Some works of art speak to you on a level that is hard to define. You gaze and are drawn inward. Something in you identifies with what you see there. It’s not outside, it’s in here. It was there before you saw it, and the seeing is just a reminder of its presence.
I felt that way when viewing some of the artwork at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Especially in the faces that follow. The one above is my favorite. I cannot help smiling when I see it. I’ve paired the faces with a few favorite Tao verses and Zen anecdotes that capture a glimpse of what I see in each face.
THE MONK – OH SO DELICIOUS
Once there was a monk fleeing for his life, a tiger at his heels, chasing him over the edge of a cliff where he grabs hold of a branch. He dangles there just out of reach of the tiger’s snapping jaws, while below another tiger is snapping at his feet. No escape. Just then he notices a fat juicy strawberry dangling from a nearby vine. He plucks it loose and pops it into his mouth. “Oh, so delicious!” he sighs.
THE SAGE – WHERE WONDER RISES
“From mystery to further mystery is the entrance to all wonders.” -Tao Te Ching, (Ch. I)
THE SAVANT – RIDING THE WIND
“My eye becomes my ear, my ear becomes my nose, my nose my mouth. My bone and my flesh melt away. I cannot tell by what my body is supported or what my feet walk upon. I am blowing away, east and west, as a dry leaf torn from a tree. I cannot even tell whether the wind is riding on me or I am riding on the wind.” -Lieh Tzu
THE MYSTIC – WHO AM I?
“Once I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering here and there. Suddenly I awoke and was surprised to be myself again. Now, how can I tell whether I am a man who dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreams she is a man?” Chuang Tzu
THE MOTHER – OBTAINING THE ONE
Knowing the Male,
But staying with the Female,
One becomes the humble Valley of the World. – Tao Te Ching (Ch.XXVIII)
There was something complete and nebulous
Which existed before Heaven and Earth,
Unchanging, standing as One
Able to be the Mother-of-the-World. – (Ch. XXV)