Reviews

Painting Enlightenment—Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra

· Reviews, Sangha News

The Buddhist Art of Iwasaki Tsuneo

By Paula Arai

Reviewed by Chikan Bacon

Painting Enlightenment is a book of intricate Buddhist art and a visionary journey through the Heart of The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. The book itself is worthy of its content, exquisitely bound and jacketed with a heft that feels steady in the hand. Artist Iwasaki Tsuneo’s images are clear and expansive with enhanced details, while the scholar Paula Arai guides us along with descriptions and bits of poetry, weaving through each section while allowing Iwasaki’s paintings to speak for themselves.

Paula Arai was on a Fulbright scholarship into healing rituals in Nagoya, Japan when she met Iwasaki at an exhibition of his work. It was an auspicious day for them both, and over the next few years they sealed a friendship and spiritual bond that would last through the end of his life.

Arai offers stories and reflections on over fifty of Iwasaki’s paintings. Divided into eight themes, her presentation loosely threads different aspects of Iwasaki’s healing vision of the Heart Sutra: Interbeing, Flowing, Nurturing, Forgiving, Offering, Awakening, Playing, and Flourishing. Arai’s choice of themes to introduce the various paintings highlights Iwasaki’s deep devotional intentions, while Iwasaki paints with a scientist’s precision reflecting the analytical spirit that Buddhism and science share.

Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002) was a devout Buddhist, school teacher, research biologist, and a Japanese World War II veteran. At age fifty-five he began eight years of formal calligraphy training to develop the skills to practice the art of Buddhist “sutra copying.” He then began to copy the Heart Sutra more than two thousand times, all the while polishing the technique of “saimitsu” or tiny character writing.

At age seventy Iwasaki began to shape the tiny characters of the verses into pictures that expressed his growing vision and understanding of the sutra and its healing properties. These complex brushed characters measure about 4-5mm or 1/8 of an inch and thread their way through and become part of the image itself. The text goes into some detail about the materials and techniques of Iwasaki’s painting and calligraphy. As a lay person, I felt this gave me a better understanding of what I was looking at and a deep appreciation of the artist’s sublime mastery.

Some of these paintings are enormous. The largest, Big Bang: E = mc2 is 6 feet by 17 feet wide. These tiny, often golden characters of the Heart Sutra cast themselves into images such as a moment of cloud-to-ground lightening, drifting incense, colonies of marching ants, a glittering sparkler, or a hydrogen atom enclosed by rings upon rings of the scripture. The paintings are hypnotic and Iwasaki’s subjects brilliantly random.

One large work, Mandala of Evolution (6ftX6ft) is presented with cut-away close ups that remind me of ancient illuminated manuscripts. Iwasaki spent two years painting the details to include everything you could imagine from the beginning of life. Celestial bodies, atomic particles, dinosaurs, starfish, amoebas, amphibians, solar systems, cherry blossoms and on and on. I imagine one should see this work in person to fully appreciate its teachings.

Iwasaki was not well known in his lifetime. He created over three hundred paintings, gifted numerous works to benefactors including family, friends and a few institutions which now hold many. Immersion in this book brought to mind the oft written counsel from The Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines: “One should listen to this perfection of wisdom, take it up, bear it in mind, recite it, study it, spread it among others, train in it, and exert oneself in it.” Paula Arai and Iwasaki have together presented this healing vision of the Heart Sutra and hopefully will introduce many to this luminous body of work.

https://www.shambhala.com/painting-enlightenment.html

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ZMM Podcast: Larry Shainberg discusses his new book “Four Men Shaking”

· Conversations, Reviews · , , ,

Author Lawrence Shainberg will be at the Zen Center of NYC on Saturday, October 5th for a reading from his new book, Four Men Shaking. We used this as an excuse to catch up with our old friend “Larry-san” and to talk about the new book and how it came into being.

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Book Review: Not Hearing the Wood Thrush

· Creative Expression, Earth Initiative, Reviews · , ,

Oh my gosh! How did the high privilege ever come to me to review this book? I am lost in it and continually astonished. Margaret Gibson’s newest book of poems, Not Hearing the Wood Thrush, is ripe and full and endlessly transcendent. Not hearing the wood thrush is a fine art that we would all do well to learn

She makes her way and takes us with her through the dozen doors and windows of her poems into the woods, the river, and the star fields. 

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Painting Peace

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Media Review
Painting Peace

by Kaz Tanahashi
Shambhala Publications
Review by clyde fusei forth, MRO

paiting peace

It is perhaps a widely held assumption about the Zen arts that they occur in a bubble of tranquility and equanimity unsullied by the chaos of the world.

