), one becomes conscious of the space that is void (what is not).

On the practical level, the concept of “Ma,” which I find extremely delicate and simple, is to allow the creation of moments of quietness, of deep reflection and of detachment. It is creating the potential from which harmony and tranquility may prevail.

Kenza.

* In Japan, the concept of space is more subtle and complex than in Western thought. Space is seen as a place of connection, it is not useless emptiness since it is where time and things can pass through and exist. In many ways, the same notion can be found in the Chinese Tao idea that the emptiness within a bowl is what makes it a bowl as much as its material —without the space it could not hold liquid and hence would be useless. In Japan, four kinds of spaces are generally thought of: relational space (wa), location (tokoro), space that helps create connections to produce knowledge (ba) and negative space (ma). 

I look around me

I look around me. I hear the babble of the world.

I try to discern something, a word, anything, that will indicate to me that the world is awake. But most are asleep it seems or keep the awoken part very well hidden.

The news is heartbreaking no matter where it comes from. Violence fueled by narrow ideas of belonging such as nationalism and religion, is on the rise in speech and action. While so-called political correctness actually impedes free speech, the one where humor and laughter are allowed; many are falling pray to an obtuse sense of self, clinging to identity stickers.

Movies are for the most part boring or silly rehash (did you know that they are preparing “Gladiator Two” with Maximus coming back to life through a Christian martyr —is it just me or is stupidity triumphing?).

The latest books seem to follow the same lines with the new Booker Prize recounting a story the very summary of it made me cringe, and not in the intellectual Kafka sense, far from it.

Trying to be original has become so common that it is… you guessed it, no longer original.

School and social conveniences continue to ask all to fit a mold, no matter how original some try to be. At the end, many end up looking like copies of others, and most often uncouth emulations.

I do look around. I do observe and I do try to avoid judgement. But at times, I wish there were less brashness and a dash more of elegance, intellectual elegance I mean, the one that opens up your mind and makes you want to pursue a conversation. The one of knowledge and simple straightforwardness, not the one of vulgar (as in vulgaris) information and complicated pretension.

The world is in dire need of consciousness, of ideas and concepts beyond the confines of the known, of dreams and of those things that are only accessible to the mind. If only mankind would realize that what he can do is far far greater than what he has made and what he thinks he can do.

There are more than 125 trillion synapses in our cerebral cortex, that is more than there are stars in 1’500 milky ways.* And yet, look at the world.

Kenza.

Namkhai Norbu

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“Realization is not knowledge about the universe, but the living experience of the nature of the universe.”

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, Dzogchen Master (1938-2018).

It was a blessing, in the deepest sense of the term, to have received his teachings.

Here a short video. He was an amazing human being filled with light and wisdom, and an immense presence.

“Maybe” – a Taoist tale

In a small village in rural China, there was a wise and simple man who had a horse, a beautiful horse. One day, the horse ran away. Some villagers paid the man a visit, telling him how sorry they were and how sad it was that he had lost his horse. The man answered: “maybe.”

A few days later, the horse came back with seven beautiful wild horses accompanying him. The villagers went to see the man again and told him how wonderful that was. The man answered: “maybe.”

A few days later, the man’s son who tried to tame one of the wild horses, was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. The villagers who came to visit the injured young man told his father that it was indeed an unfortunate event. The man answered: “maybe.”

The following week, administrative officials came by the house to sign-up the young man into the Imperial Army. Being injured, he avoided conscription. The villagers rejoiced and told the father how lucky he was. The wise and simple man answered once again: “maybe.”


Notes:

On the story: This is an old Taoist story that I just put into my own words. The central idea is the one of not seeing advantages and/or disadvantages in things, in not weighting actions and things, in not qualifying them as good or bad. It is fundamental to Taoism. The great Taoist Master Lieh-Tzu (China 4th c. BCE) who lived a few centuries after Lao Tse (China, 6th c. BCE), the author of the “Tao Te Ching,” use to meditate on the “neutrality” of things as a way to go beyond them. The practicality of it as illustrated in the story, is to avoid anxiety by imposing or bending things with our mind.

As the “Tao Te Ching” says:

“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.”
(Ref: No. 2 of the “Tao Te Ching,” trans. by S. Mitchell, 1988)