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17 million words and counting!
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Mary, FBA Team
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
S: .......in France. The peasants there I think had a special reputation of being really hard-
headed and hard-fisted.
Padmaraja: It's a big question, but could you say something about the artistic temperament?
S: I've thought quite a lot about this. I can't say that I've come to any definite conclusions.
It's seems to me that what the artistic temperament does is essentially this: the artistic
temperament seems to be that temperament which is naturally inclined to, and enjoys doing,
the transformation of the object into the subject in such a way as to get a new object. You see
what I mean? The artistic temperament is that temperament which is constantly seeking to
come to terms with it's own experience by remoulding and reshaping that experience in a
meaningful way - which is what I mean by transforming object into subject - in the form of
the work of art, or through the creation of the work of art. Yes? Do you see what I mean?
Nagabodhi: Does that imply that the artistic temperament has a feeling for possibilities
beyond the apparent. and seeks to realise them through the creative act?
S: In a way, but I don't think he necessarily thinks about it like that consciously.
Nagabodhi: It's an intuitive process.
S: It's intuitive, even in a sense, an unconscious process. For instance. I was thinking about
it also in connection with these
letters I've been writing for Shabda. Now what happens? What makes one write these letters
or things like that, apart from the communication of facts - and I'm not just communicating
facts in those letters - I think that's pretty obvious - so what happens? One is having a whole
series of experiences, all sorts of things are happening to one. So it's as though one wants to,
as it were, make sense of those, in the sense of reducing them to, or recreating them as, or in,
a sort of meaningful form, which is pleasing. attractive. etc., etc., regardless of the extent to
which one is successful in doing that. Rilke I think goes into this quite a bit - that you
recreate the creation as it were. You are not content with your experience as it is, you want to
further refine it, give it a still more beautiful shape, a still more beautiful form. In that way
you make it more your own.
In this way what was formerly more object becomes more subject. Say, for instance in this
case, New Zealand before I went there was just object. I could only think it: when I went
there it was experience, I had an experience of New Zealand. So, to the extent that I
experienced it, it becomes a little bit part of me, but when I transform my experience into, or
express it in terms of, what I hope is something artistic, let us say, it becomes still more mine.
I've carried the process of transformation one stage further, and it seems to me that this is the
essence of the artistic temperament - wanting to do this. You hear stories, you imagine
characters - you want to sort of weave them altogether into a whole: create or recreate them
all in a meaningful way, as a play, as a drama, as a novel, as a poem. You're not satisfied with
say going out into the garden and seeing that beautiful flower blooming there. You have the
experience of the flower, then you want to carry it a stage further and write a poem about that
flower, embody your experience of the flower fully and perfectly, eliminating a]] extraneous
factors, which are things you might have perceived but which weren't really part of your
experience of the flower. An aeroplane might have passed overhead while you were admiring
the flower, but you ignore all that, you exclude the aeroplane: you are not writing a complete
factual account of your experience: you are re-creating it on a more refined, and in a sense,
on a higher level, and this is a means of individual development.
Manjuvajra: Do you think you have to have the experience first and the desire to recreate
that or can you sometimes, I feel, I get the desire to create something. but I don't actually feel
that I have the original experience, the original inspiration.
S: Maybe you are not sufficiently in touch with your material or your potential material. You
are sparked off by something because it corresponds to something in you. Why do you want
to write a poem about a flower, rather than say a bird? You feel some attraction to the flower,
you sort of linger over it. You want to do something with it or with your experience of it. You
see what I mean? So it must reflect something in you. So therefore in dealing with the flower
you are dealing with yourself. In transforming your experience of the flower you are, in a
way, transforming yourself. Hence the relevance, I think. of the artistic process to individual
Mangala: Do you think this is something which could be just undertaken almost in a
calculated way? Like you go out for a walk and say right now I'll sit down and write about
S: No. you couldn't do that I would say. Of course. you might think that you were doing that,
but if you did. you wouldn't in fact be doing that.
Mangala: You think it has to be an actual desire to -
S: There has to be an unconscious process in a way going on. Or at least a process which is
not fully conscious, and certainly which is not the result of the calculations and manipulations
and manoeuverings of the conscious mind. So Rilke says things like the tree re-emerges
within your consciousness recreated in the form of the poem about the tree. He says. God
sort of creates everything once and the artist creates it all over again and goes one better than
God, improves on the creation. God just gives the raw material. The artist is the true God,
refashioning that raw material. Rilke says something like that: I'm quoting him very roughly
Mangala: Do you think there are, let's say, some ways and means
of arriving at that state, rather than just...... I mean. it would appear to be that what you were
saying was in a way that you've either got it or you haven't, you either have it unconsciously
or you haven't got it....
S: Poets are born not made. I don't think it's a matter of what sort of person you are born as,
or what sort of temperament you are born with whether you evolve or not. But perhaps it is a
matter of birth rather than nurture, the way in which you evolve and the artistic temperament
gives you a particular way of evolving. Do you see what I mean? And others who don't have
that particular temperament don't have that particular way of evolving, though perhaps we all
share in that temperament to a small extent. Even when say moving to an empty house, you
paint and decorate it, move the furniture around, - that is creative. You are expressing
something within yourself by doing that. So we shouldn't limit artistic activity or artistic
creativity too narrowly. It isn't just the poem and the painting - it s your attitude to, your
reaction to, your action upon, your whole environment: what you do with your environment;
the way you recreate it. But clearly in the case of the work of art, we have absolute control,
within the limits imposed by the medium itself we can do as we please. But the more we
approach the objective world on the bigger scale, the more limitations there are.
I might want to change the world and maybe the highest expression of artistic creativity
would be to change the whole world. But who's going to do that? Only the Bodhisattva who
aspires to create a whole new Pure Land succeeds in doing something like that. So this is
what Sukhavati in a way represents - I mean the Sukhavati of the scriptures, not just our own
little reflection of it in East London - it represents the highest conceivable work of art, in
other words, the artistic transformation of the largest possible amount of material. a whole
world. You see what I mean?
Nagabodhi: It's possible there's real art and sick art. In a way what you are saying I'd say,
goes for both but isn't it just as you become more developed.....
S: Well, sick art is to healthy art as a cancerous growth is to healthy physical growth.
Nagabodhi: The real artist, the artistic genius, is somebody who looks at the flower and
writes the poem or paints the picture and in a way he's making it something of himself. But if
he's a great artist he's also making it more of a flower - he's not just adding his subjective......
S: Well. you could say that: the flower is almost just God's flower, in a manner of speaking,
but the flower of the poem is the artist's flower which by definition, in a way, is a higher