INDEX > TOP > CONCEPT

CONCEPT

Attainment of completion of a painting properly means to “become empty”. It means that you return to the primordial state (of non-differentiation) in which there are not “painters”, “appreciators”, or “the truth”. It means that you jump through everything and produce for yourself an infinite space of freedom.

If you are to make the slightest effort to attain completion of works, you will never be able to get it. Such an effort is comparable to your trying to grasp limitless space with your hands.

When painting a picture, artist Kiyoshi Shiraishi considers all forms of thinking as a deadly hindrance to the attainment of completion. Discursive thinking must be arrested at all costs. Even having an image of completion in the mind works as a formidable obstacle in the way of the production.


Reasoning or thinking always involves the “I” (the ego-entity) becoming conscious of something. It is in its basic structure “consciousness-of”. The thinking ego and the object of thinking are separated from one another. They stand against one another. The “consciousness-of” is dualism. But what the production of paintings is most concerned with is the actualization of pure and simple “consciousness of the production”, not “consciousness-of”. Though similar in verbal form, “pure and simple consciousness of the production” and “consciousness-of” are different worlds. The former has neither the thinking subject nor the object thought of. Rather, it is the whole world of Being in which it becomes aware of itself in us and through us. It is above and beyond both subjectivity and objectivity.


It permeates and runs through the entire world of Being. It is supra-individual. In the existential depths of every human being, there lies hidden a noumenon which is technically known as the Self-nature. And the sudden realization of that is nothing other than the attainment of completion.

But the curious thing about this noumenon is that it can “exist” (or “ex-ist”) only in concrete individual things, and that it can be realized only in the consciousness of a concrete individual person. Each individual man is in this sense a double personality. He is individual and supra-individual at the same time. That is to say, he exists as an individual point into which the universal existential energy is concentrated, infinitely surpassing its narrow personal confines. Ordinarily, however, man is not aware of this. That is, there is no awareness in him of the supra-individual noumenon in the body of himself. Its realization is impeded by thinking. Even the slightest activation of the discursive intellect renders the immediate grasp of the primordially undifferentiated utterly impossible. The noumenon turns into a phenomenon. The “I”, the empirical ego, becomes conscious of itself as a discrete entity standing against an external world, and the resulting dualism of “myself” and “non-myself” intrudes into itself and contaminates the original non-differentiation.


Thus the Cartesian cogito which may very well be fully effective and valid in its proper field, from the viewpoint of production, is far from being something that leads us directly to the awareness of the reality of human existence. On the contrary, cogito is considered the very source of all delusions about existence. Cogito is a distraction that leads us away from an immediate grasp of reality as it really is.

The painter abhors all forms of intellectualism and verbalism, not to speak of those random thoughts and ideas that constantly arise and dart about in the mind to perturb its serenity. However, painters do not remain permanently in a state of mental void and silence. Quite the contrary; they are in complete possession of their thinking faculty, which they exercise freely and spontaneously. In other words, painters do think, too, in a certain sense. The point to note, however, is that their thinking unfolds itself in a totally different form and at quite a different level of consciousness from that with which we are familiar in ordinary circumstances. The very first step in training for painters is wiping out all the habitual patterns of thinking which are deep-rooted in mind.


That is to say, we must develop the spiritual ability to look at things not in terms of a culturally conditioned pattern of looking at things, not even in terms of the humanly predetermined categories of cognition, but in terms of the limitless ontological possibilities of the “non-articulated” itself. Production of works urges us to go beyond the narrow confines that are imposed upon us by the “natural” function of our mind, and attain to the spiritual stage of an infinite freedom in the act of articulating reality.


Reality in all its dimensions is constantly and unceasingly articulating itself into myriads of concrete forms. But these concrete forms are not necessarily confined to those which we, human beings, recognize as such. Quite the contrary, there are an infinity of forms that are alien and inaccessible to the human power of cognition. Furthermore, even with regard to those forms which are familiar to human beings, there is no rigidly fixed correspondence between them and the portions of reality with which they are customarily associated by man.

The articulation of reality with such a metaphysical freedom is taking place everywhere at every moment. The universe is dynamically alive in this sense. But the painter observes at the same time how the reality, by articulating itself into myriads of forms, is actually articulating itself into itself. The universal act of articulation goes on nullifying its own articulation moment by moment in such a way that the “all” remains eternally still and quiet in its original non-articulation. Articulation is non-articulation.


