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if you see buddha on the road...
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Adeamus



Joined: 22 Dec 2005
Posts: 150
Location: Shanghai, China
if you see buddha on the road...  Reply with quote  

if you see buddha on the road, ask him for a decent story idea.

i have recently been exploring the values of buddhism. i have in the past read a lot about it, i am just now taking it more seriously.

at the same time, i am taking my writing more seriously. i am working on 2 different novels right now.

now here comes the contradiction...while i am a complete failure at this, i realize that one of the most important things in buddhism is to "stay in the moment" to have an enlightened awareness to your everyday activities.

as i continue to work on the plots of my stories, i often find myself thinking about different scenes or directions they may go. nearly every free moment, my mind seems to find its way towards those topics. some good material and ideas come from those sessions. however, a lot of it is useless mental chatter.

i guess my question is this (for any other buddhists or buddhist explorers) how can you balance living in the moment and living in a fantasy world (which seems necessary as a writer)?

i remember reading chris say something about buddhism and that really made me think about it. when i read a CM novel, i can see that A LOT of work and feeling went into it. i imagine that the author would go periods of time in which they become so absorbed in a work that they almost feel as if they are trapped on an island with natives and organ thieves.

anyway...thought it was an interesting topic and i have been mulling it over my head for a while...

cheers
_________________
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen

"As Willie Sutton the bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, 'because that's where the money is'."


Last edited by Adeamus on Thu Dec 29, 2005 9:48 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Thu Dec 29, 2005 11:13 am   View user's profile Send private message
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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Dude!

I have been waiting 20 years for someone to ask this question. I don't have an answer, but I'm glad you asked.


Here's the thing. The place to be in Buddhism, is in the moment, without 'dualistic" thought. (That is, good, evil, big, small, here, there, past, future, etc.) But writing is the most singularly dualistic art form I can think of, with the exception of perhaps film making. A painter can sling paint, a musician can jam, but a writer does everything with deliberation. It is simply the nature of the craft. You have to look ahead, you have to think of the effect you are trying to achieve.



Consider the "Zen" arts, and how one goes about them. Sumi-e ink painting, archery, flower arranging, fencing. (Yes, swordsmanship and painting can be manifestations of the same philosophies.) In each of those things, you practice repetition, the same stroke of the brush, placement of the object, cut of the sword. You do it again and again until your body knows what to do without thinking about it. As the swordsman, you stand ready and open, no mind, to react to whatever happens. You don't plan what you are going to do, because when your opponent attacks, then you'll have to "unthink" your plan, and then react. You have to be pure in thought, ready to move. In painting, you will see bamboo, a plum blossom, an orchid, and you will have done the orchid stroke, the bamboo stroke, the plum blossom stroke so many times that your composition will appear on the page in minutes, if not seconds. The "spontaneity" of the art comes from repetition, of learning your chops, so the art (or craft) becomes automatic.

That said, you have to be satisfied with moments that only approach "no mind" in writing. As you get better, you have to think less about how to achieve an effect, and you simply imagine what you want and you do it. At many points in writing my first book, I remember thinking, "Okay, now some people should talk." Then, "Okay, that's enough talking, now I should describe something." I don't do that anymore. That stuff is on autopilot. I feel it. I simply write narrative or dialogue as it is needed, as it serves the material. I don't have a perfect "Zen" moment. I am thinking about where the book is going, who will say what next, what the scene is setting up, where it has come from, the agendas of each of the characters, but part of the craft has become spontaneous. You get, at best, pieces of Zen.

Haiku is the Zen literary form. And it is, I suppose, as close as one gets to Zen expression in language. But I find that the rhythm of the 17 syllables has never become automatic for me. I have to always count on my fingers. I'm sure if I wrote a thousand haiku, I'd just write 5-7-5 without thinking, but I'm not there yet. The Zen aesthetic that applies in Haiku is that it "invokes" the moment. A single thought, sensation, second in time. Practicing the art form itself, not so much. Much is the same in Zen rock gardening, or flower arranging. It's not spontaneous and instant, it expresses the composition of the Buddhist mind, the yin and yang, the space and object, the dark and light. The actual making of a Zen rock garden -- well, it requires planning, thought, and repetition. Perhaps in raking the stones, one achieves a Zen of movement, which is also a precept of Buddhism. That is, moving meditation. (Wax on, wax off, for those of you playing the home game.)

