Below I have reprinted an inspiring article sent to me by Jake Roshi.  The article very much supports what Jake has been saying for years; that a mindful commitment to any activity that requires practice can be a “teacher”.  This may include what we traditionally define as “art” but can include any activity (cooking, gardening, accounting etc.) that entails practice with the goal of doing it “artfully”.
Below are links to past articles published in Art and Zen Today that speak directly to this connection between artistic practice and “meditative” practice.  There are many more and I suggest you explore the Archives.
——————————————————————————————–   Myths about the nature of “Talent” Art and Mindfulness  Improvization in music and Zen.  Trumpet practice and Zen  practice  #2  Trumpet practice and Zen Practice #1 The Art of being present.  Art, Zen and Creativity


And now to the article, which was originally printed in The Washington Post.

Why making art is the new meditation

By Maia Gambis August 25, 2015

Photo by iStock

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do.  Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. 

“Art is a guarantee to sanity,” said Louise Bourgeois, a French-American artist who died in 2010 at the age of 98. She even went on to add, “…This is the most important thing I have said.” For Bourgeois, art — making art — was a tool for coping with overwhelming emotion. She says she remembers making small sculptures out of bread crumbs at the dinner table when she was a little girl – as a way of dealing with her dominating father. Art was more than an escape – it kept her sane.

Art therapy has a healing effect for a variety of ailments, including depression, trauma and illness. and is effective across age, gender or ethnicity. In a recent study of cancer patients, an art therapy intervention — in conjunction with conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation — not only diminished symptoms typically associated with cancer such as pain, fatigue and anxiety, but also enhanced life expectancy. The study, its authors said, was based on the belief that “the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life-enhancing. It is used to help patients, or their families, increase awareness of self, cope with symptoms, and adapt to stressful and traumatic experiences.” 

Art is not only healing for individuals suffering from severe illness. Here are four reasons why creative activity is such a potent recipe for psychological well-being:

1. Art is a vehicle for meditation and self-connection

Most of us can understand that art provides an escape to a sometimes harsh reality, but where does art’s healing potential come from? It impacts the state of our minds: Enjoying emotional stability is largely about taking responsibility for how we feel.

Research has shown the power of meditation and the science behind it. One of the reasons it is so powerful is that it fosters acceptance. Creating art is a type of meditation, an  active training of the mind that increase awareness and emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind.

Art, like meditation, allows us to create space between our often negative, anxious thoughts and connect with our true selves – as opposed to with the fleeting or false sense of identity we sometimes have when we are caught up in our thoughts and emotions. Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher, writes: “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past… This false self is never happy or fulfilled for long. Its normal state is one of unease, fear, insufficiency, and non-fulfillment.” Creating art is about reaching a state of consciousness and breaking free from the constant debilitating chatter of the mind.

Similarly to meditation, art can help us tap into a deeper and more quiet part of ourselves. We enter into a state of flow and present-moment awareness. “All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness,” Tolle writes. Artists experience that creative activity has the potential to tap into a space of true consciousness of being, void of interpretation. In this space, there can be a sense of having no physical parameters; no body, or form to separate one from the other. 

3. Art allows for true self-expression

The process of making art overrides the need for verbal communication. Creativity is its own language and enables humans to connect with one another — and themselves — on a non-verbal level. In therapy it can be an effective way of saying the unspeakable as is shown through the use of creative therapies with children. This also explains how we can be moved to the core when looking at a work of art, or even listening to music, without necessarily knowing the specifics about its origin. Art exists within its own non-verbal parameter and thus frees us up for unadulterated self-expression.

4. Art helps us become steady and centered

As a plus, it is interesting to note that Bourgeois, when asked to comment on her extensive body of work spanning her entire lifetime, says what impresses her most  “is how constant [I] have been.” Perhaps we need to redefine what we consider to be a storybook happy ending. Happiness may be less a matter of experiencing sharp highs (often followed by deep lows), and more a matter of nurturing a space that provides stability and a constant connection to our true selves.



There is reason to believe that many people are feeling depressed about the state of the nation and the state of the world.  If you relate to this, you might find the short statement below to be a useful reminder of some rather simple coping mechanisms.