There is a functional relationship between the subject and the object, an observer and something being observed. The painter begins by recognizing a very close correlation between the state of consciousness of the subject and the state of the objective world which the subject perceives. This correlation between subject and object is of an extremely subtle, delicate, and dynamic nature, so much so that the slightest move on the part of the subject necessarily induces a change on the part of the object (concretely on the canvas), however slightest it might be.

The particular state in which the perceiving subject happens to be, determines the state or nature of the object perceived. A particular existential mode of the subject actualizes the whole world in a particular form corresponding to it. The phenomenal world rises before the eyes of an observer in accordance with the latter’s inner mode of being.


Consequently, if we feel vaguely or definitely that the world we observe on the canvas is not the real world and that the phenomenal things are not being seen in their true reality, then we will have to do something about the very structure of our own consciousness. And that is exactly what the painter’s works propose to do.


The “no-mind”, which may be translated in a more explanatory manner as a “mind which is no mind”, “mind which exists as a non-existent mind”, or “mind which is in the state of nothingness”, is not to be understood in a purely negative sense as the mind in the state of torpidity and inertness or sheer ecstasy. Quite the contrary, the “no-mind” is a psychological state in which the mind finds itself at the highest point of tension, a state in which the mind works with utmost intensity and lucidity. The mind knows its object so perfectly that there is no longer any consciousness left of the object. The mind is not even conscious of its knowing the object.

The “no-mind” has in fact played an exceedingly important formative role in the cultural history both of China and Japan. In Japan the main forms of fine art like poetry, painting, and calligraphy have developed their original types more or less under the influence of the spirit of the “no-mind”. Some master musicians say, when playing the harp, they feel that it is not they themselves who play the music, but that it is as though music played itself. The musician is so completely absorbed in his act of playing, so completely united with the harp and music itself, that he is no longer conscious of the individual movements of his fingers. In reference to such a situation, no one would say, except figuratively or in a loose sense, that the musician is “unconscious”. For he is conscious. Rather, his consciousness is at the utmost limit of self-illumination. The aesthetic tension of his mind runs so high throughout his whole being that he himself is the music he is playing. Paradoxical as it may sound, he is so fully conscious of himself as identified with music that he is not “conscious” of his act of playing in any ordinary sense of the word.


The empirical world-view is a world-view worked out by the intellect that can properly exercise its function only where there is a distinction made between ego and alter. The whole mechanism stands on the conviction, whether explicit or implicit, of the independent existence of the ego-substance which stands opposed to external substantial objects. Whether the subject be represented as being outside the world of objects or inside, this very basic Cartesian opposition is, from the standpoint of a painter, something to be demolished before man begins to see the reality of himself and of so-called external objects. The empirical ego is conscious of itself only as being there as an independent center of its own perception, thinking and bodily actions. It has no awareness at all of its being something more than that.


In truth, however, even in the midst of this empirical view of the things there is hidden something like a metaphysical principle which is, though invisible, constantly at work, ready to be realized at any moment through the human mind to transform the normal view of the world into something entirely different. There is something perceivable behind each individual “I”, and its activity is still hidden at the empirical level of self-consciousness.

The empirical ego can be the real center of all its activities simply because that hidden principle is constantly functioning. The empirical ego can be selfhood only because every subjective movement it makes is in truth the actualization here and now of that “something” which is the real selfhood. The empirical ego sees itself alone. It has the awareness only of the presence of “things”. They appear as substances qualified by various properties, and as such they stand opposed to the perceiving subject which sees them from outside. However, a thing rises as this or that thing before the eyes of the empirical ego simply by virtue of the activity of that very same “something” which establishes the ego as an ego.


One of the goals of painters who are locked up in the magic circle of ontological dichotomy and cannot see beyond the surface meaning consists in attempting to break the spell of dualism and remove it from their minds, so that they might stand immediately face to face with what they paint.

We may do well to recall at this point that paintings stand philosophically on the concept of Pratitya-samutpada. It is the idea that everything comes into being and exists as what it is by virtue of the infinite number of relations it bears to other things, each one of these “other things” owing again its seemingly self-subsistent existence to other things. Paintings in this respect are ontologically a system based upon the category of “relatio”, in contrast to, say, the Platonic-Aristotelian system which is based on the category of “substantia”.


A philosophical system which stands upon the category of “substantia” and which recognizes in substances the most basic ontological elements, almost inevitably tends to assume the form of essentialism.