So, really, even in the most pure Buddhist art form, we only achieve the "present", for a moment at a time. Despite the dualistic nature of any goal, because, as the Zen monk would say, we are trying to get to somewhere that isn't there, we keep in mind that a Zen moment may happen to us at any time. And when it does, well, that was nice, now what? As soon as you spot it, it is gone.

As a writer you have to recognize that you may achieve these moments of spontaneity very, very rarely, and look upon them as gifts. But, the better mastery you have of your craft, the more you write, the better chance that you will achieve a Zen of "just writing" rather than having to think of every aspect of the craft. The craft becomes automatic, and the creation can just happen on the page.

But you have to remember, that the reason you kill the Buddha on the road if you meet him, is because he represents a barrier between you and your own Buddha nature, he removes you by one degree from the moment that is enlightenment. I have never met anyone who can claim enlightenment as an ongoing state, But I have met a few, who have glimpsed it, had a single moment where everything slid into place, and then evaporated, and perhaps, that is all you get.

So to reconcile this inherently dualistic art form with the goal of being integrated into the moment, what do we do? One writes, one frets, one learns words, structures, timing, transition. We practice. And in the midst of that practice, we experience moments of pure expression, of an unconscious link between the image in our brain and the keyboard or pen, and that is the Zen of writing. It's as good as it gets.

I've been learning Sumi-e ink painting, because I needed a way to make art that didn't weigh so much. In my studies I ran across an interview with Wynton Marsalis, wherein he compares Jazz to Sumi-e. What he said so impressed me that I used it as the lynch pin in a scene in A Dirty Job. It was like this:


"In Jazz, there is a crisis in every moment, and you bring all your skill to bear on that crisis."

Brilliant, and true. A jazz musician does not have time to unthink his improvisation. He has to has his chops down in order to keep time. That involves the practice of scales, forever. As artists, writers, musicians, photographers, whatever, there is still a crisis in every moment, and we must bring the full measure of our skill to bear on that crisis. That is the Zen of the art. The practice and learning, not so much.

I'm not even sure that putting the words on paper doesn't negate the moment. I know that in each of my books there has been a passage that suddenly occured to me, fully formed, without any editing. Almost always this came to me when I was doing something else, and I had to stop and put pen to paper before I forgot. It was the flash of inspiration, the spontaneous creation that encompassed the Zen moment. Writing it down took it away. But that's okay, there was no there, there.

And that's what you have to remember. That trying to grasp a moment of enlightenment is like "trying to bite the teeth". At best we just keep buggering on, learning our craft, preparing without preparing, being prepared without acknowedging for what, so that when that elusive moment appears, we are fully in it, we bring all of our skill and knowledge to bear on the crisis.


Last edited by chris on Thu Dec 29, 2005 10:45 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Thu Dec 29, 2005 3:40 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Adeamus



Joined: 22 Dec 2005
Posts: 150
Location: Shanghai, China
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wow, what a great response. thanks chris. that pretty much summed up the dilemma i often face.

so often in my buddhist readings i come across practice. it is essential to the development of anything. it makes sense that it would be the same with writing.

i am able to at times to allow myself to write with a zen like abandon, almost as if playing jazz. but that mostly occurs when i do stream of consciousness writing and the results are invariably rubbish. while i enjoy the process of the self indulgent linguistic ejaculation, the end result is a marred with dirty tissues and embarrassment.

when i sit down to work on my projects one of two things happen. I am either 'trying' to accomplish something literary or i am just sort of writing. The first results in shit, the second is usually something i can live with. now this is not truly a zen moment, but the second way is certainly a lot closer to the goal then the first. but, trying to prevent trying is like chasing your tail.

i am currently working on two different stories. one of which i am just writing without really knowing where it is going (it is autobiographical fiction). i am uncovering the direction as i write. the other story (fiction) i am deliberately mapping out the plot and scenes. the first method seems to lend itself to the magic of zen; i rarely know where a scene will take me when i sit down to write. several times i am pleasantly surprised by the results. But i find myself often stalled completely, unable or unwilling to thrust myself into the writing, and often times feeling hopelessly adrift. i will stare at a blank monitor for large chunks of time.

the second method feels less zen, but it is easier to plod through right now. i get stuck on developments and directions of my story, but when i decide to work, i am able to at least come up with some new scenes and push forward in a positive way. I am not actually writing scenes, only outlining their content.

i have never completed any of my literary works and i do not want to allow expectations of zen to deter me from completing my first. i continue to meditate and will look into some other zen activities.