One might picture a solitary painter or poet, or a silent line of archers practicing kyudo (Zen archery), each focused singularly on the completion of a perfect act. That assumption might be correct to a point, but Painting Peace, Art in a Time of Global Crisis by Kazuaki Tanahashi opens up a different view.

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Radical Dharma

· Beyond Fear of Differences, Reviews · , , , , , , , , , ,

Media Review
Radical Dharma

by Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah, Ph.D.
North Atlantic Books
Review by Theresa Braine, MRO

Radical DharmaBarbecuing, AirBnB-ing, Waiting, Living…While Black. Police interactions ranging from traumatic to deadly. Not to mention: redlining, gentrification and incarceration-for-profit. The outrages abound. Where does Buddhism land in all this? Enter Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, which starts the conversation with a road map for cutting through the collective conditioning of the white supremacist mind-set that we all, knowingly or unknowingly, live with.

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The Light That Shines Through Infinity

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Media Review
The Light That Shines Through Infinity:
Zen and the Energy of Life

by Dainin Katagiri
Edited by Andrea Martin
Shambhala Publications
Review by Richard Superti, MRO

In this collection of transcribed talks, Dainin Katagiri, one of the founding teachers of North America Zen, manifests how the universe is suffused with a dynamic energy that fills and sustains our lives.  I use the word ‘manifest’ here because, in my experience, this book is an actual manifestation of its title, shining a new light on my experience of the world.

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The Diary of a Bookseller

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Media Review

by Shaun Bythel
Profile Books LTD
Review by Sandy Joshin De Valle, MRO

Shaun Bythell’s “The Diary of a Bookseller” is a gem of a book. Bythell, the owner of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookstore, gives us this day-by-day account of his life as a bookseller. It’s a warm and funny book marked by Bythell’s dark, dead-pan humor. He begins by admitting that he fits the stereotype of the “impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor.” But this wasn’t always the case: he began when he bought his shop as eagerly and naively as any thirty-one-year-old embarking on their first business venture. The shop, though—with its haggling customers, arguing staff and the “constant barrage of dull questions”—turned him into a bit of a misanthrope.

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The Wilds of Poetry

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Media Review
THE WILDS OF POETRY:
Adventures in Mind and Landscape

by David Hinton
Shambhala Publications
Review by Peter Pitzele

A single word runs like a fissure through the short essays that introduce us to the poets collected by David Hinton in The Wilds of Poetry: Adventures in Mind and Landscape: “contact”. These poets, Hinton demonstrates, share a set of common philosophical assumptions that derive from the Taoist-Ch’an tradition, his field of expertise. That tradition entered the slipstream of American culture after the Second World War and affected the diverse fields of dance, theater, music, ceramics, the visual arts, philosophy, and poetry. Hinton traces the threads of influence and affinities among his selected poets, all of whom were wrestling with the American language to demonstrate into what he refers to again and again as “contact.” That is, the direct experience of the world unmediated by thought and interpretation.

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Buddhist Economics

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Media Review
BUDDHIST ECONOMICS:
An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science

by Clair Brown Ph.D.
Bloomsbury Press
Review by Lillian Childress

buddhist economicsWhat would a world look like where the rules of economics were governed by Buddhist principles?
Clair Brown has set out to imagine such a world, drawing on her experience as an economics professor at University of California Berkeley and a longtime Tibetan Buddhist practitioner. Her book offers us the promise of laying out a road map to “an enlightened approach to the dismal science”

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A Plea for the Animals

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Media Review
A Plea for the Animals

The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative
to Treat All Beings with Compassion

by Mathieu Ricard
Shambhala Publications

A Plea for the AnimalsAhimsa, the Sanskrit word for non-harming, is an elemental attribute of the Buddha’s teaching. The concept of “harm,” in and of itself, is not mysterious. It manifests when we needlessly inflict damage, pain, or suffering on any patchwork in the fabric of reality. Later Buddhism codified the notion of saving all sentient beings as an outgrowth of this non-harming. All beings with sentience or consciousness—or to put it in more biological terms, with a spinal column—are able to demonstrate their desire to live their own destinies, their own lives. And this is where Matthieu Ricard, former scientist now an ordained Tibetan monastic, begins his exploration of our relationship with the animal world: if we, not as Buddhists but as a species (a species of animal, in fact), place value on the moral sanctity of life, how do we continue to justify the imprisonment, torture, and murder of billions of fellow sentient beings each and every day?

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