We might remark that the essentialist position sees on both the “subjective” and “objective” sides of the self-subsistent substances, the boundaries of each of which are inalterably fixed and determined by its “essence”. For example, an apple is a self-subsistent substance with a more or less strictly delimited ontological sphere, the delimitation being supplied by its own “essence”, i.e. apple-ness. In the same manner, the ego which, as the subject, perceives the apple is an equally self-subsistent substance furnished with an “essence” which, in this case, happens to be its I-ness. Such a view only reflects the phenomenal surface of reality. It is not the case that there does exist in the external world a substance with a certain number of qualities, called an “apple”. The truth is that “something” phenomenally appears to the subject as an “apple”. The phenomenal appearance of the “apple” as an “apple” depends upon a certain positive attitude on the part of the subject. Conversely, however, the very fact that an “apple” phenomenally appears as such to his eyes, establishes man as the perceiving ego, the subject of cognition.

The reality in the true sense of the word, therefore, is “something” lying behind both the subject and object and making each of them emerge in its particular form, this as the subject and that as the object. The ultimate principle governing the whole structure is “something” which runs through the subject-object relationship, and which makes possible the very relationship to be actualized. But again, the word “something” must not mislead one into thinking that behind the veils of phenomena some metaphysical, supra-sensible substance is governing the mechanism of the phenomenal world. In reality, there is nothing beyond, or other than the phenomenal world. The painter does not admit the existence of a transcendental, supra-sensible order of things, which would subsist apart from the sensible world.


What is really meant by the painter’s painting is not an absolute, transcendental “entity” which itself might be something keeping itself beyond, and completely aloof from the phenomenal things. Rather, it is a dynamic field of power in its entirety and wholeness, an entire field which is neither exclusively subjective nor exclusively objective, but comprehending both the subject and the object in a peculiar state prior to its being bifurcated into these two terms. Instead of being an “absolute” thing or a “transcendental” substance, it is an “actus” charging an entire field with its dynamic energy.


It is, at this very moment, in this very place, so vividly present. But the minds of the ordinary people are not mature enough to see this. Thus they establish everywhere names and concepts (like the “absolute”, the “holy”, “enlightenment”, etc.) and vainly search after “reality” in these names and letters.

The philosophical thinking of the painter is based on and centers around the category of “relatio” instead of “substantia”. Everything, the whole world of Being, is looked at from a relational point of view. Nothing is to be regarded as self-subsistent and self-sufficient. The “subject” is “subject” because it is relative to “object”. The “object” is “object” because it is relative to “subject”. Since a “Ding” can be established as a “Ding” only when it is permeated by the light of the “subject”, there is no “mind” or “subject” which has no reference to the sphere of “Dinge”. And since the “subject” which is thus essentially relative to the “object” is both the individual “mind” and the universal “mind”, the whole thing, or the “field” itself, must necessarily be also of a relational nature. It is in fact a “relation” itself between the sensible and the supra-sensible.


What we ordinarily call and regard as “mind” (or “subjectる”, “consciousness”, etc.) is nothing more than an abstraction. Likewise the “object” or “thing” is an abstraction taken out of the whole non-articulated “field” by a kind of abstractive inflection of the latter towards the “passive” sphere.

The painter, however, goes further and insists that we should attain to a stage at which we could witness the originally non-articulated “field” articulating itself freely, of its own accord, and not through the dichotomizing activity of our intellect, into either the “subject” or the “object”. It is important to note that in this self-articulation of the “field”, the whole “field” is involved, not this or that particular sphere of it. Instead of being an abstraction, the “subject” or the “object” in such a case is a total concretization or actualization of the entire “field”.


“Something” beyond the concrete thing does not mean a transcendental absolute thing. The painter emphatically denies something metaphysical lying at the back of the phenomenal.

Quite the contrary, the painter absolutizes the phenomenal itself. Its concrete reality is the absolute at this very moment in this very place. It is not even a “self-manifestation” of the absolute. For the absolute has no space other than itself for manifesting itself. And such is the structure of the “objective” aspect of the “field”.


Four major forms are clearly distinguishable in this structure.

1. Sometimes the “field” maintains perfect stability, and the whole “field” maintains itself in a state of extreme tension, a state of absolute and universal “illumination”, an “awareness” where there is nothing whatsoever for man to be aware of. In this state, there is neither the “subject” nor the “object”. It is also often referred to as Oriental Nothingness in the philosophies of the East.

2. But, sometimes, out of this eternal “stillness”, there suddenly arises a glaring consciousness of the “subject”. The energy that has been evenly saturating the entire “field” is now aroused from the state of quietude, gushes forth toward the “subjective” sphere of the “field”, and ends by being crystallized into the “subject”. Nothing else is visible.

3. Sometimes, again, the energy aroused from its stability flows toward the “objective” sphere of the “field”. It is the “object” that is alone visible. The same amount of energy that could at any moment be crystallized into the “subject” is also being mobilized in the appearance of the “object”.

