Transcribing the oral tradition...

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

by Sangharakshita

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... in Blue and White' just to suggest it's purely pictorial though there is a meaning to. So 'Study in Blue and White'.

'Though depths of perfect azure invest the sun on high
The hills with haze in the distance show darker than the sky
Save where as though disrupting the blueness of the real
Shine in their absoluteness the snows of the ideal.'

So I used to write poems sometimes about the mountains as well as about many of the other sights and sounds of Kalimpong. And I ...

J.O.M.: Your autobiography, the second part - 'Facing Mount Kanchenjunga' as are your other books also. They are very rich in structure, very rich in
language and very well write and almost ... Tremendous artistic sort of tendency in all of them.

S: I can remember very vividly the incidents of those days though now it's, thirty-five, forty years ago but when I finished writing those memoirs last
year, that volume, 'Facing Mount Kanchenjunga' everything was really quite vividly present to me. And I remembered so many of the things that
happened. And of course one of the things that happened, I think it was in 1951 was I had a visit from Lama Govinda and I'd been in contact, I'd been in
correspondence with Lama Govinda for some time. I'd been reading his writings and he'd read some of mine and we realised that we were really quite
close to each other. We thought alike as regards Buddhism. We both accepted the whole Buddhist tradition. We didn't want to identify ourselves just
as followers of Theravada or followers of Mahayana.

J.O.M.: In your second part of your great epic about your wandering years in Kalimpong you tell of very, very many events in a very rich and varied
language, and you also meet many extraordinary people among others some who are maybe, like you. I see you as a very solitary figure in the Western
world, at least at that time but apparently you found some kindred spirits whom you describe in this book also.

S: Yes. After I'd been in Kalimpong a few months I started up a little magazine. A Buddhist magazine. And I started sending copies all over the
Buddhist world and that made me many friends. In fact some of the early Zen Beat people in America received copies of this little magazine, including
Gary Sneider and just two years ago in America we met actually for the first time and we reminisced, you know, about those days and that contact. But
one of the most important friends whom I made through that little magazine was Lama Govinda. We corresponded for a while and we found that our
ideas about Buddhism were very similar because he had had experience of several different forms of Buddhism and he did not wish to identify himself
exclusively with any one particular form and my own attitude was very similar even though I had been ordained as a Theravada Buddhist monk, I
accepted the whole Buddhist tradition in all its richness, Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Shin. In principle I accepted everything.

So some time in 1951 Lama Govinda came to Kalimpong and spent some time with me and I was very happy to make his acquaintance and a very
definite friendship did spring up between us which lasted for many years. In fact lasted until the time of his death. The last letter he wrote, four days
before his death was written to me. So it sort of set the seal on a very long friendship. But when we met in Kalimpong we talked a lot about Buddhism
and art, about spiritual life and art, about meditation, and also of course we talked about the trip that Lama Govinda had made with Li Gotami his wife
to Tsaparang in Western Tibet just a few years earlier. So I heard from Lama Govinda and from Li Gotami many of the things, many of the interesting
experiences which afterwards were embodied in Lama Govinda's book, 'The Way of the White Clouds'.

And I remember Lama Govinda particularly talking about the atmosphere of Tibet. He seems to have been very much impressed by that. He was very
impressed by the clarity of the atmosphere and the fact that colours showed so vividly in that atmosphere. In fact he wrote about of this in 'The Way of
the White Clouds' afterwards in the chapter called 'The Living Language of Colours' and he says for instance:
"At the same time I realised the tremendous influence of colour upon the human mind. Quite apart from the aesthetic pleasure and beauty it
conveyed which I tried to capture in paintings and sketches, there was something deeper and subtler that contributed to the transformation of
consciousness; more perhaps than any other single factor. It is for this reason that Tibetan and in fact all Tantric meditation gives such great
importance to colours".

I think this is a very important and very significant point and we can certainly see that awareness of colour and sensitivity to colour reflected in Lama
Govinda's own paintings, especially perhaps in his painting of a lake on the caravan routes from India to Lhasa.

J.O.M.: Manusarava?

S: No, not Manusarava, it was another one on the other side of the Himalayas though he did of course paint also the Manusarava Lake. But his work
shows very great sensitivity to colour. We also at some later date when we met, talked about his use of oil pastels. He didn't use oil paints. He didn't
like that medium particularly. Also it was more cumbersome and he was travelling, he was wandering around. He was very fond of the oil pastel
medium and most of his work is in that medium and he mentioned that through the medium of oil pastel you can produce colour effects which you
cannot produce even through the medium of oil painting. So we talked quite a lot about those things. But, yes, he emphasises the importance of colour
in Tantric Buddhist meditation and visualisation and this is very true because as you probably know in Tantric meditation, in visualisation, one usually
begins by just seeing a vast expanse of blue sky, symbolising in a way the Void, sunyata. Now if you've never seen a really blue sky it's not easy to
visualise that blue expanse and of course people in England usually see a grey sky and grey clouds. We don't very often, (Laughs) (?) Protestants or
Lutherans or whatever, but we don't often get that rich blue sky. But in Tibet you get it all the time and the colours stands out so vividly.

So Lama Govinda believed, as he wrote in the book, that this factor contributed to the development of Tantric Buddhist visualisation where against the
very rich vibrant blue background he visualised the figure of the Buddha or Bodhisattva, whoever it is you wish to visualise and, visualising very
brilliant, radiant, jewel-like colours.

So these sort of reflections led me, not just to develop certain interests but, you know, also to understand why I had certain interests because I've always
been, you know, very interested in semi-precious stones, not on account of their commercial value but just on account of the beauty of their colours and
I have accumulated quite a small collection of these. For instance. Yes so I've always had this interest in the semi-precious stones, not because of their
monetary value but just because of the pure beauty of the colours, you know, like this green agate. You don't get very many green agates. I forget where
I got this. I think it was in America. But I appreciate these very beautiful luminous sort of colours and there's also this green jasper. No, not jasper,
malachite. Sorry, malachite. I appreciated this particular piece, not just because of the beauty of the various shades of green but because of the
figuration of it. It looks almost like the scales on the back of some animal or reptile. Or even like feathers on a bird. So one gets all these sort of

And then of course there's what they call peacock stone. I think this piece came from Australia but there's a whole variety of colours in that. And I
think Aldous Huxley in one of his writings has suggested that precious stones, semi-precious stones, jewels, are valued not because of their monetary
value but because, in a way, they give us a glimpse of some higher sort of archetypal realm and we find in many scriptures, in many mystical writings,
descriptions of higher worlds in terms of very brilliant beautiful, jewel-like colours. We find this in Buddhist scriptures. We find something like it in the

'Book of Revelations'. I remember when I was about sixteen I went with my grandmother to church. I mean I was not a Christian at that time. I ceased
to be a Christian when I was fourteen but my grandmother liked me to go with her to church so I went and one Sunday there was a sermon on a verse
from the 'Book of Revelations', from the Apocalypse and the text was "And every gate was one pearl". So I was quite interested in this sermon. Not so
much in the content of the sermon from the Christian point of view, but the imagery, that "every gate was one pearl" so the preacher, the clergyman, he
spoke just about that. That "every gate was one pearl". So this stuck in my memory. I didn't remember anything else of the discourse. ...

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