Sunday, April 22, 2012

An Artist’s Inspiration

Krishna's lotus feet“Spiritual inspiration comes from within the heart, wherein the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His Paramatma feature, is always sitting with all His devotees and associates.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Concluding Words)

“If I can draw it, it’s not art. The piece should be something that exhibits talent; otherwise what is so special about it?” These sentiments point to how art is often recognized. Make something extraordinary, something creative. Your finished work should be something that no one had previously thought up, or if they did they at least didn’t think it would be easy to reproduce. Whether they’re making music, paintings, drawings, sculptures, or screenplays, the artist has the talent to produce work that others enjoy consuming. Ah, but the drawback with the reliance on the artist for artistic masterpieces is that they require inspiration. The artist can’t just sit down every day and produce wonderful imagery on the fly. They need to be inspired. Without the motivation to be creative, they can’t come up with what we consider to be so beautiful. In one area of endeavor, however, the rules are different. You follow routine work, almost like a member of an assembly line, and since the beneficiary is pure and the work itself the most fulfilling, inspiration comes naturally. Just producing anything with sincerity for the beneficiary’s pleasure makes the process pleasing to the producer.

Someone who is not an artist may not understand the need for inspiration in art. Ironically enough, artistic works can be used to illustrate the need for motivation within artists. The classic American television sitcom, Family Ties, had an episode that nicely painted the dichotomy among viewpoints. In this episode, the boyfriend of a leading female character on the show created a sculpture/work that sold for a good amount of money. The female’s older brother couldn’t help but laugh at the finished piece. To him it looked like a piece of junk. Indeed, it wasn’t a classic piece; more of the eclectic type. What astounded the older brother, who was more knowledgeable about finance than he was about art, was the fact that such an apparently simple piece could be sold for a handsome profit.

A light bulb went off in his head. What if the artist, whose character was named Nick, produced the exact same piece in mass? This way he could sell the items for a larger overall profit. Of course the older brother, Alex, would get a percentage of the profit, for it was his idea to turn the artistic talent into a business. The two would set up a shop where Nick could make many copies of the same artistic piece that he originally devoted so much time to. As a true artist, Nick was hesitant to go down this route, but since he was also desirous of saving up some money, he reluctantly agreed.

Nick and his Spirit of ColumbusAs the episode was from a comedy show, the end result wasn’t what was intended by the parties. Pretty soon customers started asking for customizations, different colors and variations to the finished sculpture. This, of course, ruined the uniqueness of the original piece, in the process squelching the motivation of the artist. If they are not motivated to work, what will their work mean to them? They pour heart and soul into their finished product, and if it is reproduced in mass quantities, it loses its uniqueness. Thus the episode showed that an artist needs inspiration to work. Without a fire to create, they cannot be creative; it goes against their nature. The assembly line model is not appropriate for art.

In the highest discipline for mankind, however, the routine work itself provides the motivation. In life there are variations of work and different corresponding disciplines based on the outcomes one hopes to achieve. If your desire is to earn money, you enter the realm of fruitive activity, which plays by the rules of competition. If you want higher knowledge, you get educated on certain topics. If you’re sick of it all and just want to have some peace, you accept the path of renunciation.

Holding these objectives together is the desire for ananda, or bliss. As everyone is looking for happiness, why not target the reservoir of pleasure directly? This is one way in which the Supreme Lord is described in the Vedas. He is the storehouse of virtues, and He gives pleasure to those who interact with Him in the proper mood. Because of these features He is known as Rama. Since He is the most attractive, He is also addressed as Krishna. As He has an accompanying energy that is separate from Him but at the same time fully engaged in His service, one way to call out the combination of the energy and the energetic is to say, “Hare Krishna”. Put all the names together and you get the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Chanting this mantra regularly is part of the bhakti-yoga discipline. Bhakti is above fruitive activity, mental speculation, mystic perfection, and renunciation because it automatically incorporates the component objectives. The person struggling hard with material existence is really just looking for happiness, as is the person desirous of a mystic ability. Why not connect with Krishna and be in the company of the most fortunate person? He creates this and every other land, so He is automatically the wealthiest person. That creative power also makes Him the greatest mystic. As He is the most beautiful, His vision gives the eyes the visual nectar they deserve.

