By Aree Chaisatien
Special to The Nation
Stop. Relax. And be nourished.
Just standing in front of one of the calligraphic works currently on show at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre has the effect of a mini Zen retreat, the mind setting aside the hustle and bustle of the chaotic city outside to focus on the art before the eyes.
Very simple yet very inspiring, calligraphy, along with poems, songs and music for practising mindfulness, is one of the tools Thich Nhat Hanh – Thay to his students – uses in his unique form of teaching Buddhism.
Brother Chan Phap Nguyen is in charge of the calligraphy exhibition in Bangkok.
“Thich Nhat Hanh Celebrating Life: A Celebration of Spirituality, Poetry, Music and Calligraphic Art” exhibition is being held at the BACC until February 17 by Thai Plum Village to mark the more than 50 years this respected Zen master has been teaching dharma and advocating globally for what he terms “engaged Buddhism”.
On display are 73 of his legendary calligraphic works.
“I use tea to mix with ink. So my calligraphy has the taste of tea inside. I use all kinds and sizes of Chinese and Western brushes. When I draw a circle, I follow my breath. Breathing in, I draw a half circle and breathing out I draw the other half. In my calligraphy, there is ink, tea, breathing, mindfulness and concentration. This is meditation. This is not work. Suppose, I write ‘breathe’; I am breathing at the same time. To be alive is a miracle and when you breathe in mindfully, you touch the miracle of being alive, So everything should be mindful,” the master once told his followers.
More than 100 of the Zen master’s books, including the bestselling “Peace Is Every Step”, “The Art of Power”, “True Love”,have been translated into more than 30 languages with more than three million sold in the US alone.
Although Thay, now 93 and wheelchair-bound, is back at his home in Hue’s Tu Hieu Temple, his presence can be clearly felt in the pieces of art selected for the Bangkok exhibition.
“Thay is always with us with each calligraphy,” says Brother Chan Phap Nguyen, who is in charge of the calligraphy exhibition.
“Thailand is a Buddhist country. It is so much easier to share the teachings with Thais. We are here to share the teaching with the young generations. Life is about suffering but at the same time life is a wonder.”
Arts, in all forms, are part of life.
Young visitors look at the works at the exhibition.
“Without art or music, it is not life, especially for young generation,” adds Brother Chan Phap Nguyen.
And as with all forms of art, the calligraphic works will touch those who examine them in different ways.
Nattakrit Kritmanorot, 24, a volunteer at Thai Plum Village and a mindfulness practitioner for the last three years, says he felt a surge of energy from the calligraphies while helping to prepare the exhibition. “At the start of every year, just like most other people, I make New Year resolutions but most of them fade from memory as time passes. This time, it was different. I was struck by the “New Year, New Me” of Thay’s calligraphy. I put the note on the door to my room and it infuses me with energy to be more committed to practising.”
A visitor looks at the calligraphy on show.
Growing up as a teenager in the US, Sister “True Pearl” Boi Nghiem listened to pop music by the likes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. “They are all about heartbreak. I wasn’t heartbroken but it seemed as though there was no way out. When I listen to Thay’s songs, they remind me to be happy in the present moment, to touch the oneness of life,” says Sister True Pearl, who was ordained in 2005 at the age of 21.
Sister “Fah Sai” Thanh Thien, 32, recalls being impressed with Thay’s Thai meditative songs long before choosing the monastic life. “I feel relaxed when listening to them. Before I was ordained, I would listen to these Thai songs while driving to work. They water the good seeds that live in all of us. We sing together.
“Be Still and Know” is one of a series of original Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphic works.
We don’t mind if we sing them well or badly; it’s a way of washing away the sickness inside. The music waters the seeds of kindness, compassion and mindfulness.”
Thai musician Dinpa Jeewan, founder of G-One Band Official and an artis who focuses on spiritual awakening, says: “Each piece of the Zen master's calligraphy is like a Buddha image. It exudes energy. It conveys abstract meaning in concrete form. The master draws with his mind; the brush and ink are just tools to transmit abstract spiritual meanings or puzzles.”
Cultivating inner freshness
“Breathing in I see myself as a flower; breathing out I feel fresh as a flower.
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain; breathing out, I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as still water; breathing out, I reflect things as they are.
Breathing in, I see myself as space; breathing out, I feel free.”
Fresh, Solid, Still and Free are four of Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphic works, each on a pebble. The Four Pebbles is a tool for basic meditation practice developed for children but also well loved by adults for cultivating the four wholesome qualities of meditation: fresh as a flower, solid as the mountain, calm as a still lake reflecting, free as space.
“Thich Nhat Hanh: A Celebration of Spirituality, Poetry, Music and Calligraphic Art” continues at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BTS: National Stadium) through February 17.
All are invited to participate in the “Day of Mindfulness - Everything is a Gift of Life” with monks from Thai Plum Village on Sunday February 10, at the Multi-function room on the first floor of the BACC.
The programme is as follows:
- 9am Gathering in front of BACC
- 9.15 Walking Meditation
- 10.15 Guided sitting meditation
- 10.30 Dharma talk
- 12 noon Mindful Lunch
- 1.30 Total Relaxation
- 2.30 Screening of the short documentary “Celebrating life with Thich Nhat Hanh”
- 3 Calligraphic meditation workshop
- 3.45 Group Sharing
- 4.30 Visit the exhibition
For registration, log on to https://goo.gl/forms/Jhub9gWQ4LMNsG0E2
Seats are limited
A wide selection of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books is available at the venue.