Below is an excerpt from what a Rwandan told Western writer, Andrew Solomon about his experience with Western mental health and depression.  Thanks to Alessandra, a good friend and avid Art and Zen Today reader for calling my attention to this statement, as published on a Blog called “Under The Blue Door”. (  By the way, you can learn more about Alessandra by typing her name into the search box at the upper right- just doing that may help with your depression.

The Rwandan Prescription for Depression: Sun, Drum, Dance, Community.

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”


I have been exploring the notion that the World is Sound in both my meditation and music practice.  I don’t usually miss the East coast but I sure would like to see this exhibit.  Below is an article I found on “Lion’s Roar”.  At the end of my post is a short promotion video for the Exhibit.

Touching Sound: A visit to the Rubin Museum’s thrilling new exhibit



From The World Is Sound: Milarepa, Central Tibet, 15th – 16th century; Parcel gilt silver with gilt bronze base; 5.12 5″ h. x 4.125″ w. x 4″ d. Long-term loan from the Nyingjei Lam Collection, L2005.9.62 (HAR 68492) 012; Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

“The World Is Sound,” at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, features the work of Éliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, Bob Bielecki, Christine Sun Kim, Hildegard Westerkamp, John Giorno, Pauline Oliveros, and more. Lindsay Kyte takes you there.

The entrance to the Rubin Museum of Art was alive with sights and sounds as their annual block party, this year called “Sounds of the Street,” welcomed visitors with free admission on Sunday, July 16. Revelers danced to live music, children made crafts, families enjoyed tasty treats, and then, it was through the doors to experience The World Is Sound, the Rubin’s newest exhibit that encourages visitors to “learn to listen with your whole body.”

When I got to the exhibit, housed on the sixth floor, at the top of the museum, I saw visitors giggly from the outdoor festivities suddenly stop, lower their eyes, and begin to intently listen. It was unusual, this experience. A museum visit can often be a hands-off, glass-encased, roped-off glimpse into a past and people that seem so far removed from our current state of being. But not this exhibit.

The first piece I encountered was “Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara in His Pure Realm of Potalika,”—pigment on cloth, and framed in glass. Seemed like a typical “look but don’t touch” experience. However, I saw visitors doing strange things. The piece was featured in a little alcove between two walls (as were a lot of other pieces), like this one:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

People were walking up to the glass frame and putting their faces close to the piece, standing still, really seeing it. Or so I thought, until it was my turn.

A sign indicated I should “touch the wall to listen to the mantra.” Tentatively, I did, as I leaned in toward the piece. All of a sudden, inside that alcove, the sound of monks chanting filled my ears. And, with my hand on the wall now feeling the vibrations of the sound, it felt like I had put my hand on the heart of some being, who was now chanting for me the meaning of this piece, to make it come alive for me. This tactile experience of the sound was so unexpected I was nearly moved to tears.

The World Is Sound, according to the Rubin’s description, “employs sound in new ways to animate and intensify the experience of art in the Rubin’s collection. Organized cyclically—from creation to death to rebirth—the exhibition explores different dimensions of sound and listening and its many functions in Tibetan Buddhism. Featuring work by more than 20 artists, The World Is Sound juxtaposes new site-specific commissions and works by prominent contemporary sound artists with historical objects from the museum’s collection of Tibetan Buddhist art to encourage reflection on how we listen and to challenge entrenched ways of thinking.”

The showstopper was the “leg bone trumpet.”

A row of headphones attached to a wall allowed visitors to hear creations by sound artists. A long bench in a white-walled room invited visitors to lie down to listen to a translated Tibetan funerary text, which could only be heard once you were fully lying down:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

A glass case of ritual text with musical notation suddenly came alive with sound as you stepped up to it. And one of the most popular experiences, on the day I visited, was a display wall of glassed-in musical instruments, which looked like a typical museum exhibit. Except when you approached each, suddenly, you heard the sound of it being played:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

The showstopper was the “leg bone trumpet (kang ling),” associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, as it is made from a human leg bone retrieved from a Tibetan sky burial. Played as a musical instrument, it elicited a hushed “wow” from myself and the lady next to me. We just stopped, and listened, and looked at each other.

