This paper explores the connections between the philosophical and religious system of Zen Buddhism and visual and literary arts (especially pottery), examining the intimate and intricate ways in which systems of thought have become married to systems of action.
Before beginning the examination of the specific ways in which Zen Buddhism has become linked to various arts and crafts practices, it will be useful to give a brief history and background of the history of Zen and its more purely philosophical and religious elements.
Zen is a variant school of Buddhism that came about as the result of a fusion between the Mahayana form of Buddhism originating in India and the Chinese philosophy of Daoism or Taoism. Zen and Ch'an are, respectively, the Japanese and Chinese ways of pronouncing the Sanskrit term dhyana, which designates a state of mind roughly equivalent to contemplation or meditation, although without the static and passive sense that these words sometimes convey, especially to practitioners of Western religions (Rice 418).
Dhyana denotes specifically the state of consciousness of a Buddha, one whose mind is free from the assumption that the distinct individuality of oneself and other things is real. All schools of Buddhism hold that separate things exist only in relation to one another; this relativity of individuals is called their "voidness" (a translation of the Sanskrit term sunyata), which means not that the world is truly nothing but that nature cannot be grasped by any system of fixed definition or classification. Reality is the "suchness" (pali tathatG) of nature, or the world "just as it is" apart from any specific thoughts about it (Rice 418-9).
Zen can be seen as the peculiarly Chinese way of accomplishing the Buddhist goal of seeing the world just as it is, that is, with a mind that has no grasping thoughts or feelings (Sanskrit trishna). This attitude is called "no-mind" (Chinese wu-hsin), a sta...