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Lions Roar : March 2006
To turn now to an uneasy question that may well have been encountered by other members of the West Coast and East Coast project teams, I find myself wondering about the enduring impact of the exhibitions chronicled in Smile of the Buddha and the other books. The ques- tion is an old one: Coomaraswamy first asked it in amid-twentieth -century essay, "Why Exhibit Works of Art?" which still crackles with provocation and fervor. For present purposes, we might broaden the question by considering art exhibition a proxy for all creative, not-for-profit under- takings diligently conceived, faithfully seen through, tidily concluded. When the floor is swept clean and the door closed on whatever good things oc- curred, what remains? A few books? Notes hastily taken? Certainly, the lives of those drawn into a creative effort are forever touched and even changed by what occurs as the effort unfolds. One may forget the mental record of some details, but there is a kind of moral record lower in the body, closer to the heart. From that place I re- call the buoyant spirit of the East Coast team-I don't know whether this was a fraction of the smile of the Buddha, but it was a lovely smile. We reached across dif- fering backgrounds and teachings to meet with warmth; withstood the shock of sud- den personnel changes; evolved a firmly principled approach to certain problems; celebrated the unanticipated excellence of a young colleague who found herself doing many difficult things for the first time. It's clear that the immediate circle involved in a genuinely creative project receives lasting benefit. The project itself is an undeclared school. But the personal gains of project man- agers aren't the goal of public ventures, however much those gains are all to the good. The goal of public venture is pub- lic benefit. What does the audience of a not-for-profit, creative offering take away? What endures? To respond to these ques- tions, it seems essential to consult two dif- ferent zones of experience and conviction. The first zone is one's personal ex- perience of great occasions. Most of us have touchstone memories of works of art, performances, or community occa- sions that made a great difference. They opened a door that remained open, set a standard, shaped ever after some ele- ment of who we are, how we think and feel. I hope never to forget the impres- sion received years ago when I first came upon the figure of Ananda standing guard over the Buddha's parinirvana, in the ensemble of monumental sculpture at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. Ananda's dignity as a follower, a student, is enor- mous. The image of the Buddha is of transcendental beauty, but the image of his follower-saddened yet calm, with arms hieratically crossed over his chest-offers lessons of its own. Such impressions are retained in the lower memory, the one closer to the heart. The second zone of experience and conviction we must consult has to do with that part of us all that is private. Do we recognize and serve in other people their immense privacy? Sentient beings are pri- vate beings, secret beings. So much is go- ing on inside. Each of us is a little swarm. Can we dare to be ridiculously confident that good things reach good people in good ways, although those ways cannot be wholly charted and documented? Those who are responsible for creative offerings have serious responsibilities- the greatest among them being to offer works of art, performances, or shared ex- periences that reflect, insofar as possible, the highest and best we know (or at least the most appropriate to a given purpose). But once this is accomplished, we must trust. Ultimately, we just don't know what the consequences will be, and we're un- likely ever to know. Naturally, there will be conversations, reviews, and other use- ful feedback, but that doesn't begin to en- compass what actually occurs. The entire investment in conceptual work and direc- tion - finding, time and funds, relation- ships, process management, worry, and craftsmanship, which combine to create something special for many other people, is an act of faith. It's delightful to discover that fact. It lightens the burden and invites one to try again. . The_Ie WQr . _-_ ! . II 1llCUlCØ1e .YUV'eD Creating a culture for enlightenment through meditation, inquiry, koan study and the arts. JOHN TARRANT ROSHI PZi Director and author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koons to Bring You Joy and The Light Inside the Dark lACIIICZItf. 018 UlOOMING D1'lUIATS: UGUTIlllAB.tY: reg