Meanwhile In Tibet

by Liz on September 10, 2012

in Opinion,Travel

I received this Tibetan parable in my inbox. It’s from Ji Hyang Sunim who’s the head of the Wellesley Buddhist Community. Such a great morning read. Or any time of the day.

There was a great teacher in the land of Tibet named Milarepa, He had a very bright, promising woman student named Paldabum. She asked questions about meditating with distractions: “In the daytime I have to work, at night time I sleep, in the morning and evening I need to cook. I am a servant to all these tasks that fill up my life. In spite of this, I still want to practice. How can I do this? Please give me some advice?’

In reply, Milarepa sang a song of four analogies and one meaning, five points. First he said, “Look at the mountain. The mountain is unshakable. Like that, train in being like a mountain, always steady and stable.” Then he said, “Look at the sun and moon. Though sometimes covered by clouds and haze, the sun and moon in themselves never change; their brilliance doesn’t increase or decrease, they’re forever the same. Train yourself in being constant, without waxing or waning.” The third analogy he gave was: “Look at the sky. Space is not made out of anything. Its nature is empty, and has neither centre nor edge. Train yourself in being free from centre and edge.” Then he said: “Look at the great lake: Though its surface ripples, the body of water remains unwavering. Train yourself in being unwavering.” Finally he gave the fifth point, the meaning, singing, “Your mind is the most important. Simply settle into yourself and look into your mind. Without being carried away by thoughts about this and that, be totally steady and meditate. That is the heart essence of meditation.”

“When you practice in a way that is like a mountain, remember this: shrubs, trees and plants grow naturally on the mountain, sprouting, growing and perishing there. This arising, dwelling and ceasing of growth does not change the mountain in any way whatsoever. It is merely different expressions that don’t affect the stability of the mountain at all.


Miya Ando (Photo courtesy of artist)

She’s the 16th generation of a family of swordmakers turned Buddhist priests, but as steeped in tradition is her namesake, Miya Ando’s art is anything but outdated. In fact, if the cold, hard steel plates that adorn the walls of her Brooklyn studio are any indication, Ando makes art that’s distinctly contemporary. Perhaps even timeless.

Ando's 'day 13:00' (steel, patina, pigment, resin)

Like the beams of light that run through her polished steel plates, Ando is possessed of unswerving wit and charm. There’s an air of absolute determination about her, a prerequisite, I’m sure, which comes with being a woman artist who works with a decidedly manly material.

“Steel is very masculine,” Ando said, “it’s our most strong substance.” But as the unmistakable descendent of Buddhist swordmakers, no one is more up to the task of metalwork than Ando. To create the zen polish that suffuses the surface of her metal plates, Ando sandpapers the steel with such meticulous finish that even the most prosaic lump of industrial grade slab is transformed into an unclouded mirror of self-reflection.

“For me, sanding is a meditative practice. In Japanese, the term ‘Migaku’ means to polish yourself. Making yourself pure through meditation.”

It’s this very notion of purification that presides over her September 11th monument for London, to be completed before the 10th observance of that fateful day. The structure is entirely made of World Trade Center steel, with parts sanded and polished to a mirror finish.

“My intention is to transform the steel, and put it back to the public. A metaphor for transforming tragedy.” The polished steel, through its reflection of light would serve as a symbol for peace.

2 pair geta (hot-rolled diamond plate steel, steel cable, automotive lacquer)

Ando is of Russian and Japanese descent, but grew up with Japanese as her first language. Raised in Okayama, Japan, she grew up with a deep sense of reverence for her Buddhist ancestors and Eastern philosophy. This year, she will partake in the Haein Art Project at Haeinsa, a renowned Korean Buddhist temple built in 802 AD. Her outdoor commission will consist of blocks of resin that absorbs light during the day, then glows at night, thanks to its phosphorescent properties.

“Us hybrid East-West people, we can take two disparate things, and bring them together. And it’s important we do that, to pay homage to our ancestors and to draw from their cultural values.”

Furisode Kimono, stainless steel and sterling silver metal finishing 56" x 70"

Miya Ando’s works are currently part of a nine-woman exhibit at Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York, ongoing through July 30. The Gallery is participating in the Chelsea Art Walk on July 28 from 5 to 8 pm, so that might be a good time to go. Live music, chilled Bellinis, and artists from the show will be on hand during the event.


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