Jeff Shore on Living Zen

Jeff Shore summed up a famous Chinese proverb and said, “after being Zennistic, let me turn to Disneyworld.” And just like that, he moved on to a trip with his elderly Zen teacher (Fukushima Roshi, whose work is featured in Zenmi – A Taste of Zen) whom many a tourist mistook for part of Epcot’s Japan Pavilion.  Jeff Shore, Professor of Zen in the Modern World at Hanazono University, Kyoto, Japan came to Morikami last Friday to discuss what it means to be “Living Zen.”

The Disneyworld bit first seemed like a light-hearted aside, an absurd visual a South Floridian audience could appreciate.   It probably was.  Except, the proverb Shore had just elucidated was, “a bird sings, the mountain stillness becomes deeper.”  Okay, and?

Shore explained that mountain stillness stands for true peace, which cannot be disturbed or even broken.  If one could shatter true peace, the peace was never true, only temporary.  When the bird sings, the mountain stillness deepens; a sound cannot break the mountain stillness, it only affirms its intransience.

If a Zen master can insert chuckle-worthy cheekiness into a lecture for 200 people on what it means to live Zen, maybe we’ve witnessed a real-life, real-time example of the bird singing.  Just as in the proverb, as the bird’s singing deepens the mountain stillness, maybe a Zen master’s earthly humor complements his own stillness, his own true peace, too.  Or, maybe masters of Zen just sometimes like a good laugh like the rest of us.

I will leave you with a piece of art Shore showed the audience.  This famous 16th century ink painting, Pine Trees, belongs to the Tokyo National Museum.  It is, according to Shore, the Mona Lisa of Japan.

Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tōhaku

Shore compared the potency of Pine Trees’ empty spaces to to the force of Van Gogh’s trees.  Van Gogh’s get it from an opposite technique, though: complete color saturation, not an inch of untouched canvas.

Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun
Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun by Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s trees “leap out at you,” while the vast empty spaces in Pine Trees, he suggests, “ask you to enter.”

Jeff Shore had much more to say than what I’ve fit here.  Did any readers get to see him last Friday?  We’d love to know your thoughts.  Don’t forget to check out our upcoming speaker series, too.

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