A couple of posts back in The Paradox of Freedom I mentioned that wacky artist Soutine and his statement about art being more important than sanitation or olfactory agreeableness when he kept a rotting beef carcass in his studio in order to use it as a model for painting. Many other artists have done equally strange things in expression of their passion. People without such a degree of passion have some difficulty understanding that.
When we consider Buddhist ancestors it seems that quite a few had some kind of passion going on for the activity they were engaged in as well. And equally people without such a degree of passion have some difficulty understanding that.
I clipped a comment a long time back about passion and Buddhism. Apparently I didn’t catch the commenter’s name and I don’t recall the forum it was in. But it contained some interesting commentary on the role of passion in Buddhist practice. And from much I’ve encountered since then this commentary seems to express a common belief. The commenter said:
“The bottom line is that passion is not a valued quality in Buddhism.”
If what is meant by passion is any of the following definitions: boundless enthusiasm, fervor, fire, zeal, ardor, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept then certainly Buddhism is full of passion. Especially once Bodhicitta has developed there is very little else that matches the ardor with which one practices Buddhism. (think Bodhidharma!) It may appear to be a subdued and long-lasting passion, compared to the immediacy of lust or desire-passion for sense objects, but without some kind of strong impetus like enthusiasm or devotion most people would abandon Buddhist practices in the first few months.
“If you’re one of those folks who enjoys experiencing passion, and who is driven by it, you might find Buddhism unappealing. ”
Or you might find it gives your experiences a whole new level to contemplate.
“Similarly, if you’re the type to be drawn to Buddhism, you might also be less likely to be the type to “suffer for your art,” so to speak. Because to a Buddhist, that would just be ignorant.”
Suffering for art is usually in the minds of the beholders. Most artists just do the thing they do in preference to doing the things most non-artists do like making a lot of money or having a lot of comforts. Artists have a certain devotional passion that is similar to a religious devotional passion. We may sit in our easy chairs and talk of their “suffering for art” or impose our definition of suffering upon these others but the question really is do they themselves define their lives as one of suffering (such as being without material pleasures) or one of joy and creation. People don’t do a thing, particularly something outside the “mainstream” unless there is some psychological/emotional/spiritual/etc. payoff. It wouldn’t happen again and again if there weren’t some kind of impulse and satisfaction of that impulse for the person driven by creative or devotional urges.
The renunciation of monastic life and the discipline of serious practice is certainly labeled as suffering by some. Yet people do it willingly for a lifetime. Just as artists do.
We’ve all read accounts of Buddhist, and particularly Zen practice that discuss burning off of karmic residue, that monastic and intensive training can be likened to a furnace and that it is advisable to, as Dogen Zenji said, “Sit as though your hair were on fire.”
Sounds pretty passionate to me.