When I came to Zen practice I was tossing in a whirlwind of comparison and worry. Oh gosh! What am I doing? What if I've "lost it" and I never sell a painting again? Chelsea is full of art that is more interesting than mine! Are the commercial projects I'm scrambling for any good? Maybe I'm filling the world with more useless consumer junk! Golly!
From reading a few Zen books, and visiting Buddhist temples in Japan, I had a suspicion that Zen practice might help me out of this whirlwind without drugs, alcohol or huge amounts of money. During my second or third sitting in meditation at the Zendo, tears came to my eyes, because I felt the whirlwind subsiding. From the lectures and workshops the Zendo offered, I began to realize that the whirlwind of comparison and worry - is just thinking. It doesn't really exist. It isn't a whirlwind at all. There is no reason to believe all my thoughts, and that was a big relief! Unfortunately the crazy critical thinking storm returned in heavy gusts when leaving the Zendo, and I wondered why. Knowing that thoughts have no substance, was I meant to eliminate all my worries? That would probably be impossible. The key to this question came to me when Roshi gave a lecture on Shikantaza, our "just sitting" style of meditation. She seemed to be looking at me when she said, in the context of sitting meditation, "Just be yourself." Those were "tuning words" for me and I felt AH HA!
"Just being myself" is the nature of my talent. I've been wholeheartedly working on "being myself" since I began making artwork at age 3. It is all my artwork really aims for on its most basic level, and when I get caught up in what is not "just being myself" there my anxieties begin. In Buddhist terms, "getting caught up" is the same as "separation". Separating "myself" from "other" causes immense problems. Debilitating comparison is reliant on separation, because there must be at least two things involved. Usually "myself" and "other."
Since "myself" turns out to be the equivalent of "non-separation" and that means with everything in the universe, then the question becomes what is "just be?" I don't think it possible to answer that question with words. Only through all the actions of our life is "just be" realized. That takes endless time and constant vigilance, and as we offer in our morning work gatha at the Zendo it takes: "practice, awareness and compassion. " The Zendo and my meditation practice have given me the ability to see my life and work in the fresh breeze of joy and wonder, as opposed to the pelting storm of worry and comparison. Do I still worry and compare? Of course I do! Even so, now I can sometimes see my worries and comparisons as joyful things, and I can learn from them. Imagine the joy of worry! I think that is very Zen!
Over the last two years I have made a few artworks with Buddhist themes. Here is a small painting I completed in February 2008 called "All Universe Time Space Wisdom Stupidity Radiate From This Point". It is 18 inches square, painted with acrylic paint on a wooden panel. It includes glow-in-the-dark and metallic gold colors. On the back a drawing is attached with a key to all the symbols in the painting. The key is included here for your understanding.
Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat is a visionary artist and designer of wild and whimsical sculpture, painting, children's books and many commercial projects. Highlights include the 1985 Whitney Biennial exhibition, and character and world design for "Parappa the Rapper" a series of best selling video games. Musho has been attending the Village Zendo for two years.