4. Finally, the “field” may go back again to its original state of “stillness”, with the difference that this time both the “subject” and the “object” are given their proper places in the “field”. We are now back to our old familiar world of empirical experience. With regard to its inner structure, however, this old familiar world of ours is infinitely different from the same world as seen through the eyes of the purely empirical ego. For our old familiar world, this time, reveals itself in its pristine purity and innocence. The empirical world which has once lost itself into the abyss of “nothingness”, now returns to life again in an unusual freshness.


The “field” is not to be confused with the purely “objective” aspect of the world of Being, or Nature conceived as something existing outside the “mind”. Nor is it to be confused with the purely “subjective” consciousness of man. That which establishes the “subject” as the “subject” (or consciousness as consciousness) and the “object” as the “object” (or Nature as Nature) is something that transcends, in a certain sense, this very distinction between “subject” and “object” and manifests itself, by self-determination, now as the “subject” and now as the “object”. Man is the “field”. Man is a personal, human actualization of the “field”. And in fact, there is absolutely no other type of actualization for the “field”. The dynamics of the “field” of “reality” is realizable only through the individual man, through the inner transformation of his consciousness. Man, in this sense, is the locus of the actualization of the whole universe. When the actualization really takes place in this locus, the “man” is transformed into what is called the “true man without any ranks”.


The image of “man” the painter observes is not primarily an image of the sensible “man” who sees with his eyes, hears with his ears, speaks with his tongue. In short, it is not that of “man” as the self-conscious empirical ego. Rather it is the image of the supra-sensible “man” who, existing above the level of empirical experience, activates all the sense organs and makes the intellect function as it does. And yet, on the other hand, this supra-sensible, supra-empirical “man”, cannot actualize himself independently of the empirical “man”.


Thus man, inasmuch as he is a total actualization of the “field” of “reality”, is on the one hand a “cosmic man” comprehending in himself the whole universe, “the mind-reality”, which pervades and runs through the whole world of Being. On the other hand, he is this very concrete individual “man” who exists and lives here and now, as a concentration point of the entire energy of the “field”. He is individual and supra-individual. We shall have to say that in the concrete individual person there lives another person. This second person in himself is beyond all limitations of time and space.


Our ordinary view of the world may be symbolically represented as a circle with the ego as its autonomous center. With individual differences that are clearly to be recognized, each circle delimits a certain spatial and temporal expanse within the boundaries of which alone everything knowable is knowable. Its circumference sets up a horizon beyond which things disappear in an unfathomable darkness. The center of the circle is occupied by what Karl Jespers called Ich als Dasein, or the empirical ego, the “I” as we ordinarily understand it.


At the very moment that a man turns his attention to his own self which under ordinary conditions he is wont to express quite naively and unreflectingly, the self becomes objectified, or we should say, petrified, and the sought-for pure subjectivity is lost. The pure “ego” can be realized only through a total transformation of the empirical ego into something entirely different, functioning in an entirely different dimension of human existence.

The world in the view of the plain man may conveniently be represented as a vaguely illumined circle with the empirical ego at its center as the source of illumination. Around the empirical ego, there spreads out a more or less narrowly limited circle of existence within which things are perceived and events take place. The center of the circle, the empirical ego, establishes itself as the “subject” and, as such, cognitively opposes itself to the “object” which is constituted by the world extending from and around it. Each of the things existing in the world and the world itself, indeed everything other than the “subject”, is regarded as an “object”.


What the painter primarily aims at consists in trying to broaden the “circle”, at the very center of the circle, not as an “object” but in its absolute subjectivity, as the real “subject” or pure “ego”, to infinity to the extent that we might actualize an infinitely large circle with its circumference nowhere to be found, so that its center be found everywhere, always mobile and ubiquitous, fixed at no definite point.

That is to say, what is seemingly the center of the circle is not the real center. The “subject” is not the real subject. In fact, it is characteristic of the psychological mechanism of man that no matter how far he may go in search of his real self in its pure and absolute subjectivity, it goes on escaping his grip. For the very act of turning attention to the “subject” immediately turns it into an “object”.


Consciousness cannot but objectify whatever appears before it. And paradoxically or ironically enough, this holds true even of the “subject”. The very moment I become aware of myself, I turn into an objected “I”, an “object” among all other “objects”. This is the main reason, as I said earlier, why it is so difficult to realize the “subject” in its pure subjectivity. One can never hope to actualize the pure “ego” as long as one remains in the intentional dimension of consciousness.

