Friday, 14 June 2013

Traditional Chinese Ink Painting: Bamboo

"...unless you can endure the bitterness of defeat, you cannot be really strong. Readiness to be weak can be a sign of strength. We say, “The willow tree cannot be broken by the snow.” The weight of the snow may break a strong tree ’s branches. But with a willow, though the snow may bend or twist the branches, even a heavy snow like the one we had last year cannot break them. Bamboo also bends easily. It looks quite weak, but no snow can break it." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p124.
"This poem by a Buddhist monk describes active concentration:
Poem by Vietnamese Dhyana Master Huong Hai (Ocean of Fragrance),
The wind whistles in the bamboo
and the bamboo dances.
When the wind stops,
the bamboo grows still.
The wind comes and the bamboo welcomes it. The wind goes, and the bamboo lets it go. " - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p105.
"One night I was sitting outdoors at a temple in Japan, in the deep dark of the monastery’s forest of giant bamboo. It was the seventh day of a silent retreat. The air was fresh after two days of typhoon rain. My mind was completely still and my awareness open wide. In the silence I could hear a single bamboo leaf softly falling, down, down. Gradually I became aware of a subtle spicy fragrance. It came from the bamboo. I have never been able to smell it since. I will always remember its delicate perfume, and that remembering evokes in me the sublime peace of that night." - Jan Chozan Bays, How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p132.
"If any one subject area could be said to epitomise Chinese Painting and in particular shades of black, then it would certainly be bamboo." - Jean Long, Chinese Ink Painting: Techniques in Shades of Black (1984), p24.

Yesterday I painted my first traditional Chinese bamboo composition in my private painting class with Jasmine Zhang in Beijing. The process requires a confident and steady hand and a good understanding of Chinese ink brushes. This means that there is a lot of overlap with traditional Chinese calligraphy technique and execution, as Jean Long, author of Chinese Ink Painting: Techniques in Shades of Black (1984), states, p24:
"The structure of bamboo is allied in many ways to the strokes required in Chinese writing."
It seems bamboo ink painting and calligraphy complement and reinforce one another in this way. In the same paragraph, Long mentions the deeper symbolism of bamboo in traditional Chinese culture:
"As the bamboo grows upright, weathering all conditions, so it came to represent the perfect gentleman who always remains loyal."
Bamboo is famous for bearing heavy loads and remaining standing in heavy winds  - springing back with vigorous intention after the storms have passed. In this way it has provided inspiration for mindfulness practices - not letting the necessary pains of life uproot or break one as one remains upright and steadfast in the face of adversity.

Jasmine helped me complete the following painting - with the main stems and all leaf groups painted by myself:

I am looking forward to practising bamboo ink painting more, even though my skill is only at beginner level. Hopefully my mindfulness practice will help the process along faster. Feeling more peaceful and fending off apprehensiveness are essential to painting bamboo successfully. As Long states, p24:
"Tranquility combined with confident brush control is needed to achieve a successful bamboo painting."

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