In the Lotus Sutra, there’s an image of the dharma teachings falling upon the earth and all the plants like rain, not missing one single organism. Out in the wilderness, touching the elements, those analogies have a concrete power and clarity. The earth is perpetually generous. The forest equally embraces the massive ferns, the tiny mushrooms and the fog that’s drifting through that landscape. The earth supports your bare feet and the scurrying chipmunk visiting the fire ring to collect bits of granola.
There’s the heat emanating from the fire, radiating evenly in all directions, folding neatly into the surface of each particular body, just so. Obliging equanimity.
“Leaping beyond the infinite and cutting off the dependent, be obliging without looking for merit.” “Oblige” derives from “to bind;” that is, to act out of the recognition of connectedness and inseparability. “The flowing clouds of no grasping mind, the full moon reflecting universally.” These are very obliging qualities.
The first evening on the lake, the moon burst out from behind the clouds. The lake was frothing in the steady wind riding the cold front. The scattering effect of the moon’s reflections was complete. As I looked at the lake, it was the spraymoon, the foammoon, the wavemoon. Later in the week, with calm returning, when I canoed at night, there was that perfect shape, an imprint, always a few feet ahead of the boat, inviting me to pursue it. Or, it would disappear behind the clouds, giving just the suggestion of frost around the cumulus edges. And with its disappearance, everything would burst in a glow of that silvery suggestion available in every needle, every bit of moss, every mountain.
Held by nature in this way, as people worked on their painting assignments, they started to disappear into their subject matter, evolving with the flow of daylight, the colors of water, seeking not to come to conclusions but retain the everfresh eye.
Paul Cezanne encouraged prospective artists to paint clouds as a way of learning how to rest in reality and appreciate the relationship between an image and impermanence. Cezanne was always wary of a dead brushstroke, a moment of inattention and the tendency “to cheat,” to average things out and descend into the realm of abstractions. Watch for the moment when the expression, the conduct of the brush across the page, is mindless. It’s a gap. It so easily can become a mechanical movement. It’s a step without you in it. It’s a breath without feeling it within your body. When we train ourselves in our attention and look at a drawing, we can recognize the lines that are the dead lines, and the ones that are alive.