Chapter 1: Always on the Rocks
Zen masters have also painted, but their painting is totally different. Watching a Zen painting you will feel uplifted; a feeling of subtle joy will arise in you. You would like to dance or sing or play on your flute. The Zen painting comes from the other side, the mystic’s side. Picasso, Dali, and others come from the side of science. Now, there is no similarity between a Picasso painting and the painting of a Zen master, no similarity. They are two totally different worlds, and the reason is that the painters are different.
Yes, Ananda Prabhu, you may be feeling the same joy in painting, writing a poem, and solving a scientific problem. It is all mind. Solving a scientific problem is mind; your poem will also be more or less mathematical, logical. It will have only the form of poetry but its spirit will be prose.
That’s why in the West poetry is dying, painting has become ugly, sculpture is no longer representative of nature. Something immense is missing - the spirit, the very spirit of art is missing. Looking at a Zen painting you will be overwhelmed; something from the beyond will start showering on you.
Have you watched a Zen painting closely? There are a few things you will be surprised to see. Human figures are very small, so small that if you don’t look minutely you will miss them. Trees are big, mountains are big, the sun and moon, rivers and waterfalls are big, but human beings are very small.
In the Western painting the human being is very big; he covers the whole canvas. Now this is not right, this is not proportionate, this is not true. The human being covering the whole canvas is very egoistic - but the painter is egoistic. The Zen master is right: man is only a tiny part in this great universe. The mountains are big and the waterfalls are big and the trees are big and the stars and the moon and the sun - and where is man?
Just the other day I was looking at a Zen painting. The men were so small, two small figures crossing a bridge, that I would have missed them because tall mountains and trees were covering the whole painting. But there was a note underneath the painting saying, “Please don’t miss, there are two human figures on the bridge.” Then I had to look very closely - yes, they were there, two human figures, very small, walking hand in hand, passing over the bridge. This is the right proportion, this is a non-egoistic painting.
In Western paintings you will find the whole canvas covered. In the Zen painting only a small part of the canvas is covered, and the remaining part is empty. It looks like a wastage; if you are going to make such a small painting, why not use a small canvas? Why use such a big canvas which covers the whole wall, and just in the corner make a small painting? But the Zen people say that’s how things are: “Emptiness is so much all around. The whole sky is empty - how can we leave out the sky? If we leave out the sky the painting will be untrue.”
Now no Western painting has that vision, that we are surrounded by emptiness. The earth is very small, humanity a very small part of the earth, and infinite emptiness all around. To be true, to be existentially true, the emptiness cannot be left outside; it has to be there. This is a different vision, from a different side.