Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Eden Maxwell “An Artist Empowered,” Dharma-infused artful living

Here is the entire interview with Eden Maxwell, all in one piece, if you'd prefer to read it that way rather than chunked out into the three featured posts:

April 10, 2008: Artist Eden Maxwell’s Life Purpose is Dharma in Daily Life
April 9, 2008: Eden Maxwell on Art in Zen and the Zen of Art
April 8, 2008: Eden Maxwell: Make Rejection Work for Your Creative Life
Part of Riehlife Rejection Resources

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Riehlife:What do you mean by dharma? As you know, it's one of those words with multiple meanings, depending on context. Why do you choose that word? Did you meet this word through meeting the Dharma? Do you have a daily spiritual practice co-existent with your art practice?

Eden Maxwell: Although the Sanskrit word Dharma has no precise equivalent in English, it does have three main meanings in Buddhism.

1) Reality or Truth (as it is, i.e., not relative)
2) Teaching
3) With a small "d"---the elements of experience

When I combine all three meanings, it adds up to my purpose in life, the reason for which I have come into this world. For what good are these definitions individually, if not to fulfill your mission on Earth?

So, in this context, I use dharma to mean your purpose in life.

When I came across the word dharma many years ago, I immediately embraced it with a feeling, knowing this word articulated and embodied my quest for meaning. As time passed, I realized dharma had been a good word choice since finding your purpose is an act of intuition based on firsthand experience, which is also the source of great art.

Although many people in the West eventually reflect about their purpose in life, it is most often a passive and passing thought relegated to a yearning, a memory. Dharma is an action word; it is something you do, not think about, or analyze.

In our culture, we pass through the educational mill conditioned to choose precut careers from a menu instead of embarking upon a soul mission. The industrial age needed human cogs on the assembly line, not people thinking about dharma; most of those who did consider and question meaning in life were the artists.

Today, you might think, well, society has come a long way and, for example, we do need doctors. Yes, there are many doctors, yet few of them are healers, which is a calling based on a gift, dharma, not a diploma. You can extrapolate to your own conclusions about everything else from there. It's also important to know that a gift might be innate, but not inevitable. Many are called; few choose to go.

Riehlife: Do you have a daily spiritual practice co-existent with your art practice?

Eden Maxwell: To co-exist in this regard is a good way of putting it.

Spirit, art, and truth are aspects of awareness, like facets on a gemstone; if you're aware of one, the other two are nearby.

My appreciation of the transcendent is connected to everything that I do---from painting, writing, washing the dishes, or name your chore. So, I don't think, "Well, now I'm in spiritual mode, grunt work mode," or any other mode. It's all one meditation along my timeline strung together second by second through awareness, which is a function of one true freedom---self-discipline. This approach is easy to understand, yet difficult to believe until you prove it to yourself.

Being present is a form of prayer, regardless of the activity. Since we can't compartmentalize awareness or schedule it in your appointment book, we appreciate the need for remaining vigilant---so we don't succumb to the insidious traps of ego, and suffer the consequences.

Riehlife: Why do you write about dharma? Why is this important for the artist?

Eden Maxwell: There is no more fundamental word than dharma, or why you have come into this world. So, its smart for the artist to confront this concept. In my book, An Artist Empowered, I pose three core questions.

The first one is this: Why am I an artist? One way or another, the answer to this question is liberating, as it lays the groundwork for everything else: dharma realized, original work, strength to persevere, and understanding that, as the master said, it is better to live in fulfillment than in hope. If you, the artist, don't know why you're here, plenty of other folk will be happy to supply the answer for you and this is shaky ground.

Riehlife: What does Zen Buddhism have to do with art? What about the art in Zen Buddhist tradition? What is art in the Buddhist context?

Eden Maxwell: The source of all great art is intuition; I say this because spontaneity, creation, cannot be planned. Planned art is design, and that's another subject.

In Zen Buddhism, the fundamental concept is to intuitively grasp the truth; there are no lengthy discourses, and no reasoning for a logical answer.

Those who practice Zen reject the phantom world of dogmatic beliefs, pointless ritual, and hardwired concepts; you are capable of perceiving the world directly; this is power; this is the gift each true artist paints, writes, dances---name your form.

The Zen Buddhists have known for centuries that while intuition can be understood, it is difficult to express. Writing about intuition is even more arduous, and at best opaque. The wisdom of Zen lies in this inexpressible knowing that reveals itself solely through firsthand intuitive experience.

Nothing is more profound than direct personal experience of a thing, which is the point of both Zen and art.

Art as self-expression is a modern concept that began with the Renaissance some 500 years ago. Art in the Buddhist tradition is not about self-expression, as everything is connected.

Remember, Buddha, who predated as well as inspired Zen, saw no separation in reality; in this philosophy, there is no you; there is no me.Taking the concept further, certain Buddhist artists wouldn't sign their works, for doing so would be an act of ego, which Buddhist philosophy teaches causes suffering.

Traditional Buddhist art portrays the cosmology of this philosophy. Then, there are artists who call themselves Buddhists and create a personal art. We must be careful about what we understand and what others claim to understand, as these understandings might be quite different---even though they seem to be living under the same philosophical roof.

In Zen Buddhist art, as in a Zen rock garden for example, we find an essence or simplicity that you might call minimalism, where less is more.

Riehlife: Talk about your approach to rejection in the arts. How does this relate to your spiritual practice?

Eden Maxwell: As a writer and a painter, I have been on the receiving end of both acceptance and rejection‹and each has its own set of issues. It all comes back full circle to the core question: Why am I an artist?

If you know your purpose and the value of your process, then nothing will deter you from your mission, your dharma.

Rejection, as it turns out, isn't the bane most artists believe it is; rejection is a mirror that reveals truth about your dedication; you are compelled to confront your own self and that is a moment of awareness.

If you are to learn from rejection, use the experience as a moment of reflection, not a pool in which to drown.

Should my art be rejected, I understand that if they could see it, could appreciate it, then they would. Also, a rejection from an anonymous party is no cause for faltering. I have seen great art ignored, and mediocre embraced.

Having goals is good; wanting to share your unique gift is good; making art is good. Keeping these desires in mind, I also realize that getting attached to any outcome is a self-made prison. Releasing your attachment to an outcome frees you to see other opportunities.

The Law of Non-Attachment shouldn't be misunderstood. I strive to have no attachment in how a particular outcome manifests. I work; I create; I have faith in fulfilling my dharma; and my evolving strength tells me the Universe is handling the details.

So, no matter what is happening, I focus on the true goal, and the goal is this: understanding.
In this context, dharma is my spiritual practice.

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