The painter, however, recognizes and knows through experience another dimension of consciousness. It is a noetic dimension which is to be cultivated through the introspective techniques of painting, a special dimension in which consciousness is activated not as “consciousness-of” but as “consciousness” pure and simple.


In the painter’s mind is the Japanese term “hi-shiryo”. It literally means “non-thinking”. This phrase may perhaps better be translated as the “a-thinking mode of thinking”. For, despite its purely negative form, this expression does not mean a passive void of consciousness or absence of consciousness. Quite the contrary, in the “a-thinking” state the consciousness is activated and heightened to the extreme limit of its power of concentration without, however, “intending” anything.


It must not be taken in the negative sense of simply losing consciousness, be it in a state of ecstasy, let alone blank stupefaction. Instead of being a state of “mindlessness” in any sense, it is “mindfulness”, an extreme intensification of consciousness, except that the “mindfulness” is to be maintained not in the dimension of ordinary noetic experience in which the ego stands as the “subject” opposed to other things or other egos as its “objects”, but in a totally different dimension in which the very opposition of “subject” and “object” becomes meaningless.

To get disciplined in the way of art means getting disciplined in dealing properly with your own “I”. To get disciplined in dealing properly with your “I” means nothing other than forgetting your “I”. To forget your “I” means that you become illumined by the “external” things. To be illumined by the things means that you obliterate the distinction between your (so-called) ego and the (so-called) egos of other things.


Losing the consciousness of the “I” as the “subject” standing in opposition to other things as its “objects”, the painter is to get entirely and totally absorbed into the things themselves in such a way that the things “illumine” or resuscitate the “I” that has once disappeared from the “subject” ? “object” dimension in another form in another dimension, the non-intentional dimension of consciousness.

What appears from the depth of the canvas, which is repainted many times by the leading of “something” that is out of thinking, neither accidental nor inevitable, and inexplicable by dualism, no longer has a sign of the existence of the individual painter.


The Oriental Nothingness is a plenitude of Being. It is so full that it cannot as such be identified as anything determined, anything special. But it is, on the other hand, so full that it can manifest itself as anything in the empirical dimension of our experience, as a crystallization of the whole spiritual energy contained therein. The Oriental Nothingness thus understood is the true, absolute “ego” as the painter understands it.

It is meaningless to ask “what” is drawn in the artist’s paintings. Language consists of labeling, or naming.


Naming is precisely articulating. A name is the result of man’s having articulated through language a given portion of reality. One of its most important functions consists in articulating reality into a certain number of units and crystallizing them into so many discrete entities which then form among themselves a complicated network of closely or remotely related things, qualities, actions and relations.


Reality in its suchness is the non-articulated as articulated into myriad things in the phenomenal order of being, and the articulated things as embodying each in itself the non-articulated. The non-articulated and articulated are to be envisaged as two aspects of the ultimate reality, each of the two aspects being always ? except in abstraction ? at the back of the other, from whichever side one may approach the reality. Is language capable of representing these two aspects of the suchness of reality by means of words? Words can never “non-articulate”.


It is of such a peculiar nature that it would not ordinarily be recognized as thinking, because “thinking” ? at least in the Cartesian tradition of the West ? is a conscious manipulation of clear and distinct ideas.


In its normal form, our thinking cannot function without having an object to think about. The mind in this sense cannot work in the void. Thinking is always thinking-about or thinking-of something. It needs something to hold on to.

The painter’s “thinking” does not mean ordinary thinking at the level of ideas and concepts, but a depth-thinking, which is going down to the very marrow of reality.


“Thinking”, as the painter understands it, is an objectless thinking. “Thinking” which has no object is at the same time “thinking” without a subject. Absolutely “object”-less thinking is impossible to be actualized as long as there remains in the thinking subject the “subject”-consciousness, or ego-consciousness. That is, a thinking-which-is-non-thinking.


It is very important to remark that “thinking which is objectless and subjectless” does not mean an act of thinking from which the consciousness of both the object and subject has been eliminated. If such were the case, “thinking” would simply be a peculiar psychological event. What the painter means is rather a dynamic metaphysical awareness of Being-itself, or pure “existence”, before it bifurcates itself into the subject and object, the knower and the known ? or we might also say, the “I” and the world.

The painter sees the repainted canvas. He says, “There certainly is ‘seeing’, but its object does not constitute ‘something’! Seeing where there is absolutely no object, that is true ‘seeing’.”


