Mandalas by Prem Shashi
Beauty and healing
An alternative aesthetics (with a little help from Osho and George Gurdjieff).
MANDALAS OF ALL KINDS are almost invariably born from a vision, or an aesthetic, in which beauty is (consciously or unconsciously) accepted and valued as an inherent need with a natural, easy expression whose forms will evoke a positive resonance in all (‘natural’) people. An art object might thus afford the viewer an uplifting experience in the same uncomplicated way that a beautiful sunset or flower, or light-dappled leaves, can delight all but the stoniest of souls.
Yet such an ‘easy on the eye’ aesthetic has been perversely vilified and frowned upon for the past century or so by the culturally sophisticated. Apparently advanced minds have hijacked artistic expression and turned it (conceptually speaking anyway) into largely a matter of intellectual constructs of one kind or another. The object itself has increasingly been lost beneath a barrage of words, until it has become, often enough, almost an irrelevance, devoid of any qualities that might elicit any spontaneous sensual or emotive response. Or, in an equally intellectualised construct of the artist’s role, the all-important 20th-century concept of expressive ‘authenticity’ has somehow become fully conflated with negativity and ugliness, as if only these qualities can be ‘real’ or ‘true’.
Of course there have been many beautiful exceptions to this general trend in 20th-century art – some of them created even from within such perverse aesthetics – but the overall climate of sensibility has undoubtedly been subtly subverted in this manner. In thus contrarily turning aesthetics on its head, these mind-centred art theorists have successfully derailed educated modern aesthetic tastes away from that which is most spontaneous in us. And now it would require a significant readjustment in many to return to a more natural set of responses to beauty.
But this kind of ‘easy on the eye’ beauty is easy precisely because it is in tune with a pattern planted deep within us and the natural world of which we are a part. And to work with, rather than against, this natural predisposition is to help to draw humanity closer to a natural, healthy, wholesome relationship with the world around us. ln this way, the creation and contemplation of mandalas, old and new, has its small part to play in the healing of our wounded planet.
Such an approach to healing through harmonious form receives fascinating endorsement from the work of the Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto. His research into water crystals points graphically to the wider positive effects of certain types of creativity, and the negative effects of others, at very subtle levels of existence. Emoto discovered that while water exposed to the sounds of heavy-metal music with angry, aggressive lyrics, and then chilled to the point where crystals might form, produced ‘fragmented and mal-formed crystals at best’, the works of Mozart, Chopin and other classical composers prompted the formation of ‘beautiful and well-formed crystals’. Traditional music from many cultures of the world formed similarly attractive crystals. (Masaru Emoto, The Hidden Messages in Water, ppxxiv, 17-25, 112-118. Intriguingly, the 20th-century Indian mystic, Osho, refers in passing to an exactly parallel effect seen using sand spread on a glass surface. He says that when words with beautiful meanings are uttered under the glass, the sand grains fall into beautiful patterns; when words of hatred and abuse are spoken, ugly, chaotic forms appear – Osho, Kundalini Yoga: in search of the miraculous, Vol 2, p135.)
For Emoto, these musically generated water crystals, and the numerous comparable sets of contrasting crystals he has captured on camera, hold a clear message for us: ‘Our emotions and feelings have an effect on the world moment by moment. If you send out words and images of creativity, then you will be contributing to the creation of a beautiful world. However, emitting messages of destruction, you contribute to the destruction of the universe.’ Few people would question this on the level of intuitive knowing and commonsense, but Emoto’s work with water gives our insights an empirical basis. ‘If we fill our lives with love and gratitude for all, this consciousness will become a wonderful power that will spread throughout the world. And this is what water crystals are trying to tell us,’ he writes.
It is particularly striking that the photographs of these poorly and well-formed crystals echo the difference between so much chaotic contemporary art on the one hand and a true mandala or work of ‘objective art’ on the other. Indeed, the best-formed water crystals photographed by Emoto are perfect mandalas in their own right.
And if the mandalas that I create can help to make any one soul a little more delighted by the beauty of the world in which we live, or awaken a more natural, healthy, positive response to beauty, then they have not missed their mark.
If everyone alive were alive also to this natural, easy kind of beauty and the peaceful joy that it brings, the world would necessarily be a more beautiful, peaceful, caring place.
Osho has also made a number of poignant comments on artistic creativity, some of which are cited below. They represent a more radical expression of much the same insight as I am seeking to convey above.
When reading his comments, those unfamiliar with Osho’s discourse style – especially those who do have some familiarity with the history of modern Western art (!) – should bear in mind a critical distinction that he himself often makes between ‘facts’ and the ‘real’ on one hand and ‘truth’ on the other. Historical facts, which, perhaps inevitably in Osho’s entirely extemporised discourses, are sometimes handled rather liberally, are merely ‘real’ and can only represent relatively trivial, temporal truths, ultimately far less significant than the essential values and the ‘eternal’ truth that he sees underlying such facts. This deeper truth – sometimes shocking and unpalatable – Osho expresses in equally uncompromising terms.
