AN INTRODUCTION TO JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY AND MY BOOK
Within our lifetimes, we are witnessing the meeting of East and West; the fact that both Asian and Western cultures have a variety of good points as well as bad points is fairly obvious. What is perhaps not as evident is my supposition that through a positive, non-biased process of Eastern and Western cultural exchange, a new, more balanced, more enlightened global culture may result. Moreover, while I explore calligraphic painting (shodo) as well as other Japanese cultural arts in Brush Meditation—A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, and although I made an attempt to examine the meditative aspects of shodo and various Japanese arts, one of the main reasons I wrote this book is to let other Westerners know that it is possible, and meaningful, for non-Japanese to participate in traditional Japanese art forms.
At their deepest levels, the martial arts (budo), tea ceremony (chado), flower arrangement (kado), calligraphy (shodo), and other Japanese arts, are the same. Despite their obvious physical differences, these arts share a common set of aesthetics; and more importantly, they require the acquisition of identical positive character traits if you are to become successful in their performance. Note that many of these arts end in the word "do." Do means "the way," and it indicates that a given activity has transcended its utilitarian function, that this action has, furthermore, been elevated to the level of art, and that its proponents are teaching it as a way of life. In sum and substance then, a do form is an art which allows you to grasp the ultimate nature of the whole of life by examining yourself in great detail through a singular aspect of life. In other words, to grasp the universal through the particular.
Many artistic principles and important mental states are universal for the various Japanese ways. One of the most significant and basic principles that these arts share is the concept of mind and body coordination. While few of us are required to use a brush in daily life, most people are interested in realizing their full potential and enhancing their mental state as well as physical health. Since integrating the mind and body allows us to accomplish these aims, the relationship between the mind and body, along with how to achieve a state of mind-body harmony, is one of the main themes of Brush Meditation.
In the case of painting, some adherents may speak of a "unity of mind and brush," and make statements which indicate that "if the mind is correct, the brush is correct." In Japanese swordsmanship, it is not uncommon to speak of a unity of mind, body, and sword. Likewise, in Zen meditation, students are encouraged to arrive at a state of mind and body coordination, a state of "self-harmony." All of these assertions point to the necessity of integrating the mind and body in action. Mental and physical harmony is also vital for realizing your full potential in daily living, and it remains one of the central elements needed for mastery of any of the classical Japanese ways.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, although I serve as Director of the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, I'm not teaching and pursuing the above-mentioned art forms, due to an overwhelming interest in Japanese culture. While I certainly am, of course, interested in Japan, my main intention in studying these arts is to examine the nature of the self, the universe, and life as a whole. This point is vital, as the miscellaneous "do" all indicate a "way" that transcends boundaries and limitations. It is in the end not a "Japanese way," but rather a human way, and ultimately, the Way of the Universe.
In Brush Meditation, shodo, or Japanese brush writing, is used as a representative example of how the various do forms help us to discover principles that relate universally to all aspects of living, and which can enhance our lives. Brush Meditation starts off with a brief history of calligraphy and painting in Asia and explains why these arts hold relevance for the West. Following this is an explanation of mind-body unification in shodo and painting, as well as the actual techniques of controlling the brush. The aesthetics and principles, which are universal for Japanese cultural arts, will also be explored, along with their importance for cultivating calmness and concentration. Of course, a few introductory lessons in brush meditation, calligraphy, and painting are included. Sources for shodo and painting supplies are also detailed in the appendix.
In conclusion, I am not a master of any of the above topics. Still, I have had unique opportunities to study, in both the U.S. and Japan, Japanese arts that remain inaccessible to many people in the West. It is my wish to share with interested others a bit of what I have been able to absorb about these art forms. Even more, this book amounts to an act of personal study, self-examination, and analysis that I hope will also be relevant to other people interested in art, meditation, and/or Japanese culture.