Shambhala Art Day Festivals & Celebrations

Shambhala Art Day has been designated by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to occur on the spring equinox. It is a day when the entire Shambhala community and friends are invited to celebrate art forms and disciplines that embody the Dharma Art teachings of the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. These teachings encourage the creation and manifestation of art that wakes up the viewer as well as its maker to a sense of unconditional sacredness within the phenomenal world.

“A work of art is created because there is basic sacredness, independent of the artist’s particular religious faith or trust.  Sacredness from that point of view is the discovery of goodness, which is independent of personal, social, or physical restrictions.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  Pg. 130, in True Perception

Each year’s celebrations would ideally be held on or near the spring equinox.   They may be as short or as long as desired (see descriptions/suggestions below).  One of the main manifestations has been the Shambhala Art Festivals, which is going into its 11th year.  (Please Note: Shambhala Arts, as distinguished from Shambhala Art, is the moniker that many in our community give to specific art forms and disciplines that appear to share and manifest Dharma Art principles -see the Dharma Art Letter below.).  Internationally each center’s contribution has served to magnetize the energy of its community as well as realize the authenticity of art-in-everyday-life.

Shambhala Art teachers are encourage to take a leadership role wherever possible, but celebrations may be organized by any community member who has a connection to these teachings.  As centers organize these events and provide a welcoming space for everyone’s voice, the offerings and events should have a connection to the Dharma Art teachings.  It is this singular commitment that distinguishes our celebrations.  The format is still open to the interest of each center.  However, if offerings are made such as performances, art exhibitions, installations, readings, poetry, videos presentations, workshops, talks, and lectures, we strongly encourage those making offerings to connect them specifically to these teachings by writing an artist’s statement that illuminates that connection.  These statements can then be offered in some fashion such as in catalogue or program.  At some past celebrations, when these statements have been made available, they have had as powerful an effect as the offering itself.  Some centers have chosen themes, and if this interests you, we would like to again offer a couple of suggestions: Art that Wakes Us Up, or Awakening the Sacred. In some locations where presentations are not practical, we suggest outings to art shows or performances as a means to appreciate the arts and their role in an enlightened society.  Slide Shows.

The Dharma Art Letter

A letter written by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche on the occasion of the Naropa Institute’s first summer program in Boulder Colorado, July 1974. Pgs. 1-2, True Perception.

The term dharma art does not mean art depicting Buddhist symbols or ideas, such as the wheel of life or the story of Gautama Buddha.

Rather, dharma art refers to art that springs from a certain state of mind on the part of the artist that could be called the meditative state.  It is an attitude of directness and unself-consciousness in one’s creative work.

The basic problem in artistic endeavor is the tendency to split the artist from the audience and then try to send a message from one to the other.  When this happens, art becomes exhibitionism.  One person may get a tremendous flash of inspiration and rush to “put it down on paper” to impress or excite others, and a more deliberate artist may strategize each step of his work in order to produce certain effects on his viewers.  But no matter how well-intentioned or technically accomplished such approaches may be, they inevitably become clumsy and aggressive toward others and toward oneself.

In meditative art, the artist embodies the viewer as well as the creator of the works.  Vision is not separate from operation, and there is no fear of being clumsy or failing to achieve his aspiration.  He or she simply makes a painting, poem, piece of music, or whatever.  In that sense, a complete novice could pick up a brush and, with the right state of mind, produce a masterpiece.  It is possible, but that is a very hit-and-miss approach.  In art, as in life generally, we need to study our craft, develop our skills, and absorb the knowledge and insight passed down by tradition.

But whether we have the attitude of a student who could still become more proficient in handling his materials, or the attitude of an accomplished master, when we are actually creating a work of art there is a sense of total confidence.  Our message is simply one of appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears.  We give up aggression, both toward ourselves, that we have to make a special effort to impress people, and toward others, that we can put something over on them.

Genuine art—dharma art—is simply the activity of nonaggression.

Suggested Forms of Celebration

Individuals: For those who do not have an opportunity to share their celebrations with a larger community, they could attend a concert, a performance, see a movie, visit an art museum, and the like.  They could read and contemplate the Dharma Art Letter before and if a friend can share their celebration, they could discuss their experience in light of the Letter.

A Group Without an Available Shambhala Center: Similar to the above, except the discussion after the shared event could be more formalized for the group where they would meet in a home and hold a “salon,” also known as “salon gathering” or “conversation salon.”  In such gatherings there is an agreed upon topic and discussion moderator.  Each participant has an opportunity to share their experience and thoughts along with some food and drink.  Some subjects of Shambhala Art Salons have been, “When can ugly be beautiful,” “What makes Shambhala Art, art?” and ”What is the role of art in an enlightened society?”

Exhibits and Festivals: Where there are Shambhala Centers, celebrations can include exhibitions, performances, and demonstrations of various art forms and disciplines that we associate with the Shambhala/Dharma Art principles.  Usually a committee is formed to organize, setup, and manifest the celebrations.  Examples can be seen at our Slide Shows Page.


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