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Oct 04
Arts and Poetry
What is the Heart of Dharma Art?

calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Jack Niland and unknown artist

Celebrating Shambhala and the Arts
story and artwork by Jack Niland

What is the Heart of Dharma Art? It is MANIFESTING the world…your world, my world, our world…an enlightened world. Why? Because this is what the universe does. It creates world systems from the elements and their stories from the skandhas. And the universe created you.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that every thing he did was dharma art. And he played and danced and laughed, and now we live in the Shambhala kingdom that he manifested. So how can we manifest our world too?

Let’s start at the beginning: when he arrived in America in 1970. Above are four examples of things he did that summer (played, danced, laughed, manifested). But they all started with the teaching of meditation on empty space. The first Dharma Art lesson is to look deep into empty space – like a piece of blank paper.

Editor’s Note: We are currently on hiatus from publishing new articles; in the meantime, please enjoy this classic item reprinted from our back issues.

He called this the magic mirror. He said if you look deep into it, you will connect with the realm where every thing that ever was, is, or will be already exists. Contemplating the traditional qualities of emptiness such as All Pervading, All Accommodating, No Obstructions and so on, you wait, focusing your intention and then a spark will appear. This is the seed of your art work.

Tail of the Tiger door, September 1970

To create is to receive. Let the image expand to fill all of space. It is made of primordial light, energy, sounds, colors, shapes, smells, etc. They are all expressions of the qualities of space. Let the image condense and enter your heart. This is the union of feminine and masculine, emptiness and luminosity, Buddhism and Shambhala. This union, this energy fills your heart and then it will spontaneously radiate out and create the work of art that you wished for. This birth is called Maha Sukha, great bliss, the universal eternal dance.

And this what manifesting your world is. This is how the golden age will occur. We must create a new culture based upon this, which includes our theater, music, fashion, cities and stories, holidays and holy days, our homes and schools, clans and kingdoms. This is the heart of Dharma Art.

The four photos in this story are the door at Tail of the Tiger (Karme Choling) that I executed under Trungpa Rinpoche’s instructions. There is a picture Rinpoche created with an old dry house paint brush tied to a pole. Next is a group picture where he did the large stroke, I spilled some ink, and a girl did the blue. And last, Trungpa Rinpoche challenged me to look into the canvas and make the first western thangka.

Let our enlightened culture arise, be a feast for the senses, and let it dissolve again into space.

first western thangka, by Jack Niland

calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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13 responses to “ What is the Heart of Dharma Art? ”
  1. Dear Jack, thank you. So much.. Love and please go on forever!! This article is the best I have seen since long. Love you. Yumma.

  2. Rachel Homer
    Apr 1, 2012

    Dear Jack,

    How nice to see these images, especially of the TOT door way and subsequent damage to the print. Rachel

  3. Bernard Weitzman
    Mar 29, 2012

    Dear Jack,

    Wonderful. Thank you from my heart. Love, Bernie

  4. Anne Saitzyk
    Mar 28, 2012

    Wonderful… and so great to hear these details. The little moments become huge. Thank you, Jack.

  5. rita ashworth
    Mar 26, 2012

    So who are the other CTR students who received dharma art teachings directly from the Vidyadhara? Would be interested in ‘dharma art without credentials’ – or could one say Art Level 0(!)….must be some other title people could call it aswell- maybe ‘Art -Back to Square 1’ well best rita

  6. Gayle Van Gils
    Mar 25, 2012

    Great and inspiring article. I just finished a Golden Key weekend, and feel particularly connected to what you have so eloquently expressed in your article. Please keep creating and keeping the sparks flying in the kingdom. I love you always….


  7. Thanks for posting this, Jack. I’m inspired again!

  8. T Brian McSweeney
    Mar 25, 2012

    Two current artists who I feel are also at the Heart of Dharma art: Romeo Shrestha; and Tashi Mannox.

  9. Jan Watson
    Mar 25, 2012

    Great Teaching – from CTR, of course, and from you Jack for re-minding us.
    Thank you. take care.
    Jan Watson

  10. Dear Jack,

    completely refreshing and inspiring. thank you for this brilliant reminder! and for carrying on the authentic power of what we were taught… forever indebted, Laura

  11. I first met the Vidyadhara in 1975 at Naropa and became his student several years later but did not study the creative process with him. After his death I took the Shambhala Art teacher training in the early 1990s, a program initiated by the Sakyong to see that these teachings were passed on in a systematic way. Subsequently I have met some of the artists who received the dharma art teachings directly from the Vidyadhara. Of them, Jack has manifested as he was taught and I am profoundly grateful from what I have received from the Vidyadhara through Jack. If you get the chance, study with him, attend a program taught by him, or a play/event produced by him. The original play we here in Baltimore are to perform on April Fool’s Day, part of our Parinirvana celebration, was inspired by Jack’s productions . Thank you for sharing the above, Jack. May you live long and continue to benefit sentient beings through art.

  12. Dear Jack,
    Thank you for writing this excellent article and carrying on the Dharma Art teachings of our precious teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

  13. rita ashworth
    Mar 24, 2012

    so why have the western thangkas stopped to some extent? Where is the new engagement with this aspect in form re meditational experience-I feel this whole thing needs to be explored more deeply than is the case now. As to connecting with the ‘experience’ of space this can be done outside of the meditational process aswell I agree – I also think it can be done by intellectual debate which has somewhat been disregarded -perhaps this is due to the Kagyu tradition being so ‘entranced’ by practice. I feel the process of uncovering our connection to space could be also done with koan practice -why did Rinpoche not develop this aspect re his teaching in the west as he was so much connected with Zen – I do feel koan practice would also connect into the exploring of consequent ART -the two things are not separate..best rita.

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