In any good painting there must be a perfect, harmonious correspondence realized between the inner rhythm of man and the life rhythm of external Nature in such a way that, as a result, an undefinable spiritual tone pervades the whole space of the picture, vitalizing the latter in the most subtle way and imparting metaphysical significance to the objects depicted, whatever they might be. When a painter succeeds in actualizing this principle, his work will be filled with a peculiar kind of spiritual energy expressing itself in the rhythmic pulsation of life. It will be a work of the all-pervading rhythm of cosmic “life” itself, in which the spirit of man will be in direct communion with the inner reality of Heaven and Earth.


Thus we observe here a double externalization of the internal: the painter externalizes his “interior”, or his mental state or spiritual reality, while Nature on its part externalizes through the brush of the painter its “interior”, or the inner rhythm of life which pervades the whole universe and which runs through Nature. That is to say, the very act of the artist expressing his interior is in itself nothing other than the act of Nature expressing its own interior. As a result, we have the “spiritual tone pulsating with life”.


“The dialectics of outside and inside” belongs to the most elementary and primitive stratum of our mind. It is a deep-rooted habit of our thinking. In fact we find everywhere the opposition of the interior and exterior. “Inside the house” versus “outside the house”, “inside the country” versus “outside the country”, “inside the earth” versus “outside the earth”, “inner (or esoteric) meaning” versus “outer (or exoteric) meaning”, the ego or mind as our “inside” versus the external world or Nature as our “outside”, the soul as our “inside” versus the body as our “outside”, etc. The everyday ontology reposing upon the contrasting geometrical images of the interior and exterior thus forms one of the most fundamental patterns of thinking.


The painter simply wishes to see you stop wandering after external objects.

Do not commit yourselves to a grave mistake by convulsively looking around your neighborhood. Just look within yourselves.

The practice of the painter’s production of work consists in stopping our mind from running after “outward” things and turning it “inward” upon its own “inner” reality.


In the internalization of the external, what has heretofore been regarded as “external” to one’s self is suddenly taken into the mind. Then everything that happens and is observed in the so-called “external” world comes to be seen as a working of the mind, as a particular self-determination of the mind. Every “external” event comes to be seen as an “internal” event. Man feels himself filled with an undeniable realization that he, his mind-and-body, has become completely transparent, having lost its existential opaqueness that would offer resistance to all things coming from the “outside”. His mind now is to be likened to an all-embracing mirror in which the mountains, rivers and the earth with all the splendor and beauty of Nature are freely reflected.


In looking at a painting, put the whole of your mind-body into the act; in listening to a sound, put the whole of your mind-body into the act (in such a way that your ego may become lost and submerged in the thing seen or heard). Then, and then only will you be able to grasp “reality” in its original suchness. To forget your own “I” means that you become illumined by the “external” things. To be illumined by the things means that you obliterate the distinction between your (so-called) ego and the (so-called) egos of other things. Man comes to a sudden realization that what he has thought to be “external” to himself is in truth “internal”. The world does not exist outside me: it is within myself, it is me. Everything that man has hitherto imagined to be taking place outside himself has in reality been taking place in an interior space. Now I see a mountain just as a mountain and a river just as a river. Although the mountains and rivers are the same old ones, they (as they appear in the state of enlightenment) must not be confused with ordinary mountains and rivers. They are mountains and rivers in a spiritual atmosphere which is essentially different from an ordinary atmosphere. At this stage, the undivided “something” divides itself into subject and object in the very midst of the original oneness. In order that there be the experience of enlightenment, the absolutely undivided “something” divides itself again as the “I” and, for instance, the mountains and rivers. And at the precise moment of this bifurcation, the mountains and rivers suddenly and unexpectedly emerge as absolute “mountains and rivers”. The oneness is still kept intact in spite of the apparent subject-object bifurcation. And the result is that the subject and object (the “I” and the mountain) are separated from one another, and merged into one another. The separation and merging is the same act of the originally undivided “something”. Thus at the very moment that the “I” and the mountain come out of the “something”, they merge into one another and become one: and this one thing establishes itself as the absolute “mountain”. Yet, the absolute “mountain”, concealing in itself a complex nature such as has now been described, is just a simple mountain. The structure of the “mind” thus understood is complicated because it is, thus, of an apparently self-contradictory nature: on the one hand, it is entirely different from the empirical consciousness in that it is of a super-sensible and super-rational dimension of Being, but on the other hand it is completely and inseparably identified with the empirical consciousness.


