Paying Attention to Attention

Excerpts from "Redesigning Zen," a Buddhist Geeks interview with Taiun Elliston (Mar. 28, 2011):

My view of Zen is it can impact every field; medicine, it can impact education, on and on and on, I see no limit to it. But in terms of design, art, music, the plastic in performing arts, dance and so forth and martial arts, of course. Zen, I think you could say, is the heart of creativity. It might seem that there is nothing more stupid than just sitting still doing nothing but simplicity is the highest value in the Zen aesthetic as well as the design or art aesthetic. Simplicity is the highest value, but it’s the most difficult to obtain. So in design for instance we are introduced to this idea in classics of simplicity such as the bobby pin that are ubiquitous and so worked for so long nobody even remembers who designed them. So if you look up at Zazen sitting in Zen meditation and what it actually is—it’s the simplest possible reduction of method to a simple sitting posture, paying attention to the breath, and paying attention to attention itself…

Now Zen meditation is like design in that it’s an immersion process so that in design or art painting in sumi ink or even oil painting, watercolor, that kind of dialogue ensues between the consciousness of the artist and the medium itself. You cannot make a medium do things that it will not do—can not do physically. So we have what are called forgiving medium and unforgiving medium. Watercolor is said to be a very unforgiving medium. Painting sumi ink on silk [is another example] which we do to paint our formal certificates on huge pieces of silk about five feet long and a foot and a half wide, a very tiny brush, and painting a continuous red bloodline. If you stop or go back over the line, it immediately bleeds into the silk so they’re very, very unforgiving.

Zen meditation is a medium, you might say, or a technique to approach the medium of consciousness itself. Your consciousness may be a very unforgiving medium, other people may be more flexible but when you begin to sit in Zen meditation you find it is different from the other forms of meditation. In fact it’s not technically actually a meditation. The reason for that is because it becomes objectless and at the greatest depth of artistic creativity it also becomes subjectless, objectless, the individual becomes merged with the medium. So there’s no conflict, there’s no resistance—this is by the way the holy grail of jazz—when the musician gets to the point that everything he can hear—and Charlie Parker is the person who’s always pointed to for this—everything he hears comes through the instrument with no resistance...

If you sit still then you begin to see great action. So Zen meditation is different from other meditations in that it involves the eventual transcendence of subject/object and becomes objectless so it’s not truly a meditation, there’s no subject meditating upon an object. In that same transcendence is the transcendence of the duality of mind and body, self and other. So it becomes consciousness contemplating consciousness through consciousness. The subject, the predicate, and the object are just one.

Listen to the conversation here...