Imaginary Life

@radioshenyen. On Buddhism and design.

Radio Shenyen has now moved to it’s own dedicated space on Tumblr. The old posts will remain here in the archives. Radio Shenyen is a blog part poetry, part diary, part letter, by the British born Tibetan Buddhist monk, Martin Hodgson, aka Tenzen Shenyen.
Shenyen received monk’s vows from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in July 2004. Shenyen, that means ‘friend’, has spent the last ten years wandering around the world, allowing the blessing of the tradition to mingle with the secular beauties of his own culture. In 2008, Shenyen slept in 93 different places. His office consists of a rolled up copy of Artforum and an old Nokia 100.
In October, Shenyen will be speaking at a Nordic Service Design Network’s conference on ‘Creating Value for Quality of Life.’ His talk will offer a Buddhist take on design, arguing that karma and experience cannot be correlated for predictable effect, much less be designed. The task of designers today is to ride the chaos and make decisions characterised by ‘innocence’ and precision. From cinema directors to kamikaze pilots, from biographeme to biography and back again, Shenyen traces a soft logic lineage of ‘contemporaries across millennia’.

Tenzen Shenyen

radioshenyen: another girl

feb 2011 Birmingham, UK

“There is a fine line between what we like and what affects us. There is a fine line between what we can manipulate and what is close to us. There is a fine line between using technique and making music. We must be open to the spaces (silence) in order to fill them just right. We must see the spaces, inhabit them, live them. Then the next note, the next move, becomes apparent because it is needed. Until it is apparent, nothing should be played. Until it is known, nothing should be anticipated. Until the whole appears, the parts should not be criticised. Until — ”
— (source unknown) (IL: Keith Jarrett, we think)

“Another picture was of two girls with their arms around each other’s shoulders, their heads tilted to the left, gazing at the camera with similar expressions and an incredible assurance, as if they had just set foot on this planet or their suitcases were already packed to leave.”
 Roberto Bolano, ‘2666’

In Colombo a man lies sprawled out along a bus shelter bench, holding his head. beneath a poster of a smiling vibrant female boxer.

A girl steps onto the bus wearing a t-shirt that says ‘another girl’.

A shop selling bird cages and weighing scales, examples of both hanging in the window, each of them empty in their own way.

An 87 year old blind woman becomes president of Egypt. The ghost of a 9 year old girl wanders the Midosuji line singing her grandmother’s favourite enka song.

A traffic accident victim lies dead in the middle of the road covered by a plastic sheet with only his feet sticking out, next to his smashed motorbike which has only one wheel. In the twenty minutes it takes for the police to arrive and sort out the traffic jam that my bus is caught in I watch people get out of cars and off the bus to go forward to have a look. I cannot understand anything they are saying but I know its a death scene. As the bus finally drives past the body the image of the victim lying there with just his feet sticking out of the sheet strikes me very strongly and I start saying vajrasattva mantras for him.

The bus driver is driving like a maniac but I dont mind, wrapped as i am in a cocoon of silence and faith, inside the formlessness of my life’s direction. The bus radio is playing Indian pop, the kind where the male singer sounds like he’s singing in front of a mirror and is profoundly moved by the beauty he’s seeing there, and the female singer sounds like an angel who made it to heaven on the strength of her housework. And then Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ mixed to a techno beat starts and suddenly I realise there’s no such thing as a ‘buddhist country’, there are only buddhist moments: buddhist bus journeys, buddhist convenience store car parks, buddhist playlists.

Outside departure gate 7 an airport worker walks past pushing a cart stacked with a pyramid of different coloured plastic bins. As she passes beneath a structure hanging from the ceiling – a crown of little golden lights – her gaze meets mine and we smile. And I say to myself: all tools, all technologies, are essentially extensions of the body: pencils, shopping bags, aeroplanes, tantric sadhanas. I make no distinctions.

Secrets, when combined with love and selflessness, are the greenhouse of language.

On the plane during take-off, listening to favourite songs, I can still see vividly the image of the road accident victim, and the songs become prayers that the dead man’s universe reappears as a white limousine with 17,000 wheels to make up for the one he lost yesterday, a century ago, just now.

Until next time

shenyen

radioshenyen: brother. december 2010, sri lanka.

“I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they are apparent to our mortal part. Thirteen years ago I lost a brother, and with his spirit I converse daily and hourly in the spirit, and see him in remembrance in the region of my imagination. I hear his advice, and even now write from his dictates. Forgive me for expressing to you my enthusiasm, which I wish all to partake of, since it is to me a source of immortal joy; even in this world. May you continue to be so more and more, and be more and more persuaded, that every mortal loss is an immortal gain. The ruins of time build mansions in eternity.”
— William Blake

A young girl wanders into the monastery wearing a t-shirt which says “I still live in my mind”, and suddenly I realise how little language there presently is in my life. Between me and another day of stiflingly limited interactions with the temple folk here there is only William Blake. Today I’ve been contemplating the line “tools are made, and born are hands”, enjoying the cybernetic ontologies hovering alongside it.

I won’t stay in Sri Lanka much longer. I’ll be back in England early in the new year. After ten years living in Asia I thought heading out for one more would be the simplest thing. But it seems I’ve been fooled once more by impermanence. Suddenly these theravadan buddhist countries feel alien to me. Its kind of interesting to know that its finished, though. A newness awaits.

I’ve also spent three years of my life in monasteries: enough, I think, to know that it just doesnt work for me. Whereas the year and a half I’ve spent in solitary hermitage situations (Spain, Cornwall) were much more enjoyable and rewarding. I need to build on that.

I still live in my mind, in a place half-way between jewelery and architecture, where nested songbirds sit in madhyamaka trees singing of the world to come, a world of post-metaphor and occasionality. But I cant write from that place just now. Its being flattened by my Sri Lanka experience. Instead I’ll just keep eating the ice-cream and cake these Sri Lankan mamas keeping putting in my bowl, just keep taking delicious cold showers in the early evening before walking barefoot for a few minutes in the sand-covered courtyard beneath the full moon, and wait. With Mr Blake for company.

So, until next time…

shenyen