I guess like anything it is a question of balance.

i can’t even imagine how things such as publisher deadlines, fan expectation and personal expectation can be for you. I know you love your job and that is all that matters, but it certainly must be challenging.
_________________
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen

"As Willie Sutton the bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, 'because that's where the money is'."

Post Thu Dec 29, 2005 9:47 pm   View user's profile Send private message
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
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When I studied Buddhism, I learned a meditaton of one pointedness of mind, followed by another of letting the thoughts flow anywhere they wanted without direction from me.

They strike me as not all that different from writing.

Not all that different fom music either, which is where I started.

True, the latter is a "performance" art, but composing music certainly isn't.

There is something tremendously enobling about all forms of art, and a thousand roads to enlightenment. I'll bet anything that art is one of them.

Post Fri Dec 30, 2005 1:54 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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Very interesting question.

I have studied Buddhism a bit, mostly Zen, however I am sort of a mutt when it comes to religion but mostly a Taoist. When I write or work on a photograph or even when I am teaching I try not to think about anything but the moment and what I am doing. Occasionally I do get distracted but not very often. The mind can be very pervasive and I have found that it is best to go with a thought and not quell it whether it is in writing or whatever I am doing. Some of the best ideas come when you are absorbed in one activity and an idea comes for something else. If you try to quell the thought then it can encompass you and distract you from your moment. I guess it would probably be best to write down your thought and then move on. It is human nature to get lost in thought. Although, your thought is essentially the moment that your are living in at the moment. It may be fantasy but even Chuang Tsu dreamed of being a butterfly.

If I am completely distracted in my thoughts then I usually write poetry.

FL
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Post Fri Dec 30, 2005 5:24 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
lisa



Joined: 10 Apr 2004
Posts: 6789
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Tao is an answer to Denial of God. Original ideas. Nature of the language.

My what big feet you have Ferrit.

Post Sat Dec 31, 2005 8:44 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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lisa wrote:
Tao is an answer to Denial of God. Original ideas. Nature of the language.

My what big feet you have Ferrit.


You know what they say about having big feet, hmmmm? or is that hands?

FL

BTW; Jesus and Lao Tzu is a wonderful book comparing the sayings of Jesus and Lao Tzu. The Correlations are amazing.
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I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes. -HST

Post Sat Dec 31, 2005 9:42 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
eye_in



Joined: 10 Jan 2006
Posts: 1
Location: New York, New York
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Big feet and jesus aside, I came here looking for rhetoric on story development and found it. Catholic and taoist, I allow my guilt to flow over me and mold my writing.
Do the best stories come from a layout or from discovery? Does a blend happen and accpetance occur?
Do you build from an outline? I like seeing where these guys go, what they are thinking, what they are going to wear. Do you pick the location before and set the characters? Are they there to be discovered? Should I just wait for the postcard explaining how my imaginary friends met buddha, had mojitos, and that I should really right a story about this place? Is this how you write?
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Post Tue Jan 10, 2006 10:23 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address MSN Messenger
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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eye_in wrote:
Big feet and jesus aside, I came here looking for rhetoric on story development and found it. Catholic and taoist, I allow my guilt to flow over me and mold my writing.
Do the best stories come from a layout or from discovery? Does a blend happen and accpetance occur?
Do you build from an outline? I like seeing where these guys go, what they are thinking, what they are going to wear. Do you pick the location before and set the characters? Are they there to be discovered? Should I just wait for the postcard explaining how my imaginary friends met buddha, had mojitos, and that I should really right a story about this place? Is this how you write?



Yeah, just like that. Good eye.

Post Tue Jan 10, 2006 10:40 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
philipw



Joined: 21 Nov 2005
Posts: 20
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"What?" the student asked, incredulity written in nervous beads of sweat all over his forehead.

"Yes," replied the Buddha.

"So are you saying that writing is like the practice of meditation because it watches these thoughts flowing through us and waits for them to catch up to the moment in an unending singularity, or that writing is nothing like the practice of meditation because it demands that we quantify the moment by rehashing it over and over on paper?"

"Yes."

The student's face did a little acrobatics act, it folded itself up into a rather complicated piece of flesh origami. This business of talking to the Buddha was indeed frustrating.