Lord KrishnaBut what if we are feverishly pursuing other objectives? What if we have no motivation to hear about Krishna? For these reasons a gradual approach is initially recommended. The instructions are offered by the spiritual master, or guru. The primary recommendation of the guru is that one chant the aforementioned mantra for at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. Back in the days of attending grade school, perhaps we had to write a note of contrition over and over again on a blackboard as our punishment for having done something wrong. The idea is that by taking the time to write why we are sorry, the words will eventually sink in. This way, hopefully we won’t repeat the same transgression in the future.

Chanting Krishna’s names over and over again looks like a similar style of punishment, but it has a different effect. Coupled with the chanting routine is the abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. These restrictions are important because they help to fructify the chanting routine. You’re trying to make your favorite dish but you can’t seem to get rid of certain contaminants. With the foreign ingredients present, the dish will never taste just right. In a similar manner, if your chanting is distracted by the seeds of sinful activity within your mind, you won’t get the full benefit of Krishna’s association.

If there is no motivation to practice bhakti, one should still follow it. The reason is that through enough practice, motivation and inspiration will come on their own. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it. You’ll never know what it’s like to be completely dependent on Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, unless you take His holy name to be your life and soul, the reason for living.

What results from chanting? What type of inspiration comes? So many historical examples show the endless possibilities for production from the devotees, but the life of Maharishi Valmiki is one of the more noteworthy examples. He was previously a highway robber, but he had the good fortune of one day trying to steal from Narada Muni, a favorite servant of God. Narada instructed the dacoit to sit down and just chant the name of Rama over and over again. The thief couldn’t do it, so Narada told him to chant the reverse word, “mara”, instead. By repeatedly saying this word fast enough, the same sound of “Rama” would be produced.

Maharishi ValmikiAfter chanting for so many years, eventually an anthill formed around the dacoit. Returning to the scene and seeing the transformation, Narada named the reformed man Valmiki, which means one who comes from an anthill. But chanting did more than just give birth to a sage named Valmiki. Through that routine work, exclusive chanting and hearing of the holy name, Valmiki got the inspiration to compose the Ramayana, a now sacred work describing the life and activities of the Supreme Lord during His descent to earth as Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty.

So many Vaishnavas of the past have been inspired to create wonderful poems, books, songs, paintings, and dramas relating to the Supreme Lord, sometimes through initially producing such works out of some type of feeling of obligation. A Vaishnava is a devotee of Krishna, and they are unique because they don’t have any desire in life except to follow bhakti. They didn’t follow bhakti initially because of an impulse or a sudden wave of inspiration. Rather, through good fortune and the grace of the spiritual master, they followed the instructions passed on since the beginning of time on how to practice devotion. Through their sincere efforts the consciousness was automatically cleansed, which opened the door to so many opportunities for service.

These Vaishnavas could have rescued the entire population of the world and written more books than you could consume in a lifetime, but they purposefully left their work incomplete. This way future generations could find their own inspiration through regular chanting, hearing and expressing. The factory model works in bhakti-yoga because it liberates one from the clutches of fearing and angst over the loss of temporary possessions. What need for worry is there for someone who knows that Krishna is kind enough to remain in their lives through the holy name? With the comfort of knowing that He is always by their side, the devotee finds renewed inspiration with each successive day, resulting in a fire of devotion that can never be extinguished.

In Closing:

When to create artist can’t pick and choose,

Only when inspired will they produce.

 

Follow a forced model of continuation,

And even most talented lose inspiration.

 

With bhakti, the factory model works,

Seed of devotion in heart it inserts.

 

Chant holy names even if there is no interest,

By routine, with inspiration be blessed.

 

Vaishnavas like Valmiki show us the way,

They glorify their beloved every day.