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Sharon Salzberg: Buddhism and Art – “The 8 Train”

posted by Ethan Nichtern

sharon_salzberg.jpg

This is a guest post by Sharon Salzberg for the One City Blog. Sharon is one of three Buddhist lineage mentors for the Interdependence Project. She is also one of the foremost (and most awesome) Buddhist meditation teachers in America. We are hoping this is the first of many posts on our Beliefnet blog from Sharon.

–Ethan Nichtern


The 8 Train

William James said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.” I spent some time this afternoon at a gallery in lower Manhattan, Art in General, to see an exhibit called The 8 train created by Josh Melnick.


Josh took a Vision Research camera, ordinarily used in scientific studies requiring high speed motion analysis, into the New York City subway and shot individual portraits. In the gallery space, two seconds of real time footage is extended to several minutes on the screen. It was a fantastic exercise in attention and compassion.

First I was struck by the fact that all these people were in transit – they were leaving one experience and literally en route to another. In that in between time, or bardo as it is known in Buddhism, there was no need for affectation or pretense. I watched their eyes, their faces, and wondered – were they leaving a situation regretfully or as fast as they could get out? Was their destination one of delight, or dread? Emotions flashed across their faces, and many seemed very weary.

I watched those faces in repose, not trying to convince anyone of anything, just traveling. They seemed so human, so vulnerable, and quite, quite tired. Maybe I was just tired myself from so recently returning from Europe, but I didn’t think so. In my watching them, there was no transaction involved, no commerce, no expectation. Just their lives, a little bit revealed. I saw categories of division, of race and gender in my own mind fall away as I watched them. And without any purposeful direction, I found myself filled with compassion.

The Buddha said that all beings want to be happy. And he said that we are all vulnerable to loss, to change. I sensed the truth of that, watching those unpretentious faces, and felt how close we all actually are, and how close we should rightly feel.

I think Josh’s art is deep and true, and transformative. Seeing the exhibit left me contemplating the potential of art to change the way we see ourselves and others. And eager to look around the subway car.



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posted July 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm


What an excellent post. Thank you!



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Matt Jones

posted July 14, 2009 at 4:29 pm


“First I was struck by the fact that all these people were in transit – they were leaving one experience and literally en route to another. In that in between time, or bardo as it is known in Buddhism…”
Last week at HCD Wednesday night class we talked about goal oriented thinking (in relation to Daniel Ingram’s book and then Buddhism as a whole vs. generalized Western/Eastern differences in attitude). Here’re some stacked thoughts:
We achieve one goal in one place and then move on to the next goal in another place (a foot away, miles away, whatever). We achieve that goal and move on to another place for another goal. The time moving between goals is called “bardo”. Viewed from a different vantage point or understanding of goals can “bardo” itself be a goal (I aim to travel to “A” from “B”)? Does “bardo” ever really exist? Isn’t a goal a transitionary phase between intentions of achieving goals?
Is there a constant lens with which, in Buddhism, we understand time? Is time, in Buddhism, linear and progressive? Seems the answer is yes as we are told that if we do certain things we might achieve specific other things (states of consciousness, peace, awareness, whatever) — or maybe this is the Western goal oriented capitalist progressive belief system imposed on a more lateral belief system? Isn’t it all desire, too? If one does what Daniel Ingram says in his book one will achieve what he says one’ll achieve (I do these things because I desire to achieve this goal). Desire? Goals?
I dunno. In my painting and drawing practice I think about the moments between moments a lot. Those moments are moments, too, and surrounded by other moments (the moments we don’t pay attention to are surrounded by moments we pay attention to and therefore end up or appear to be transitional moments). The goal (ha), then, would be to make all of the moments equally important, yes? So there would be no more travel vs. being somewhere, there would only ever be being present.
Since taking classes at IDP my understanding of time as both shifted to a longer timeline in a bigger sense (slower time) and a smaller time line (this life) which feels faster and as if more is at stake.
I lost my train of thought here (the 8 train of thought?) — the point of posting was to get to whether or not it’s correct to label a seemingly transitional moment as separate from a seemingly intended and desired moment (I want to _____ v. I have to get to _____). Clearly people do travel and often don’t think of traveling as “the thing” they’re doing. It’s a between thing. It’s also a thing, just maybe not THE thing. Does this make sense?
Some thoughts at the end of my work day.
Very best,
Matt



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freestone

posted July 19, 2009 at 4:48 pm


“Those moments are moments, too, and surrounded by other moments (the moments we don’t pay attention to are surrounded by moments we pay attention to and therefore end up or appear to be transitional moments). The goal (ha), then, would be to make all of the moments equally important, yes? So there would be no more travel vs. being somewhere, there would only ever be being present.”
There are moments during which you work. There are moments that you rest. When you want to work (start to have goals…), it is because the situation is ready and you want to work on it (to have fun, to learn, or to make things better). After you worked on it, that situation is exhausted. Then you rest.
The moment you are working, you are in the world of relative and dynamic. The moment you are resting, you are in the world of absolute and stillness. That world of absolute and stillness gives you the spaciousness and is what Buddhism wants you to experience in sitting meditation.
After you experience that absolute and stillness, you know that the world is always moving. Then you know to have absolute and stillness in this world is to engage in the relative and dynamic. Then you realize what it means to live as a human being.



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MannGeorgia26

posted February 11, 2011 at 9:35 am


People deserve wealthy life and personal loans or college loan can make it better. Because freedom is based on money.



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