I view everything I do as a creative act; the creativity manifests as poetry, movement, or as color and form. There is creativity also in the way I relate to my daughter, or speak to students, or grow an organization.
I am labeled a community artist, for lack of a better term. I came to SF in 1974, after graduating from Pratt Institute in NYC, and have worked with different groups in the Bay Area to give voice to their hopes and dreams, to express their plight and their resilience, and to build community across cultures and generations. You might say the work I do is really about helping to create the conditions where positive action can manifest, whether it is creating images for worthy causes, or reading poetry, or dancing, or helping organizations become stronger so that they can do the work I can’t do as one person, or inspiring others as a mentor. The practical aspects of Buddhism – patience, diligence, exertion, loving-kindness, etc. – are the tools I use do my work in the community.
My artistic method to get out of my own way. Letting go of ego-clinging is my creative process, and the means by which the Buddhist view is infused into my work. The lessons are constant, like in the movie, “Groundhog Day.” I always think I will be wiser and approach my work differently this time; yet every new project has me starting out the same way – with big intentions and preconceived notions of what I am going to do and how, and an expectation of what the outcome will be. I go through an arduous journey, paralyzed to begin for fear of doing something wrong, then furiously trying idea after idea, using different techniques, a whole kitchen sink of approaches, worrying about what people might think of the end piece. The process ends with me in total panic, when all familiar signposts are no longer applicable. Just at the point of despair, when I have no more ideas left and my brain is exhausted, I give up and ask the art or the poem what it wants to be. There is a faltering moment of doubt and anxiety, but if I stay open and still, then images or words inevitably begin to manifest. The result is usually so simple and so fitting that I can’t believe it took so long to come up with it. I am usually in awe, not just at the result but also at the process by which I got there.
How does this relate to the establishment of Western Buddhism? Buddhism in the West is no different from Buddhism anywhere else. At its core, the truth of suffering is the same. And the way out of suffering is the same. To me, it’s pretty much the same practice – getting out of the way. We go about a similar journey as the artistic process I just described – the intention to do something and to do it well, the furious applications of what we think are the best methods, the pondering over definitions and cultural differences, etc. Much will be written and thought about and discussed, and it is a necessary part of this growth. Then, just as in art and in the Buddhist path, we come to the place where we must stop and get out of the way and trust our innate intelligence and wisdom. Then the music and the colors of Western Buddhism will arise, unique in its mixture of sounds and shades but rooted in a deep and rich tradition.