The Japanese had developed from most ancient times a remarkable sensibility for colors and hues which go on changing with the revolving seasons of the year. Nature in Japan is comparable to a gorgeous brocade resplendent with infinitely varied colors. These colors of Japanese nature are of a dazzling beauty; they are beautiful enough to intoxicate our aesthetic sense. Yet, on the other hand, the brilliance of the colors is characteristically counterbalanced by what we might designate as a chromatic “reticence”, a kind of natural restraint, quiet soberness (popularly known in the West as “shibui”), spreading like thin mists over the colors, matting their naked flamboyance and subduing their unrestrained external gorgeousness. These characteristics of nature in Japan are said to have positively contributed toward the formation of the typical, aesthetic sensitiveness of the Japanese to color and its delicate nuances.


The art of black-and-white ink painting in China and Japan is in fact the best illustration of the negative attitude toward color which I have just referred to as being most characteristic of Far Eastern art. For in this monochromic world of artistic creation, the inexhaustible profusion and intricacy of the forms and colors of Nature are reduced to an extremely simplified and austere scheme of black outlines and a few discrete touches or washes of ink here and there, sometimes in the glistening black, sometimes watered down to vaporous gray. In the background there may be a haziness of faint gray; more often than not the background is a blank, white space, or bare silk or paper left untouched by the brush. There is consequently no titillation and gratification here of the sense of color.

It is important to remember, however, that this artistic asceticism, or the suppression of externals and the reduction of all colors to black and white, manifests its real aesthetic function only against the background of a highly refined sensibility for colors and their subtle hues. In other words, the true profundity of the beauty of black-and-white is disclosed only to those eyes that are able to appreciate the splendors of sumptuous and glowing colors with all their delicate shades and tints.


The Heian Period was a “colorful” period in the cultural history of Japan. Even in the midst of this flamboyantly colorful world created by the aesthetic sense of the Heian aristocrats, there is almost always perceivable a kind of soberness, quietude and stillness. In this sense we may say that in this early period a marked tendency toward the subdual of colors is already observable. Among people of the highest aesthetic sophistication, there were some whose color taste was refined to such an extent that they could go against and beyond the common-sense standard of taste and find in black the deepest stratum of beauty as the ultimate consummation of all colors or as the direct expression of the sublimation and purification of all emotions realized by one who had penetrated the unfathomable depth of the sadness of human existence. In the Tale of Genji we sometimes are surprised to find the aesthetic eye of Lady Murasaki already turned toward the supreme beauty of a dark, colorless world far beyond the “colorful” frivolities of sensuous pleasures.


The Japanese taste for the exuberance of glowing color and the splendors of sumptuous decoration reached its second peak in the Momoyama Period which lasted from 1573 to 1615. Lavish display of colors and designs had never been so boldly made before in the history of Japan. In contrast to the too delicate aesthetic refinement of the Heian court aristocracy, the Momoyama, a period of warriors, produced a culture saturated with their robust and vigorous spirit. It was a culture of virile vitality. The aesthetic taste of the age, quite in keeping with the warrior spirit, and backed by the unprecedented material prosperity of the merchant class, found its most adequate expression in the magnificent structure of the castles and palaces and in the gorgeousness of their interior decoration. In fact the creative energies of this period were most lavishly spent on the construction of huge fortress-castles and palaces.


The broad surface of the walls and the sliding panels of the huge audience halls of some famous castles built in that period were covered by abstract areas and decorative patterns of crimson, purple, lapis, emerald and blue on backgrounds of pure gold, amidst which stood out trees, birds and rocks painted with a certain amount of realistic detail ? a flowery mosaic of rich colors. The halls were further glorified by folding screens representing various aspects of Nature, animate or inanimate, painted in a profusion of sumptuous colors glowing with hues of lapis lazuli, jade, vermilion, oyster-shell white, etc.


Thus the Momoyama Period is predominantly a “colorful” age, even more brilliantly colorful than the Heian Period, equally characterized by the positive attitude toward color, though in a very different way from the latter. And yet, just at the back of this gorgeous display of flaunting colors there was a totally different world of powerful black-and-white painting. We must remember that the Japanese by that time had already passed through the sober Kamakura Period (1192-1333) in which Zen Buddhism thrived, emphasizing the importance of realizing the existence of a formless and colorless world of eternal Reality beyond phenomenal forms and colors. After the end of the Kamakura Period and before the advent of the Momoyama Period the Japanese had also passed through the Muromachi Period (1392-1573) in which many a first-rate painter produced masterpieces of black-and-white painting in the spirit of the austere restraint which is typical of Zen, and under the direct influence of the poetic ink-painting of the Sung Period in China. Most of these Muromachi paintings, done by Zen monk-painters, were of such a nature that they roused in the minds of the beholders an undefinable but irresistible longing for the colorless dimension of existence which these paintings so well visualized.


