By Kellie Schorr
“The Buddha in the Corner” is a six part series based on the six realms of existence in the Buddhist Wheel of Life as they are found in everyday experience. In the Bhavachakra (Wheel of Life) there is a Buddha in the upper right hand corner pointing to the way out of the cycle of suffering.
The warrior stomped through the banquet hall where long tables were adorned with all manner of sumptuous food, flowing wine and chocolate.
A thousand souls could eat for a thousand years at the feast offered in that room. Beckoning candles reflected off the warrior’s armor illuminating a vision so bright the very darkness of the abyss hid behind the tapestries. The moment reached out with open arms to embrace the warrior in every dream and any joy.
“I’ve no time for this,” the warrior grumbled, trudging through the paradise to a scantly lit war room where angry torches showed a wall of weapons, maps, and scrolls containing grudges, wounds, and regrets. Looking at the battle plan, hungry and secretly afraid, the warrior tapped a metal clad finger on the next target of wrath and snarled in a voice made from bitter herbs and stone.
“How in the hell did this book get published?”
Jealousy. It has caused wars, murders, financial ruin, relationship decay, and needless sorrow throughout human history. One of its most prolific, silent crimes is the infinite number of creative works it has managed to stifle or simply kill out-right.
In the Buddhist Wheel of Life jealousy is found in the Asura or Jealous God Realm; in the arts we call it “comparison.”
The titans in the Jealous God Realm are powerful people. They have everything the God Realm has with one addition. They are consumed with envy. Surrounded by all they desire, they enjoy none of it. Instead, they are constantly at war with one another: competing, comparing and consumed with their perceived lower status.
With the power and resources at their disposal, you’d think the jealous gods could practice dharma all day and night and find their liberation out of suffering. Nope. They are too busy warring to get on with the business of freeing themselves.
Working in the arts, as a writer, artist, musician, dancer, et al, is to swim on the same beach as the jealous gods. If you work, as I do, in the realm of traditional publishing or promotion, you are always caught in a riptide where the demands are high and odds are low. Independent and self-publishing artists aren’t immune because envy starts with the seed of creation and blossoms on social media where you work tirelessly to promote your own effort amidst the noise and clicks of everyone else.
How can you ease suffering, and get work done, in an arena that seemingly feeds on competition? The Buddha in the corner shows us the way.
Artist envy is a classic symptom of poverty thinking. The delusion is that there is only so much success, so much creative karma, or so much luck in the world (and why did [that other artist] get more than their share?). We engage in confused thinking when we believe someone else’s success means our failure because there’s only so much good fortune to go around.
The Buddha describes our own mind as a “wish-fulfilling jewel.” Whatever inventiveness, skill, or power we need is constantly being generated within our own mind. Someone else’s ability doesn’t take anything from us.
Remember that banquet room we started in? It exists within you. All the words, or all the music, or all the colors—anything you need—is there in abundance. Be generous with yourself. If you seem to lack an idea or motivation, look around you. Meditate, take a walk, and pay attention to things other than what another artist has done. Reach into that deep part of your curiosity and your passion for expression then fill your plate.
There are always enough words, enough ideas, enough air, enough space, even enough time for what you want to do. Don’t be a miser with your art and you won’t care what anyone else has in their pantry.
When people talk about the paramitas—the Six Perfections or Six Wise Actions, the one that makes them grimace is discipline. That’s not because discipline is hard or bad. It’s because we have abused that word so horribly it has mutated from a perfection to a pain.
Discipline isn’t forcing yourself to do something because you are supposed to do it (or being punished when you do something bad). For the artist, the best definition of discipline remains this:
Discipline is doing whatever the moment requires you to do.
If you are in the present moment, that moment has something for you to do. The moment may require to you to be at work. It may require you to listen to a critique with an open mind so you can deepen your skill. It may even require you to take time off for rest and go to a movie (I really like those moments). Whatever the moment requires—do it. That’s discipline.
If you’re looking at someone else’s work and using the comparison to engage is negative self-talk or creative bypassing, you have lost discipline. No moment requires that action. When you realize what is happening, stop and take a deep breath. Try to discover what that moment in your life really requires.
One of the Four Immeasurables, Empathetic Joy (sometimes taught as Sympathetic Joy) is a natural antidote to envy. Empathetic Joy is experiencing the happiness of other people as your happiness. That’s not the same as being happy for them, but actually feeling happy yourself because of the happiness of others.
When an artist in your genre shows a skill you want, or gets a result you’ve been chasing, the ability to find joy in their accomplishment is going to help you so much more than just wishing it had been you. The reality of this manifests in several ways:
1. The happiness found in someone else’s joy can help you know that what you are attempting is, in fact, possible. When you’re frustrated by a piece of music you can’t seem to conquer or a shadow in watercolor that seems to elude you, the joy you feel when you see someone else do it reminds you that it can happen. Instead of being held by back envy, you are motivated by possibility.
2. It keeps you from feeling alone. Artists do different work but we all go through the fear, the isolation, and the vulnerability of putting our heart and skill on the line. When someone else succeeds and you feel it, you create a bond that brings the warmth of another into a sometimes frightening and lonely space.
3. It adds to the creative energy in the world. No matter what name you give it—the collective consciousness, the over-soul (Emerson), the wind horse – there is a bright and furtive energy that fuels creativity. As the energy of your joy works its way through your art, everyone feels the uplift.
Working in the arts is always going to be coupled with a certain amount of longing. It’s born from our Buddha nature that desires to express ourselves and relate to one another. Through generosity, discipline, and joy we can create without comparison and work without war.
The Buddha in the corner points to…connection.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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