I used to make New Year's resolutions. Now, my attitude is, "what's the point?" If I want to make a change in my life, I will, no matter what part of the year it is. Doesn't have to be January 1.
When I was a religious true believer, I'd often vow to meditate more assiduously, be a better person (details left necessarily vague), or otherwise try harder to close the gap between a conception of my ideal self and who I felt myself to be.
Master Woof thinks this is a stupid thing to do. So do I.
If Master Woof was more substantial than a cartoon character in an entertaining Zen book, "The Upside Down Circle," I'd be worried that he'd hit me with his stick if I backslid into trying to work my way into a state of enlightenment.
(dialogue, since the words are small: "Master Woof, I've been lazy. I want to restart my search for enlightenment." "Why come to me?" "Well, you're a Zen master." "So?" "So tell me, where do I go for enlightenment?" "Nowhere!" "Nowhere?" "Wherever YOU go, enlightenment will be hidden.")
Master Woof isn't big on dogs (people too, I assume) who are searching for what is already present.
Donald Gilbert, the book's Zen Master author and artist, offers up pithy commentaries on the cartoons. Such as...
"One of the biggest problems of so-called 'practices' is that the practice itself becomes a habit. The belief sets in that there is a practicer, someone who is on his way -- a traveler who is going where he is already."
"Woof is saying that the secret of life is revealed when we are living in harmony with the changes and motions of life -- when we are not struggling to change what is."
And the commentary that accompanies the cartoon above...
"In simple terms, enlightenment indicates the absence of the illusion of self and other.
The 'YOU' Master Woof speaks of is an object. This of course implies a subject. Subject and object is the illusion that obscures enlightenment.
Hence Master Woof's statement points out that wherever 'YOU' go, enlightenment will be hidden. He indicates that there must be a wholeness, not the persistence of a dichotomy.
Well, I don't know if there such a thing as enlightenment.
But if there is, it makes sense (assuming enlightenment would make sense) that it entails some sort of resolution of our usual view that objectivity and subjectivity are opposed to each other.
Last night on New Year's Eve, wild party'ers that we are, my wife and I sat around with a few other people at a friend's house, sipped wine, and talked -- often about some pretty deep subjects -- until midnight rolled around.
Several of the conversationalists were heavy into art: music, painting, photography. Two guys had taught art courses at the high school and college levels.
Much of the discussion, which got rather heated at times, centered around whether the value of an artistic expression can be assessed objectively, or if beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Listening to the opposing arguments, both made sense to me.
Yes, it does seem that what appeals to one person may turn off another. So how is it possible to say that a painting of dogs playing poker is "better" than the Mona Lisa if good art is what someone likes?
On the other hand, I could appreciate the other viewpoint: that some art touches something deep in us, makes us resonate with a different meaning-vibration, is able to elicit fresh appreciations of what life and living are all about.
The conversation ball kept bouncing back and forth between these walls of subjectivity and objectivity.
And I kept having intuitions of some middle ground, but couldn't find a way to put it into words. I still can't, though maybe Master Woof could. Eventually I made an attempt.
I told the "good art is subjective" and "good art is objective" advocates that I agreed with both of them, since their viewpoints flowed from a single source: the human mind.
Art begins and ends in a person's consciousness.
The artist has a subjective notion to create something. Then, he or she uses some medium (images, sounds, movements, words, whatever) to convey that notion objectively. Someone else views the objective form and appreciates it subjectively.
It's impossible to divide the subjective from the objective. These are two different ways of perceiving the same piece of art, I said. (Or tried to say; I'm not sure how I came across last night.)
I suggested that if an artist has the skill to authentically convey what is intuitively and creatively evident to him or her from inside to outside, maybe this is what we'd call good art.
We feel the artist's vision. We're offered a peek inside another person's psyche through what has been created. The more honestly and authentically the subjective (inside) and objective (outside) are related, the more a piece of art moves us.
I tried to make some sense. I semi-succeeded. That's the way of conversation, as of art, as of everything.
For most of us, most of the time, there's a tension between what we mean and what is heard, between what we intend and what is done, between what we perceive and what we understand.
And sometimes there's no tension. We just are. As what we do and know is.
According to Zen Master Gilbert it isn't possible to find ourselves, because we are ourselves. Sounds good. I'm ready to do less spiritual searching in the New Year. (Unk is the bloodhound who keeps getting whacked by Master Woof when he looks for what is right of front of him.)
Therefore Unk has to awaken from the notion of being Unk. The truth of Unk is not 'thingly.' There is nothing to be found (no thingly thing) nor anyone to find it. The unfindable is what Unk is, and his unfindable is the found. So no matter how assiduously Unk looks within, he can never see the seer.