It was then I realized “looking” is often a private experience, but “listening” is often shared, even with strangers, as you try to grapple with the juxtaposition of life outside dancing on the street and a sound that immediately places death in front of you to remind you that this moment is just that—only a moment.

The World Is Sound is on view at the Rubin until January 8, 2018.



                                          Stephen and Ondrea Levine

In my last post “An Incantation to Time’s Disintegration of Memory: The Art of Gwyn Henry”, we began to move into the matter of “impermanence” which is a key concept in Buddhist understanding and practice.  In future posts, I  will be exploring impermanence further through my art.  For now, we turn to a lecture,  by artist and philosopher William Leslie which I video taped at at The Vista Zen Center last November.  His talk focuses on the work of Stephen Levine.  For over thirty-two years, Stephen and his wife Ondrea  provided emotional and spiritual support, from a Buddhist perspective, for those who are life-threatened, and for caregivers. They are the authors of numerous books, including Who DiesEmbracing the Beloved, and A Year to Live, among others.

 Stephen Levine died in January 2016 and William’s talk is titled “Remembering Stephen Levine.  You can watch the video of this talk by clicking on the link below.  The talk itself is only about 19 min. long; the remainder of the video captures the discussion that followed.

William Leslie’s background includes degrees in physics and philosophy.  He served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in India.  Presently, he teaches philosophy at Palomar College in the San Diego area and maintains a small studio in his home producing “Lightsculptures” for homes, restaurants, hospitals, businesses and religious institutions throughout the country. His work can be seen at:

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Today’s post consists of the last of the segments from my Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  It was lead by Alessandra and William and was a beautiful and fitting closing segment to the Ceremony and my year-long examination of the place of Zen ritual in contemporary society. You can see this segment of the Ceremony at:

You can see other segments of the Ceremony (which took place in March 2016) and a series of talks on Ritual that led up to the Ceremony at the following link:



Beth (Esho) is no stranger to the pages of Art and Zen Today.  Three years ago we published Beth’s article “BETH MOSKAL MILLIGAN ON SUMI-E PAINTING AND ZEN PRACTICES”  where she wrote about her studies with Sumi-e master Takashi Ijichi and Zen practice with Jake Roshi. ( ).  The short talk from the Shuso Hossen , captured in the video below, expands upon this earlier article.  Pay attention to the points that Beth makes in the video; I think they are very consistent with my musical responses to the Shuso Koan as seen in a video posted earlier (

To see Beth’s “Art From the Heart” talk at the Shuso Hossen, please click below:

Scroll Down to see other performances at the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.


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Shuso Hossen Performances by Judy, Sean (Taigu) and Ian


                                                   Bread by Taigu

Today’s post includes another video involving three more of the fantastic contribuitions by members of The Vista Zen Center to my Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  In this video, Judy leads the group in a rousing version of “Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo”.  Next, Sean talks about how his passion for bread-baking has become part of his Zen practice. Then, Ian sings Bob Dylan’s song “It’s all over, baby blue”, which he sees as a song about letting go.  All previous videos from the Shuso Hossen Ceremony can be found on the Art and Zen Today YouTube channel or can be found by using the search options to the right of this page.  Click below to see today’s video:


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Today’s video captures the last of my musical presentations at the Shuso Hossen in March.  As I see it now, the first three (see previous videos) were really “preambles”; where I amble around aimlessly before getting down to addressing the Koan in a straight forward way.  Below I’ve printed the Shuso Koan which may help you get a better understanding of what I was trying to do in my final rap/singing presentation.

Actually, this was not my final presentation.  As you will see in the video, this rap/song segues into my singing, along with the help of the group, an altered version of Sly Stones “I Want To Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again”.  Shorty after the Ceremony, I crossed paths with blues singer Richard “Stoney” Stone and asked him to do a rendition of that song in my studio.  You can hear this version, along with the visuals that accompanied it the night of the Ceremony, at.(

Today’s video can be viewed by clicking here :


                                                   SHUSO HOSSEN KOAN


A student came to the teacher and said I want to study with you. Fine, you may study with me but, you are an artist and I want to know how you can fulfill your Bodhisattva Vows as a Zen Buddhist while painting at your easel or playing your trumpet.

