Filed in:Anthony de Mello
The mystic was back from the desert.
"Tell us," they said, "what God is like.”
But how could he ever tell them
what he had experienced in his heart?
Can God be put into words?
He finally gave them a formula—
so inaccurate, so inadequate—
in the hope that some of them might be tempted
to experience it for themselves.
They seized upon the formula.
They made it a sacred text.
They imposed it on others as a holy belief.
They went to great pains to spread it in foreign lands.
Some even gave their lives for it.
The mystic was sad.
It might have been better if he had said nothing.
—Source: Muse Studio's
The 2000 year-old art form of Japanese brush painting is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism. Sumi-e's earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration, clarity, and simplicity. These early Zen Masters dedicated themselves to the art form with spiritual intensity through long years of serious reflection and strict discipline. Respect for Sumi-e's demands shaped their aesthetic direction.
The monks adhered to a rigorous schedule of meditation in preparation for painting. Entering a deep contemplative state was at the core of the creative process: preparing the inkstone, grinding the sumi ink, loading the brush (fude), releasing the brush stroke on rice paper or silk scroll. Mastering the nuances of the black sumi ink was more difficult than painting with color and required consummate skill.
Throughout its long and venerable history, Sumi-e has been held in high esteem and became a powerful way to inculcate the values of Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct. For the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquility essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke. Embodying the honorable ancient warrior codes, Sumi-e was a metaphor for the ephemeral world of the courageous Samurai swordsman.
Today, becoming a Master Sumi-e artist requires the same investment of effort and time in rigorous training and discipline.