Thursday, April 12, 2012

Climbing Mount Sumeru

As an American Zen Buddhist, I have always had a hard time connecting with Asian Buddhist art. I have a Western aesthetic sensibility, and so Tibetan thangkas are too colorful and mystical to move me spiritually, Japanese and Chinese art too sparse. It's not accidental that Japanese statues of the historical Buddha look Japanese, Tibetan Shakyamunis look Tibetan, and so on. The reason is because each of these cultures has integrated Buddhism into its very fabric, and developed artistic representations of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas that reflect their native aesthetics and cultural values.

Except in the West.

Perhaps its insecurity on our part, but all of our Buddhas look...well Asian. We need to learn from our Asian ancestors and begin to develop artistic representations of Buddhist themes in order to resonate with the spiritual needs of Western practitioners.

Nick Pedersen has done that in his latest collection, Sumeru.

I first spotted Pedersen's work on Sweeping Zen, and was immediately entranced by the archetypal scope of his images. In a modern, Western style, Sumeru captivates and inspires viewers with its majestic depiction of a Zen aspirant traveling along the spiritual path. Honoring our East Asian ancestors, the wanderer is dressed in Asian garb, but his or her conical hat could just as easily conceal a face from any country. Which lends the collection a universal, archetypal power that struck right to my heart. In this way, the figure serves as a mirror for our own practice and lives;

it could be anyone: you, me, our neighbors, because in true Buddhist fashion, Sumeru recognizes that we are all Buddhas already. Like Pedersen's faceless traveler, we must all traverse the steep and wild terrain of our inner world in order to Awaken.

Words cannot describe how truly powerful Sumeru's black and white images are--wondrous, magnanimous, enthralling, exciting, evocative, and inspiring. Pedersen leads us through the windy trail of spiritual cultivation, and achieves what all great artists strive to do--challenge viewers to look inside of themselves and awaken their own spiritual quest.

Few artists have moved me the way that Nick Pedersen's Sumeru has. Finally--and I truly mean this--Western Buddhism has found an authentic, artistic voice in Nick Pedersen. I highly encourage anyone interested in spirituality, and not just Zen, to explore the wondrous heights and depths of Sumeru.

"Mountains and Waters,""Flowers in the Sky,"and "Thunderous silence" used with permission from artist, Nick Pedersen.

1 comment:

  1. I find Japanese calligraphy much more powerful...actually, significant that these illustrations. No offence but they hardly reflect mushin. 'western Buddhism'? why not Northern buddism than? or Southern? Sorry, i do not mean any disrespect. Hope you find your way.