The student unfolded his face, and decided to give it another try. "Okay, this is simple. How should I write? Should my writing mirror my meditation, unconcerned with outcomes, just going moment to moment, or is it best to plan it out, and leave the nondual stuff for the Zafu?"

"Ink and parchment," said the Buddha.

The student fell over backward off his pillow. He felt frustrated and betrayed because his master was completely ignoring his questions. How was he to write? Then suddenly a scene from his book came to mind, and then the perfect line for a passage he'd been working on.

"I gotta go write something down!" he said excitedly. "Please excuse me, master."

"Ink and parchment," the Buddha insisted.

"What?"

"That is how you write. With ink and parchment."

Post Thu Jan 26, 2006 9:30 am   View user's profile Send private message
philipw



Joined: 21 Nov 2005
Posts: 20
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My point, of course, is that in Buddhism, form is secondary to action. The perfect action is indeed without substance or form altogether. So the real Zen thing about writing, if we are indeed interested in the moment by moment experience of it, is the ink absorbing into the parchment, or the fingers clicking against the keyboard. That is my bliss.

Obviously, it helps if the words on the page fit together, and it's even better if they convey some sort of meaning important enough to make people want to read more, but the fitting together part is transitory. Some words fit in some contexts to some people, but that's superfluous to the direct experience of ink on parchment.

That having been said, I enjoy turning a good phrase, and often laugh self-righteously at some passage that came in a flash of light, thinking "Wow, where did I come up with that one." I plan plots. I sketch characters. I do a lot of this dualistic type stuff, but what I've found is that nothing gets a story written better than sitting in front of the computer (or whatever) and typing away. You put the pen to the paper, and before you know it, there's a little piece of yourself out there.

Art is self-expression, and no artist supports him/herself without putting in the time to learn his/her craft. You learn the rules in order to break them. But in the end, nothing happens without the ink and parchment.

Post Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:03 am   View user's profile Send private message
Steph
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Don't crave completion. Sweep your paper. Use a pencil. Mix your words with your doodles because they are all the same. Note your hand is merged with your notebook, you do not have a head.

Know your story before you write it. The writing is the journey. You have already been to the destination. You can start anywhere. I went to the middle and I found the end, the beginnging too. Dwell in the beauty of nonsense and someone will say they understand. Let them find the meaning. I am not wearing pants. You have eleven toes.

Post Thu Mar 02, 2006 4:09 pm   
Adeamus



Joined: 22 Dec 2005
Posts: 150
Location: Shanghai, China
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I dug up this old post today and had to resurrect it. While Iím no closer to having any answers on the Buddhism front, I did manage to finally finish the book I was writing way back in 2005. It wasn't a linear path and it was filled with long stretches (sometimes over a year) of no writing at all. But eventually I found my way and finished it.

After rereading Chrisís response to my question I was amazed at how much of what it said affected my writing process going forward. Iím certain I never would have accomplished it, or even thought it possible if it were not for Christopher Moore. The community that he has created here, along with his willingness to actively participate in it, is something remarkably special. I know it has given others the courage to write as well.

Not only has he given me the gift of his timeless novels to enjoy he has helped me give myself the gift of my own novel.

Despite being a huge fan of your writing, Iíll always admire you most for being an accessible, real person for your fans.

Thanks Chris.
_________________
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen

"As Willie Sutton the bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, 'because that's where the money is'."

Post Tue Apr 20, 2010 12:31 pm   View user's profile Send private message
zendao42



Joined: 05 Sep 2006
Posts: 13570
Location: Somewhere in a galaxy near you
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Wow, there's a lotta things I could say here
but it's trying to use words from a place where words lose their meaning-
I'd meditate on it but I can't make myself do that anymore after all the time
spent in a half lotus waiting for the damned computer to do its thing...


This moment of Zen was brought to by Scooby Doo-
we don't know if the dog has a buddha nature but we could sure use some Scooby Snacks!


Sorry, I couldn't resist, please carry on blowing my mind...

Post Tue Apr 20, 2010 11:07 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Sephonae



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 5218
Location: New York
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chris wrote wrote:
As artists, writers, musicians, photographers, whatever, there is still a crisis in every moment, and we must bring the full measure of our skill to bear on that crisis.

Whoa!

Dig it, Dude.
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Post Wed Apr 21, 2010 7:25 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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