While I could not possibly claim that my mandalas attain the quality of ‘objectivity’ Osho describes here, I do feel his words provide an insight into some of the vision that sets my work apart from the artistic mainstream.
Osho on art:
Paint: paint pictures which can become objects of meditation, paint pictures of the inner sky of buddhas. The modern painting is pathological. If you look at Picasso's paintings you cannot look long, you will start feeling uneasy. You cannot have Picasso paintings in your bedroom, because then you will have nightmares. If you meditate on a Picasso painting long enough you will go mad, because those paintings are out of Picasso's madness.
Go to Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, Konarak, and you will see a totally different world of creativity. Looking at the statue of a buddha, something in you starts falling in tune. Sitting silently with a buddha statue, you start becoming silent. The very posture, the very shape, the face, the closed eyes, the silence that surrounds a marble statue will help you to get connected with your own inner sources of silence.
Gurdjieff used to say that there are two kinds of art. One he used to call objective art, and the other he used to call subjective art. Subjective art is absolutely private, personal. Picasso's art is subjective art; he is simply painting something without any vision for the person who will see it, without any idea of the person who will look at it. He is simply pouring out his own inner illness; it is helpful for himself, it is therapeutic.
I am not saying that Picasso should stop painting, because if he stops painting he is bound to go mad…[…] He is suffering from many illnesses, all the illness that humanity is suffering from. He simply represents humanity, he is very representative.
He represents the whole madness that is happening in millions of people. He is a sensitive soul; he has become so attuned with the pathology of mankind that it has become his own pathology. Hence the appeal of his paintings, otherwise they are ugly. Hence his great name – because he deserves it, he represents the age. This is Picasso's age: what you cannot say about yourself, he has said it. What you cannot pour out of yourself, he has poured it on the canvas. But it is a subjective phenomenon. It is therapeutic to him, but it is dangerous to everybody else.
The ancient art was not only art; it was, deep down, mysticism. Deep down, it was out of meditation. It was objective, in Gurdjieff's terminology. It was made so that if somebody meditates over it, he starts falling into those depths where God lives.
The Book of Wisdom, chapter 24, question 1
Now, in the name of modern painting, you are hanging vomited, nauseous, sickening things in your rooms. In the name of modern music you are simply getting into crazier spaces within you. It is subjective art.
Objective art means something that helps you to become centred, that helps you to become healthy and whole. Watching the Taj Mahal in the full moon, you will fall into a very meditative space. Looking at the statue of Buddha, just sitting silently with the statue of the Buddha, something in you will become silent, something in you will become still, something in you will become buddhalike. It is objective art, it has tremendous significance.
But objective art has disappeared from the world because mystics have disappeared from the world. Objective art is possible only when somebody has attained to a higher plane of being; it is created by those who have reached the peak.
In the ancient philosophies, cosmology was one of the most important things to be discussed. Now there seems to be no cosmos, no cosmology. The whole world seems to be in a chaos, as if all is accidental. Nothing seems to be essential, intrinsically valuable; everything seems to be just happening as an accident. And this is reflected in everything. It is reflected in art, it is reflected in science, it is reflected even in religion.
We need again a cosmology. I know the world IS a chaos; that is a challenge for human consciousness to create a cosmos out of it. It is a tremendously valuable opportunity to create a cosmos. Just to say that it is a chaos, remain with it as it is, is to fall below human dignity; it is not accepting the challenge. It is really a great challenge to change yourself AND the world.
The Dhammapada, Vol. 9, ch 4, q2
If you have put in the painting a certain pattern of neurosis, whoever will see the painting and think about the painting and look at the painting will have the feeling of the same kind of illness arising in him – the same nausea, the same sickness. The painting will become a mandala; it will become a yantra. That's how in the East we have used paintings: as yantras.
A pattern can be created so that if you look at it, it gives silence. A pattern can be created so that if you look at it, it makes you tense. The objective art, Gurdjieff says, is the art which leads people towards silence, towards blissfulness, towards inner harmony, towards grace. And the art that leads people towards pathology, neurosis, perversion, is not really art. You can call it art, but that is a misnomer.
Zen The Path of Paradox, vol 3 ch 8, q 3
Subjective art is from the mind, and is out of anguish. Objective art – the Taj Mahal, the caves of Ellora and Ajanta, the temples of Khajuraho – has come from meditative people. Out of their love, out of their silence, they wanted to share; it is their contribution to the world.
The Western artist has lived under a very heavy burden. It is time that he should be made aware that there is something more beyond mind. First reach to that beyond, and then you can create stars; and they will not only be a great joy to you, they will also be a great joy for those who see them.
The Golden Future, ch 23 q 3