Life as an Art
One of the ideas in Zen Buddhism which influenced deeply my way of life is that a way to achieve high spiritual, mental and personal goals is not necessarily gained through spiritual training such as long hours of meditation, the sinking of yourself in the endless study of esoteric and mystical books, or leading a solitary Sisyphean life in a monastery, cave or the like. It may also be achieved through devoting yourself to an art; mastering it, polishing its techniques to perfection, studying and researching it tirelessly and endlessly, living it constantly to finally become one with the art.
There is a strong connection between our physical body and our soul. The first affects the second and vice versa.
The practice of an art cultivates and polishes your body, your personality and your inner mental and spiritual side. If it is practiced and used for a noble purpose, it will create in time a beautiful person with high moral standards and good qualities, self contained and fulfilled. If practiced for wrong or evil purposes it will build an ugly person, destructive to his surroundings and ultimately it will end destroying himself also.
What is an art? It is not easy to define. As for me, any beautiful creation, any practice, which leaves you speechless, touched and overwhelmed, that makes your heart widen and feel as if it was going out of your body, is an art.
When we analyze an art, we see two major parts. One is the technique, the outer acts, and the second, the spirit, the inner world we posses. Only the beautiful joining of these two will create an art.
An ordinary person who is watching an art piece, a demonstration, an artistic practice or a scene of nature, is usually able to see only some few details of the picture. But the artist pays attention to all, which may consist of innumerable details arranged and combined in such an order that creates such harmony and beauty that touches us so profoundly leaving a print deeply inside us for a long time and sometimes even for life.
Nature is an art; living in harmony is an art. Our life consists and is intertwined with multiple systems of relations, each of them is a circle, which can be harmonized and become an art in itself. All of them can be harmonized with each other to make life as an art. Our creation is an art; we are a masterpiece of art. But how will our life be? It is up to us to build it. Seeing life with all its complexity as an art changes our life and our being. What is life if not a collection of memories and impressions, moments of joy, happiness, transcending calmness and fulfillment, and also sadness, bitterness, disappointment and emptiness? All of these events include so many details that each of them could fill a book. Living fully each of those events, each memory, each detail, enriches your life and gives it a greater depth. Vice versa, the opposite happens for example in organized tour groups or individuals who want to see as many spots of beauty as possible in a limited time and they drive fast and run from a place to another, giving themselves time enough just to take a picture of the spot or under a sign and then drive away. What memories will be left for them? The same applies when eating food fast, giving just a momentary hunger satisfaction in comparison to slow dinning, paying attention to the table arrangement, enjoying your plate where the different dishes are placed in an artistic way, bringing each bite slowly to your mouth, sensing its texture, delaying it a bit in your mouth to be able to feel longer the taste of it, stopping frequently to drink wine or water to neutralize the last taste before enjoying the next one. Drinking from a plastic or glass cup also makes a huge difference. Fast eating will leave you no memory of what you ate but the opposite will leave a special taste deeply printed in your memory.
In my country, it is popular to cut the vegetables so thin that when all are mixed they become one unidentified taste and shape. Cutting vegetables respectfully, paying attention to each one, giving each of them a proper size to harmonize with each other but still keeping their uniqueness makes a huge difference. Interior decoration or the arrangement of your house is an art; gardening is an art; cooking, hosting, socializing are arts; teaching and writing are arts. Bringing up children is an art, maybe the most beautiful and difficult one. The one who does not see it or is too busy doing other things does not know what he looses. The child growing, flourishing, constantly changing is the most beautiful masterpiece of art. No smile can be compared with your child’s smile. And not to forget the art of love, probably the art that embraces all others.
What is an art? The Japanese artists understand it. One of their unique
examples is the Zen Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. It is a medium
size inner yard with some rocks planted with no special order surrounded
with small white stones combed like waves around it. It seems at the beginning
like islands rising out of a big ocean. However, that simple scenery sends
us to infinite thought and imagination, trying to grasp the world around
us and to look deep into ourselves to find ourselves in it.
Some of the European classical artists grasped it also like Leonardo da Vinci with his masterpiece Mona Lisa which its depth and mystery are still uncovered; or Michelangelo, the artist and sculptor whosemagnificent painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling leaves you speechless, his marble sculptor of David, with its perfect simplicity and beauty causes any spectator to fall in love with the image; or Rembrandt’s paintings of people that look more alive than whatany photo camera could achieve; or the impressionist painter Van Gogh who was also influenced by Japanese painting and where the colors of his painting are so vivid and real that you can feel the heat of the sun or the glow of the stars.
I do criticize the artificial gardens you may find in many center European sites which are made with geometrical designs, unnatural and limiting our imagination.
Real nature is wild, has no particular arrangement, is mysterious, is
changing all the time, and has no limitation or borders. Our world and
nature is round, circling and changing all the time; the more you see
it, the more you are fascinated by its mystery and beauty. Life, with
all its complexity, is also an art. It is like an infinite puzzle; each
stone, each event is different, with infinite possibilities and combinations,
which all together make a harmonic picture. Not only nature, but each
of us is a masterpiece of creation, we only have to open ourselves and
see it. Seeing life and everything in it as an art changes completely
our life. It is almost like a blind man that starts seeing.
What is needed to become an artist?
An artist is usually a lone person. He may be surrounded by people, but he will always keep his independence. An ordinary person wants to be the same as everybody, but the artist type wants to be different from others. He needs to have deep strong curiosity; usually he is an observer examining people and nature. He needs to have enormous passion and love for the art, seeming to him he chose it but, who knows? Life sometimes has its own ways. His attraction for the specific art is not understandable at the beginning, but surely, there exists a good reason for it. Many times you have doubts. The road that will make you an artist at the end is very long and painful, with frustrations and failures, but also with joys and great satisfactions. You may be recognized by many, or few, and you may not be recognized at all. What is important is not the recognition you may get but to be well and content with yourself. What is important is not what people think of you but what you think of yourself.
