Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On the Importance of Demons

Ikkyu, by way of Gary Snyder, wrote:

Humans are as stupid
As cows and horses.
Poetry, literature--
Works out of hell.
Self-pride, perverse pride,
The misery of the passions--
We can sigh for those
Traveling so intimately with demons.

Snyder explains a little bit:

His "intimacy with demons" is not to be seen in the light of the occidental romance with alienation, however.  In Japanese art, demons are funny little guys, as solid as horses and cows, who gnash their fangs and cross their eyes.  Poetry is way of celebrating the actuality of a non-dual universe in all its facets.  Its risk is that it declines to exclude demons.  Buddhism offers demons a hand and then tries to teach them to sit.  But there are tricky little poetry/ego demons that do come along, tempting us with suffering or with insight, with success or failure.  There are demons practicing meditation and writing poetry in the same room with the rest of us, and we are all indeed intimate.  It didn't really trouble Ikkyu.

This appears in Snyder's introduction to Beneath A Single Moon, a 1991 book about contemporary Buddhist poetry. 

This is very good and reminds me of an important dimension of acting, from the standpoint of the practitioner.  There is a danger of perfecting technique yet learning to exclude these "demons."  In so doing, the performance is deprived of the artist's own humanity, for one; and further, the artist denies herself opportunities to embrace them and wake up. 

[Image: William, a student in one of my acting workshops in 2011, explores physical space while blind.  Photo by Tracy Williams.]

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