Radio Shenyen has now moved to it’s own dedicated space on Tumblr. 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 2014, Shenyen spoke at the Nordic Service Design Network’s conference on ‘Creating Value for Quality of Life.’ His talk brought a fresh perspective to 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’.
“Painting is the making of an analogy for something non-visual and incomprehensible: giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible.”
— Gerhard Richter
“Adventure is a property of words.”
— Edmund Jabes
Its like landing. Its like listening to music with the discipline of a non-possessor. Its like those long ago days come back, when somebody’s smile could uncomplicatedly undo your life, and the person already gone, lost in the traffic, lost in the landing the playlists. Music as an emotional spellcheck rippling through your nervous system, silently deleting. Words you never knew.
A glass house in the countryside 40 miles north of Stockholm. Snow-covered fields beneath endless blue sun, and tree lines, and train track. I shave my head sitting on the wooden deck out front, sprinkle a handful of snow on my head afterwards. I listen to people talking about the robotic moment, mathematical intuitionism, tracks and clusters, West Antarctica, superposition, brain synchronization. I sleep behind paintings.
Museum of East Asian Antiquities, cake-making, shikantaza, email – the set of possible things to do this morning. Film-editing, bioethics, Renaissance art, materials science – the set of possible PhD avenues your child might pursue. Kids, car keys, phone, wallet, photos – the set of things to rescue from the house in case of fire. How will AI ever mimic such fluidity, nuance, personalness, tenderness? Not just the loopy logics but the gaps in the logic, the forgetfulness? At what point does something cease to be a candle, or a car, or begin to be such a thing? How do you know what a candle is when you haven’t seen all the candles in the world?
I remember my friend’s letter from Japan telling me about the girl he saw on the subway in an ankle-length coat made of crocodile skin, the sudden beauty of this vision, which he so carefully described ‘because the memory of a map-making monk needs to have this image inside it…’ From that day on I knew that memory was a compass every bit as directed towards futures as to pasts. That postcard of a Bellini madonna for example, taped onto the wall of my apartment 25 years ago, with a tiny plastic globe (as in ‘planet earth’) blu-tak’d to her forehead, and the word ‘interference’ scribbled in pencil next to it – that’s what I mean by memory.
In ‘the set of videos that have appeared in Shenyen’s Twitter university recently’ these three stand out. Two of them are music videos at opposite ends of the spectrum (one, that delicious piece of psychedelic gentleness tagged earlier, the other an afro-urban nightmare remix of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”) and the third one is a map of Japan showing the earthquakes that have happened since March 11, rippling in speeded-up realtime:
I know that I know what I want, but I don’t know what I want. I know because of the way it feels to be alive, to be alive like this, in a world of fleeting algorithms, this feeling, the set of all possible sets, of recording in the face of the firestorm, or not recording, this willingness not to give a name and a form and a logic to things that haven’t formed yet. To stay inside invisible disciplines and partial lawlessness. Recording, or not recording.
“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.