When you become an artist your life changes. It is like there are many dimensions of the world and now you begin walking another world, so wide and deep, full of love and beauty, a world where you can grow more and more, merge and become part of the enormous mystery and beauty of life.
Your life, our world, the Universe, each has a rhythm, a music and you become a player in that magnificent orchestra.
I personally chose Japanese Budo as a way of life. It was a natural attraction and love at first sight. It has been only in the last few years that I realized how deep it is rooted inside me, affecting every action in my life. Only now I came to the understanding of one of the sayings of the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi (1540-1603) – “When you master one art you master all.”
There are three stages or circles in the practice of the martial disciplines. The first is the sport, the physical training, the fun. The second stage is the Jutsu, the art. In this stage, you master and polish the techniques to perfection and the art becomes a dominant part in your life. In the third stage it becomes Do, a way of life, you are merged with it, and its principles affect and permanently guide your thinking, your reactions and activities. Getting to this stage is a long process and not an easy one. It takes many years of struggle, of walking through a very difficult and narrow passage which very few are able to reach.I am also glad I chose to master not one single art but several. I experienced varied styles, hard and soft, round and more angled, empty hands arts and classical weaponry. I always smile when hearing a naïve comment of a single Budo or Bujitsu practitioner saying “my style is the best one” ignoring or lowering the rest, not understanding that the same principles lie behind all the arts and disciplines; all are branches of the same family. They may look a bit or more different from each other but they have much more in common than most practitioners think. I dare say that they are all based on the same principles. I view all martial arts and disciplines as a pyramidal structure; at the base they seem different but the more you climb, the closer each one gets to the other until finally they become one. If you read only one book on a certain subject, you learn the only concept or truth written in that book. When you read a couple of books on the same subject, each of them being a bit or more different from each other, each of them having a different approach to that certain subject, each of them viewing the subject from a different angle, you come to question yourself where the truth lies. You may be confused and you will be pushed to seek and find it on your own.
When you study and practice only one martial art, no matter how good and complex it is, that knowledge will be the only knowledge you obtain, you are limited in your viewing and understanding of other arts. It will block you to transcend above your limited world, to see everything independently, to be empty and open, accepting all and still walking your own way.
The traditional Samurais of the feudal era were demanded to master as many martial arts as possible. An ultimate warrior cannot limit himself to one martial art only. If he has no knowledge of others, he may not be capable of defending himself against different styles of martial arts. Limiting yourself to one art only, limits your growth and the development of your personality. It is unbalanced and even dangerous. Most of the high samurais mastered and balanced the practice of fighting arts and medicine, martial arts and fine arts, etc.
Miyamoto Musashi recommended in his masterwork The Book of the Five Rings “GO RIN NO SHO” to learn and master other fine arts, like the tea ceremony, carpentry and others and he was well known as a great painter and sculptor. Some of his works can still be viewed today.
The combination of martial arts with fine arts or medicine not only balances and lightens your main art clearly, but also builds a sword of love, a pure power for peace and harmony.
The late American President John F. Kennedy in his famous saying said, “Ask not what the country can do for me but what I can do for my country.”
When you reach a higher stage as a martial artist or a Budoka, you ask yourself not what you can do for yourself but what you can do for human kind and nature.
To become a Budo/ Bujitsu artist is not an easy task. It takes many years of hard work, pains, injuries, agony and frustrations but it also carries the joy of success, uniqueness and satisfaction. You come to a stage when you don’t care of outer prizes, recognition, flattering, you stop your showing off, you abandon your ego, you do everything for the true knowledge, you dig deeper in the art and inside yourself, trying to find yourself in the art and becoming one with it to finally find yourself, to become fully harmonized inside and outside with all around you.
Mastering one art fully makes you grow, opening you to see the art behind any creation of man and nature. Everything you do can be something ordinary or it can be an art. It is up to you to decide. True art comes naturally, instinctively. When you empty yourself, let your inner self, the beauty, your spirit come out naturally, without thinking, through your unplanned doing, not expecting to achieve or receive anything. Let your spirit free so that it can merge with all your actions.
The Uniqueness of Budo
What makes Budo so unique? First, it lies in its complexity. It consists of countless number of sophisticated and ingenious techniques polished through hundreds of years to reach a perfectly harmonized body and spirit execution. In martial arts, a slight mistake in executing a technique in real combat is a matter of life and death.
Let us first clarify that martial arts, (Bujutsu, Bugei) are not the same as Budo. There is a huge difference between the two. Martial arts solely deal with the fighting techniques and their aim is only to build warriors, while in Budo the techniques are tools to build the person. Budo is involved in all aspects of the human being, within himself, body and sole; the relationship between him and his opponent in combat or partner in peacetime, between him and society, between him and the environment, the seasons and nature. However, the most important uniqueness in Budo is the teaching of the moral aspects and the building of higher qualities in the practitioner. The Samurais and even the knights in the classical era where models of nobility and high moral standards, admired and respected by the whole social stratum. The sword was used to defend against injustice and evil, to protect the weak and the poor. Their purpose was to serve, giving examples of ideals to be followed such as loyalty, honor, courage, compassion, modesty, generosity, etc. To become a good Budo-ka (Budo person) does not necessarily require a specific talent. So many qualities are involved that one that is missing can be compensated by the others.
This occupation or way of living has been undervalued at the present and even despised by many people. But, when we are in real danger, who else would we call for help to defend us with their body and life?
Find the artist inside you, and you will find yourself