Using Ancient Wisdom to Inspire Modern Creativity
Presented as either a riddle or tale, the koan is instrumental to the Zen student’s path to enlightenment; by opening and freeing the mind from both outer and inner restrictions, the “empty mind” of the Zen student is more open to insight and realization that could be achieved in no other way.
As artists and creative people we, too, need the benefit of an “empty mind.” Our own creative insights and realizations become more tangible and workable when we clear away the clutter of fear, apathy, negativity, and all other potentially destructive restrictions that we may have learned in our lives.
Keichu, the great Zen teacher of the Meiji era, was the head of Tofuku, a cathedral in Kyoto. One day the governor of Kyoto called upon him for the first time.
Keichu’s attendant presented the calling card of the governor to him, which read: Kitagaki, Governor of Kyoto.
“I have no business with such a fellow,” said Keichu to his attendant. “Tell him to get out of here.” The attendant carried back the card with apologies. “That was my error,” said the governor, and with a pencil he scratched out the words Governor of Kyoto.
The governor handed the card back to the attendant and said, “Ask your teacher again.” “Oh, is that Kitagaki?” exclaimed the teacher when he saw the card. “I want to see that fellow.”
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We are who we are. Our essence isn’t exalted by our degree, title, position, award, or any other fancy designation, nor is it muted by a lack of those things. Our society is one that focuses on “celebrity” — our actors, athletes, politicians, and others are people that we put on a pedestal (and, at times, we love to kick that pedestal out from under them when they don’t behave exactly the way we expect them to). We may give automatic credence to those who may have a better education than us, have made more money than us, or have accomplished something that we ourselves wish we had done.
As artists and creative people, we must be careful not to feed our vanities; at the same time, we must not allow ourselves to be trapped by self-disparagement. We serve our Muse, who has chosen us for the work given to us in this present moment. (And our Muse doesn’t give a damn about our recent five-star restaurant rating, or our recent New York Times bestseller, or that our film was selected for the Sundance Film Festival.)