 Who is your picture freeing? What  delusions are your tunes transforming? What dharma gates are being embodied when you sculpt? How does your art awaken anyone, including yourself??




Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

 Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

 The Dharmas are boundless, I vow to embody them.

 The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to awaken.

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Lady Gaga, Passion and Creativity

For years I’ve been vaguely aware of  singers Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, but never made an effort to really listen to their music.  Both seemed too “over the top” for my tastes and somehow not worthy of my attention. A year or so ago, I happened upon a concert special featuring Lady Gaga on TV and found myself pulled in, at first,  by the spectacle of it all.  As a result, I came to realize that she could really sing.  More recently I ordered the documentary “Amy” from Netflixs and was equally surprised at the quality of her music.  ( I should mention that everything I am saying here applies to Michael Jackson as well.) 

If you haven’t seen the movie “Amy”, I would suggest that you do so.  It not only provides some insights into her creativity but also explores what I call the “thin line between creativity, spirituality and crazy” (see article “SUN RA, THE ALIEN: THE THIN LINE BETWEEN GENIUS, SPIRITUALITY AND CRAZY” at

Why some artists end up like Amy and others like Lady Gaga is a fascinating question that I don’t think  can be answered fully.  However, my friend and Zen teacher Jake Roshi recently brought my attention to an article that may provide some insight on the matter. The article was written by  David Brooks, a New York Times correspondent and is titled  “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion”.  The link below leads to a video based on Roshi’s reading and commentary on the article at the Vista Zen Center.






Hello,  Welcome to another edition of Art and Zen Today.  The video below is Segment #3 of my Shuso Hossen Ceremony held in March of 2016 at The Vista Zen Center.  This installment contains an alternative chanting of “The Four Vows” and “Thinkaholic” one of my rap responses to my Shuso Koan.  Below that is a copy of the Program for the Ceremony.



Entrance and Opening Ceremony

    Manoj                    In Trance and Settling


 Manoj                    PRESENTATION  #1 


                         A Roshi named Jake gave me a snake.                     Or was it a stick?  You choose or Pick.”


    Eyal                         “The Primordial Light”

                                    (A Jewish Chassidic Tale)                

    Jo Smith                  Tai Chi Demonstration

    Elenah  (Kyojo)      ”Loving Kindness Chant”



May (I, you, we) be filled with loving Kindness,

May (I, you, we) be well,

May (I, you, we) be filled with loving Kindness,

May (I, you, we) be well,

May (I, you, we)I be peaceful and at ease

May (I, you, we) be whole.

    David (Kaishin)          Poems

Manoj              PRESENTATION #2   Chorus

                                      Males   “Master Bodhidharma,                                            Bodhisattva   Bodhidharma”

                                     Females   “Wu Wu Master                                                                           Bodhidharma”


     Jon  ( Jon )               Poems

     Axel                         ”Four Vows

     Eyal                          “Longing For” (Kabir)

     Video                       Little Kwan Yin

     Judy                          ”Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo”

                                        (Lyrics in the Video)

     Eric (Tetsuei )           Short Story



     Manoj                        PRESENTATION #3

     Ian                              ”It’s all over now, Baby Blue”

     Beth (Esho)               “Art From the Heart”

     Jane (Chandra)         “Gate of Sweet Nectar”

     Sean   (Taigu)            “Practicing the Doughma”

     Eyal                            ”The Guest House” (Rumi)

Manoj                         FINAL PRESENTATION   

                                    Chorus      “I wanna thank you

                                     for letting me            be myself  again”

     Ritual Play

    Alessandra/ William

                     Questions From the Sangha

                     Closing Ceremony



 Thanks to Roshi and all the Sangha members who helped

in making this event a reality.  A special shout-out to

Howard (Kakusho) for coordinating the food  preparation and other “behind the scene” tasks and to my wife, Cherie for

help with the program.