Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I received a wonderful gift the other day: a copy of the catalogue for the 1993 exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.  The gift was a particularly timely one, because Sugimoto's images have been much on my mind of late.  Having found myself so much engaged by the busy activities of daily life and, especially, the concerns around the publication and promotion of my new book, I have been working, in meditation, with the notion of "big sky."  As I understand it, this is a way to release the mind from its busy preoccupations by recognizing them as petty and insignificant in the context of the vastness that surrounds us.  (Succeed in this and you'll be a happier person!)

What I see in Sugimoto's images is a study of both the restlessness of the ocean, in the foreground, and the implacable vastness of the distant sky.  In some of them the horizon--the division between the two--is clearly defined...  

(The images are taken from the official Sugimoto website) 
In others, it is blurred, or altogether indefinable...  

This is exactly my experience.  Sometimes I think I see things clearly, sometimes I get lost in confusion.  Sometimes my mind engages with appearances--with what we call "reality"--sometimes it shifts toward the indefinable clarity of the pure light above.  Sometimes, most often, the distinction between the two is unclear, and it takes effort to get focused and concentrated.

The second gift?  Yesterday, in a related context, I received a copy of Ken McLeod's weekly Unfettered Mind newsletter in my inbox.  His "practical tip" for the week was to "be clear about what you are seeking."  He included three versions of The Four Teachings of Gampopa.  The first reads: 
Let my heart turn to practice.
Let practice become a path.
Let this path dissolve confusion.
Let confusion become wisdom.
The second, "more traditional" version of the same text: 
May my mind turn to the Dharma.
May Dharma become the path.
May the path dispel confusion.
May confusion arise in wisdom.
Ken's freer, more recent version reads:
Let me clear about what I am seeking.
Let me follow this path without compromise.
Let me see confusion and difficulty as the path.
Let me find understanding in confusion itself.
His glossary suggests that we ask, about meditation practice: Why am I doing this?  Then "listen and feel, feel and listen" for the small voice that led us to practice in the first place.  To feel it "in our hearts."

As with most things Buddhist, this sounds simple, but it's a huge challenge.  The question comes at a good time for me.  This is one of those times when the practice begins to feel like an obligation.  I do it more because I'm afraid of breaking the habit than out of inner necessity.

Why am I doing this?  What is it that I'm seeking?  Is it possible that Sugimoto provides me with the answer?  There must be some reason why his images are so much on my mind...

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