Mindfulness in a dot
After a lot of theory, we want to highlight practical aspects today, but first a summary of the last post:
Everything is Dao, from the smallest dot to the universe; thus, everything is imbued with Dao, especially the counterplay of yin and yang. These are not opposing forces but depend on each other, both are created in the respective other.
The task of the painter is to make these principles visible through his work. High-level painting can only be created by painters with high thoughts, and the painter spends his life working to improve his understanding of the highest principles of Dao.
He uses xieyi painting (“freehand style”), which is heavily based on calligraphy. Another key term in Daoism is wu wei (無為) – in the sense of not interfering with nature.
Daoist painting is also strongly linked to poetry and music, which in turn are firmly based on painting and all share the same principles.
The omnipresence of the Dao as the highest principle
Picasso once said: “There are painters who turn the sun into a yellow spot. But there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, can turn a yellow spot into the sun.”
That’s a good approach. But we don’t want to stop there, we want to go higher. Because a spot can be more than the sun. It goes light years further because it carries the entire universe within it. What sounds like esoteric ramblings is the soul of a Taoist painting. And to the extent that we succeed in recognizing more and more principles at one dot, our understanding of the whole picture naturally increases.
Mindfulness in Daoist painting begins with the smallest in a picture – and that is a dot. In the West, a dot on a paper generally has little special meaning. (Exercise: try to mentally report on a dot and see how many sentences you can get together). To talk about a dot in Chinese painting would be a very long lecture. Much of this can already be found summarized in a previous post “What a dot can do“. (Which I recommend reading to anyone interested in the subject).
Now how can a dot be more than a speck? Let us remember again that all manifestations exist only in our consciousness. No awareness of a dot = no deeper perception of a dot, right? And further still: If we say that ALL is Dao, then this must apply to the smallest dot right down to the universe.
So today let’s try to fill the dot with awareness.
As the first practice in mindfulness, we learn to see that each dot is different (in its appearance).
Each of these dots not only looks different visually but mostly has a different function and essence. It can appear as a powerful beginning of long calligraphy, can bridge 2 blank spaces, can form a plane (area) with other dots or lines, can be used artistically (construction, dynamics), and much more.
But first, as a first exercise, let’s put all philosophy aside and be careful to note that none of the dots (and I could show many hundreds right now) are identical. Just perceive and save mentally.
But, as pointed out before, even a dot, no matter how small it may seem, is above all a mirror of our consciousness. If we have read Buddhist scriptures, we know that Buddha (as the supreme principle of the mind) can be found in the smallest speck of dust as well as in the universe. (Quite similar to the Western concept of God).
If we now apply this specifically in painting, then the dot is indeed the smallest element in a picture – and still carries the same power as the entire picture (cosmos). How that?
Let’s see how to get a good dot down on paper. The tip of the brush touches the paper and forms the point like a circle.
If we look at how an Enso (圓相), which stands for the cosmos, is put on paper, we immediately notice the same technique. For many centuries, and still today, Enso, like Koan (公案), has served as an object of meditation. And thus as a mirror of our level of consciousness. What I saw 20 years ago when looking at an Enso is naturally different from what I see today.
Practice: imagine you have just one line to tell the world how far you have come in your understanding of the highest principle. No colors, no corrections, no decorations – just one single line. This is an Enso. Be assured that those in the know can very well discern how deep you have come in your understanding.
That also means that I can’t expect to suddenly understand Dao after a weekend seminar. But I may have gotten a step further.
Another mindfulness exercise could be – in the spirit of Picasso’s – turning the “yellow spot into a sun”. Look at dots and try to see more than a black spot.
As already mentioned, dots in a painting are arranged in groups that can have different purposes, and accordingly, the dots also look different. But they always reflect nature and thus are an expression of the Dao. When arranged like a horse’s hoofprints, they are powerful and bring dynamic into the picture. When arranged like petals, they are still and lyrical.
Of course, the painter does not have to think about it while painting. For years he has practiced putting dots and lines correctly and in the act of painting, he practices how the brush automatically glides over the paper – as he is in a wu wei state of mind.
Shi Tao, the master of dots
Finally, for today we want to look at a few examples, all of which come from Shi Tao (石涛 1642 – 1707), probably the most important Daoist painter, who is best known for his art of setting the right dots.
Now, as we look at his scrolls, we cannot help but draw our attention to his points. And of course, we are struck by how humble the viewer of the landscape was portrayed, becoming one with nature.
There is a long role by Shi Tao called 10,000 Ugly Inkblots in which he showed absolute mastery. When we have learned to enjoy it, we have arrived in the world the Dao of the point 😊
As a little extra today, there is only a link to a new teaser. Unfortunately, the frames do not match the pictures well…
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