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In the Realm of the Lotus - An Interview with J.O.Mallander About Art

by Sangharakshita

Interview with J.O.Mallander Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


INTERVIEW WITH J.O.MALLANDER as a basis for the Finnish TV programme "In the Realm of the Lotus"

Padmaloka 1992
(Side one)

J.O.Mallander: Sangharakshita, we know you as a Buddhist scholar, a very learned man and a very prolific writer and teacher and reformer if I may
say so, many, many sides in your sort of almost encyclopedic mind stream but today I propose that we take up a line in your mind-stream which deals
with art and symbols and visions. So what we would like to know is where does this stream come from?

Sangharakshita: Well the ultimate origin of the stream, I don't really know but I can say something about the origins of the stream from a more limited
point of view. We have to go back to my childhood. We have to go back to when I was about eight years of age because then I was diagnosed as
having heart disease and I was confined to bed and I was not allowed to move. I just had to lie in bed and I was in bed for two, three years and the only
thing I could do was read and my parents and friends of my parents supplied me with literature and especially our next-door neighbour supplied me with
a copy of "Children's Encyclopedia" in twelve very big, thick volumes. And in that "Children's Encyclopedia" there were a number of articles illustrated

about art, Eastern and Western. So as far as I can recollect that was my first experience of art and a few years ago in fact someone gave me a set of "The
Children's Encyclopedia" so I was quite interested to turn to them and see what it was had interested me. And I remember in particular I was very
interested in ancient Egyptian art though I never had the opportunity of following up. But the ancient Egyptian art was very, very fascinating to me.

But I also happened to read in this same encyclopedia a little bit about Buddhism and I think that must have been my first contact with Buddhism as a
teaching because there was some article, a section on the wise men of the East. And the wise men were the Buddha, Zoroasta, an oriental sage and
Confucius and there were pictures of, for instance, the statue of Buddha at Karmakura in Japan. So from "The Children's Encyclopedia" I had my first
experience of art, both Eastern and Western and also my first acquaintance with the teachings of Buddhism. So from the age of eight to ten or eleven

"The Children's Encyclopedia" played a very important part in my life.

And after I became a little bit better and I was allowed to walk - I had to learn to walk for a second time - when I was about twelve, thirteen, fourteen I
started going to museums and art galleries in London and I have very vivid recollections of my first experience of art, that is live art, not just
reproductions, but live art in that connection. I remember that I went with my mother, I couldn't have been more than I think thirteen, to our National
Gallery, in London which as you know has a very fine, very beautiful collection of Western art and I walked around. But there was one painting in
particular which impressed me or struck me or caught my imagination more than any other and that was the Bacchus and Ariadne of Titian. And
afterwards I wondered well, why was that? Why was I so attracted by that picture? Why did that picture make such an impression on me? And I came
to the conclusion it was simply because of the colour, the very, very vivid colours, and I think that that was the case partly because not long after that I
became very interested in the art of the pre-Raphaelites. That is to say of Millet, the early Millet, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, and others, and of course in their
paintings colour, very vivid colour, does play a very important part.

But at that time I didn't forget Oriental art and I remember that I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and I don't know whether the actual painting
was there but I got a picture postcard. Yes, I got a picture postcard of a Persian miniature and this particular painting, though it was only a reproduction,
also impressed me very deeply. It was a Persian miniature painting of the Ascent of the Prophet Mohammed to Heaven which is a very important theme
of Sufi mysticism as well as of Persian/Islamic art and there are also angel figures in this particular painting, and angel figures did become quite
important to me at about this same time. Maybe I have something to say about them later on. But that was my, as it were, early introduction to art.
First of all, through "The Children's Encyclopedia" and then through the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. But it does seem that
the feature of art which attracted me most in those days was colour. And .... Hm?

J.O.M.: Bhante, of course art is all about painting, it's all about colour, but what else?

S: Well in painting there is also design, there is composition, but it was the colour I think that struck me more than anything else.

J.O.M.: Consciously or was it some kind of ....?

S: At that time it wasn't conscious, I didn't know what it was. I didn't realise what it was that was attracting me and fascinating me but afterwards I
realised it must have been principally the colour because this theme, as it were, re-emerged when I found myself some years later in Kalimpong. When
I was fourteen, of course, the war broke out. I was conscripted and I went in the Army to India and after the war I stayed on in India and eventually I
went up to Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas. It's a place about four thousand feet above sea level not far from Darjeeling, and from Kalimpong we

can see Tibet and we can see the snows of the Eastern Himalayas. So I lived up there, I lived in Kalimpong for altogether fourteen years and I was able
to see those mountains every day. Not always the snows. I didn't see the snows every day. I mean, they didn't always come up but saw them quite often
and there were very remarkable sort of colour effects at sunrise. Because first of all you'd see the snows just glimmering in the dawn, just white against
this grey-blue background and then as the sun rose, though you couldn't see the sun, they would first of all become a sort of pink and then they'd become
a sort of fiery red, a sort of crimson, just like a heap of glowing embers. And then they'd become pure gold and after that they'd become pure white. So
one would see these chromatic changes and they were really very impressive. And by that time if it was a clear day the sky would be a very, very deep
vibrant, rich blue ....

J.O.M.: It doesn't seem that you did nothing but look at the mountains! (Laughter)

S: So I sometimes felt like doing nothing but look at the mountains and I not only looked at the mountains, I did of course other things, I studied, I
meditated, I taught and of course I also wrote some poetry and some of my poetry was concerned with mountains, so maybe I will read just two or three.
They're only very little poems. I wrote a lot of poems at that particular time and several of them are concerned with the mountains. So this first goes
like this. It's called simply "Mountains" and it has a sort of, you may say, moral, because I used to feel sometimes, well, one, it's not enough just to
write poetry. There must be some meaning. If you like even a moral, something inspiring, something uplifting. So this first poem is of that kind and I
called it simply "Mountains".
'Golden in laughing sunlight.
Silver in mist and rain.
I see thee, mighty mountains,
Tower heavenward from the plain.
And pray my heart unmoved by
Sweet joys and sufferings dire,
Like thee through cloud and sunlight,
May upwards still aspire.'

And of course there were sometimes poems which were just poems, so to speak. I was very interested at that time in the haiku, the Japanese haiku form,
so this is a haiku called Kanchenjunga. Kanchenjunga was the principal mountain that one could see from ...

J.O.M.: Kanchenjunga. What does it mean?

S: Kanchenjunga means the 'Five Treasures of the Snow'. This is according to Tibetan myth and legend. The Five Treasures, as far as I remember,
were gold, silver, crystal, grain and some said books and some said weapons as the fifth. But the name Kanchenjunga means 'The Five Treasures of the
Snow'. So Kanchenjunga, Mount Kanchenjunga was the principal peak - actually it was a double peak - of the mountains that we could see. So this of
course is very short. It's a haiku. It's just a picture, an image. And I call it just 'Kanchenjunga'.
'One white wave of snow
Towering against the blue sky
With clouds below.'

So that's the picture. The picture I used to see and yes, then there's another one, the last one I'll read. This is called simply 'Study in Blue and White'. I
call it a 'Study ...

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