Imaginary Life
momilashenyen

Questions to Tenzin Shenyen; a monk called ‘friend.’

In ten days time, our friend Tenzin Shenyen will embark on a 3-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Germany that “begins a cycle of practices to stabilise, concentrate and open the mind through more meditative practices that… include practices aimed at transcending one’s deeply ingrained delusional tendency to see oneself and the world as ordinary.”

Q: It’s been 3 years since you gave a talk at Service Design Conference in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see the whole conference meditating with you. It palpably changed the energy in the room. I especially appreciated your advice for design professionals to ‘Just Say No!’ more often. I think that advice is more important than ever. Can you expand on that a bit?

A: As I said in one of my posts about the approaching retreat, I think human beings are machines for producing works of art, and that the best works of art are nameless and invisible. Saying “no” to what is visible and which already has a name is one way into that space. I also re-read Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan recently and was touched by how deeply I still resonated with it. There’s a lot of ‘no’ saying in it, from ‘erasing personal history’ to ‘losing self-importance’, to ‘becoming inaccessible’ and ‘disrupting the routines of life’. The genuinely ‘new’ comes out of nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere, a brutally total nowhere- but we are too eager to be ‘somewhere’, no matter how shabby and derivative that ‘somewhere’ might be.

I hope at least one designer out there reads this and decides to say ‘no’ to the whole works — until reappearing twelve years later with something with no name and no identity that the whole world needs.

"Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I'll meet you there, I'm sure."

“Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one-litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I’ll meet you there, I’m sure.”

Q: What impact does your Buddhist practice have on your daily life today? How does Buddhism work as a practical guideline for daily decision making? How can this shape a layman’s decision-making to live an ethical life as an ‘ordinary’ person?

A: My daily life is perfumed by Buddhism. It allows me to see everything I do as a kind of prayer. For example, right now I’m watching the world cup. It’s football and I love it, it needs no justification. My unconscious is working tremendously hard preparing for the retreat, so Shenyen is balancing that by just relaxing. I don’t need to justify it. Justifications are for people who are organising pogroms, or asset-stripping entire national infrastructures, etc. not for people who are … content just being nobody, nowhere, just talking with The Invisibles, just owning one pair of shoes … or just watching Argentina’s slalom into the knockout stage while reading Jorge Valdano reflecting on the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, along with his plea to stop treating football as a science; it all turns it all into a kind of dream yoga. And dream yoga is part of the path to Buddhahood. You cannot live an ethical life without nurturing your imagination.

Elaine Scarry’s talk, Beauty as a call to justice, will explain that in detail. I re-posted it on my youtube channel. Ultimately no-one can tell you how to live, they can only seduce you into living in a specific way. Ethics thus emerges from Eros, from loving relationships — with yourself, people around you, your own karmic history, and the culture around you and the times you have been born into.

Q: You spoke once about the importance of combining Buddhist practice with your own ‘culture’ or your natural place in contemporary society as a western monk. Will you still have space for that kind of ‘personal cultural research/ observation’ on your 3-year retreat? Can you watch football when you are there?! Can you read Artforum? Can you write your blog, radioshenyen?

A: Football? Probably not! But in between the meditation blocks, that will usually last about 6-8 weeks per topic, we are encouraged to relax, maybe even listen to a little music. And I will have my Artforum scrapbooks with me. Enough for one exhibition a week I think! But I don’t see too much separation between the centuries-old tantric stuff and my personal interests. Doing the retreat in all its traditional structure is also a part of my ‘personal cultural research’.

"Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment."

“Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment.”

Q: How much meditation do you recommend to a layperson or beginner? Is frequency important for practice? Are there other types of activities such as physical work (making things, cleaning, gardening, etc.) that are also seen as part of Buddhist practice? In Asia, meditation isn’t seen as something that ‘ordinary people’ do. Lay people often ask the monks to meditate and pray on their behalf.

A: Meditation is extremely over-emphasised in contemporary Western presentations of Buddhism. Ethics, study, art, service, offering, confession, purification, prayer, chanting, and vows, among other things, are all sidelined, or dismissed as ‘obvious’, ‘old-fashioned’, ‘embarrassing’ or ‘peripheral’. But Buddhism only really comes alive when you take on board it’s entire culture, it’s ‘world’ while being willing to do the work of engaging that world with your own. Thus, my love of contemporary art is inseparable from my study of Madhyamaka and tantric meditations. My best moments of mindfulness occur when on alms round. You can’t just meditate in a vacuum, in a fog of mundane activity and thinking.

But nevertheless, it is part of the path.

I would recommend a very short commitment — 10 minutes a day is fine — to being quiet, still, disciplined and visionary on one’s cushion. But instead of wanting to meditate I would suggest that people simply pray to be able to meditate, and then relax. Thinking about what other people need — the immediate needs of the people around you right now, at home or on the train platform — is so much more powerful than some half-hearted meditation practice.

Genuine meditation comes out of uncontrived faith. Faith arises out of joy and ethics. Ethics from art and empathetic disciplined imagination.

Q: We need to manage negative attachments to the idea of future, such as fear or sadness or anxiety, as these feelings arise, to avoid shutting down altogether. Is hope also an attachment?

A: Attachment is one of those words that are easy to misconstrue. In Buddhism, liking something isn’t an expression of attachment; wanting something good to continue, or to happen if it hasn’t yet happened, isn’t attachment. Attachment is defined as a state where ‘you are willing to do something bad in order for something to continue (or begin)’. So ‘hope’ in itself isn’t attachment. Love isn’t attachment, not even fierce love. Whereas cowardice would be.

Q: What is your favourite festival or holiday? What practices in your life have changed significantly since becoming ordained?