Thus there is nothing strange in the fact that in the grandiose castles of the Momoyama Period there were private chambers of the non-colorful style standing in sharp contrast to the lavishly ornate official halls and corridors. In fact most of the famous colorists of the age who usually painted in the gorgeous Momoyama style were also well-trained in monochrome painting.

Viewed in this light, the Momoyama Period may be said to have been an age marked by the taste for the display of color, which was backed by the taste for the elimination of color. Far more telling in this respect than the pictorial art is the very peculiar elaboration of the art of tea through the aesthetic genius of the tea-master Rikyu (1521-1591).


Wabi is one of the most fundamental aesthetic categories in Japan, and its taste casts its grayish shadow over many aspects of Japanese culture; for wabi is not a mere matter of aesthetic consciousness, but it is a peculiar way of living, an art of life as much as a principle of aestheticism

Wabi is a concept difficult to define. Living alone away from the dust and din of mundane life must be understood in a spiritual or metaphysical sense. The idea of fugitiveness which is suggested by the word, if taken in terms of ordinary human life, would simply mean being-unsociable, which is exactly the contrary of what is aimed at by the art of tea. Because the art of tea is intended to be enjoyed by a group of people who temporarily gathered for the purpose of drinking tea together.


Simplicity is closely connected with the two preceding factors. The tea-room of the so-called Rikyu style, originally designed by this tea-master for the purpose of creating the art of wabi, is outwardly nothing but a mere cottage too small to accommodate more than five persons, or even less. The interior is of striking simplicity and chasteness to the extent of appearing often barren and desolate. No gaudy tone, no obtrusive object is allowed to be there. In fact the tea-room is almost absolutely empty except for a very small number of tea-utensils each of which is of refined simplicity. Quietude reigns in the tea-room, nothing breaking the silence save the sound of the boiling water in the iron kettle ? the sound which to the Japanese ear is like the soughing of pine-trees on a distant mountain.


From the point of view of color, the essential simplicity of the tea-room may best be described as the state of colorlessness. The tea-room is not exactly or literally colorless, for everything in this world does have color. To be more exact, we had better in this context make use of the commonly used Japanese phrase: “the killing of colors”. That is to make all colors subdued and unobtrusive to the limit of possibility. It is but natural that the extreme subduing or “killing” of colors should ultimately lead to a state verging on monochrome and sheer black-and-white. The monochrome is here a visual presentation of the total absence of color. But we should not forget that the absence of color is the result of the “killing” of color. That is to say, under the total absence of color there is a vague reminiscence of all the colors that have been “killed”. In this sense, the absence of color is the negative presence of color. It is also in this sense that the external absence of color assumes a positive aesthetic value as the internal presence of color. Thus there is something fundamentally paradoxical in the aesthetic appreciation of colorless or black-and-white, and that not only in the art of tea but also in Far Eastern art in general.


The paradoxical relation between the absence and the presence of color is equally well exemplified in the Noh drama, a typical Japanese art that flourished in the Muromachi Period between the Kamakura and the Momoyama Period. For Zeami, the real founder of Noh as an art, the flower of Noh drama and dancing was to bloom in its full in a dimension of spiritual depth where all these colors would be reduced to a monochromic simplicity. For the ultimate goal of expression in the Noh drama is again the world of eternal Emptiness. In the metaphysical vision of Zeami, the last stage of training to be reached by the Noh actor after having gone through all the stages of strenuous spiritual discipline was the stage of what he calls “coolness” where the actor would be beyond and above all flowery colors, a world of Emptiness into which all phenomenal forms of Being have been dissolved.


The fantastic gorgeousness of color in Noh costumes is also counterbalanced and effaced by the austere restraint shown in the bodily movement of the actor. The sobering effect of extreme restraint in the expression of emotion, which is not lost sight of even for a moment, is such that all colors lose their nakedly sensuous nature and turn into exquisite tones of subdued richness ? subdued to the utmost limit of reticent expression. On the Noh stage movement represents stillness, and the stillness is not mere immobility in a negative sense. For in the peculiar atmosphere of spiritual tension, silence speaks an interior language which is far more eloquent than verbal expression, and non-movement is an interior movement which is far more forceful than any external movement. Thus beyond the external brilliancy of color which the Noh drama actually displays on the stage, the unfathomable depth of the eternal Colorlessness is evoked before the eyes of the spectator.


Contrary to an absence of chromatic colors, the black-and-white or colorlessness is directly backed by an extremely refined sensibility for the splendor of colors. One can delve deeply into the spirit of art only by delving deeply into his own self. And delving deeply into one’s own self is to lose one’s own self, to become completely egoless, the subject getting entirely lost in the object.


▲ BACK TOP