A: I like New Year’s celebrations. Awareness of time cycles is a lovely thing and transcends specific religions and worldviews. And the atom bomb memorial day in Hiroshima is also high on my list of ‘things which make the heart beat faster’ – if that’s what you mean by ‘festival’.
Ordination, by providing an absolutely fundamental challenge to my sense of identity, in both challenging (demanding, humbling) and transformative (blessed) ways, has helped me to explore more deeply the teachings on non-self as a meditative state.

Q: How important is it to be altruistic?

A: It is impossible to become a Buddha without practising altruism. And never mind Buddhahood, it is impossible to keep enjoying positive samsaric rebirths without practising altruism. All art comes from altruism.

Links:
– For those interested in reading more about the 3-year retreat there are 5 posts on Shenyen’s blog, radioshenyen that talk about it in more detail. https://radioshenyen.blogspot.com/
– Shenyen on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKf_RRjzHsJ5a_LtWltGubA
 Images from Shenyen’s Instagram: @radioshenyen 

Letters of note

lettersofnote.com is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos that really deserve a wider audience than intended! Everyone is called upon to submit Scans of photos where possible, transcripts at the very least. And the wisdom of the crowd mean fakes will be sneered at. Updated 2-3 times every weekday, a great one to bookmark, for a chuckle or two.

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Papercraft

Our very own Johan Hjerpe is spotlighted in a book by German publisher Die Gestalten that is an impressive papercraft compendium. A must have for paper aficionados.

From the publisher:
“Papercraft is an extensive survey on the insatiable trend of innovative art and design work crafted from paper. It explores the astounding possibilities of paper and gathers the most extraordinary creations – from small objects and figures to large-scale art installations and urban interventions as well as three-dimensional graphic sculptures from a vast spectrum of artistic disciplines ranging from character design, urban art, fine art, graphic design, illustration, fashion, animation and film. The book also includes a DVD with fun DIY printable templates for creating your own paper characters and toys as well as a curated selection of the best stop-motion animations.”

Go to the publisher’s website for more photos from the book!

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Johan’s installation Happy Room for dot dot dot show in Stockholm

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And more stuff we like- too much to show here, it’s a great book!

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Online agoras

Design Bay is one of the many growing online user driven market places that we expect to see more of in the near future. As a client you can post your brief and receive quotes from designers around the world, assess designer portfolios and ask designers questions. Payment via paypal upon completion and approval of the work. Just like IRL.

and here is another, crowdSPRING (Thanks Cat)

Be the change you want to see in the world…

Portals to other portals, aggregated contacts, filters, integration of platforms, convergence, things speaking to each other. Here is one interesting example of an online filter/ place for finding social action websites such as microfinancing success kiva.org. Imdoingmypart.org is run by social actions. You enter the site and find tools to discover different projects to support and to share and raise awareness about your chosen action…all in all one very good, and simple, idea…informative site full of facts followed by tools to take what action you can, turning online visitors into cyberactivitists.

Some basic facts about waste…

* Each American exerts 3x as much pressure on environment than global average
* People who change their own oil improperly dump the equivalent of 16 Exxon Valdez spills into the nation’s sewers and landfills every year
* One ton of paper from recycled pulp saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 4,200 kilowatt hours, 390 gallons of oil, and prevents 60 pounds of air pollutants
* Americans throw away 49 million diapers per day
* 65,000,000,000 aluminum soda cans are used each year

Digiwall

Designed for use in public places like museums and shopping malls, DigiWall is a climbing wall with high-end surround-sound whose grips include both lights and sensors that react when they are touched. A variety of games, contests, challenges and creative experiences are possible on the wall as a result, using a combination of visual and audio feedback and body movements. Games currently available, for example, include simple ones based on physical activity and speed as well as more complex ones involving flexibility, bodily control and tactical skill. New games are also being added all the time, the wall’s Swedish maker says. When not in use, DigiWall becomes a decorative sound and light installation.
Much like Wii, location-based games and gyms that use games to keep kids moving, DigiWall could be another weapon in the battle against childhood obesity—not to mention a novel and entertaining public attraction. Kid-friendly restaurants, stores, malls, museums—even airports or schools

Humanitarian causes

People are volunteering, donating, signing petitions, making loans and doing other social actions as we speak — all over the world.
Use imdoingmypart.org map to see actions in near real time

How does this work?
It leverages the Social Actions API which currently aggregates opportunities to make a difference from over 50 online platforms such as VolunteerMatch, Kiva.org, DonorsChoose.org, Idealist.org, and Change.org. Unfortunately very few actions have location information. Therefore this data is run through an entity extractor and a geocoder to extract location information and get the corresponding point for the map. This process is automatically kick started by the server every hour.

socialactions.com makes it easy to find and sign a petition for a cause you care about as well as offering free web tools to share your cause on any website, blog or social network. In addition they have a database of 60,000+ actions that you can engage yourself in to become a cyberactivist on and offline.

SMS is also finding its social purpose the world over. ushahidi.com was a GoogleMap mashup that allowed Kenyans to report and track violence via cell phone texts following the 2008 elections, and has evolved to continue saving lives in other countries. Since Ushahidi the platform has been used in the Congo, by NGOs all over east Africa, and now by Al Jazeera to show news as it happens reported by the grass roots in Gaza. See TED for full presentation

 

Modern day flaneurs

Serraglia.com is a sweet site we came across today interested in the relationship between images, languages, meanings, visual communication, and space.

Arjun Appadurai on the imaginary

“The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is somewhere else), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility. This unleasing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors. The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order”

Here are the links to Arjun Appadurai:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arjun_Appadurai

www.amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?%5Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Arjun%20Appadurai

http://www.appadurai.com/

http://www.pukar.org.in/