The Eight Worldly Dharmas of Art

Pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame – these are the Eight Worldly Dharmas (“dharma” means “fact,” so you could say these are the eight facts of life). In each pair of words, the first one is one we strive to get, and the second word is something we strive to avoid. We hope for the first ones, and fear the second ones. But, as we say: “Hope and fear: those two impostors.” They are both equally invalid. Hoping for pleasure is as meaningless to the true core of our lives as is fearing pain.

Since I’m a painter, I’m not immune to hopes of success and fears of failure. I’d like to sell my work and be recognized. I often catch myself worrying that I might work this hard all my life just to wind up with an enormous number of paintings stacked in my dining room. I enjoy the pleasure of a successful painting and dislike the failure of an unsuccessful one. Since art is our expression of something very personal and intimate that comes from deep inside us, these pleasures and pains, hopes and fears, can be felt very keenly. We thrill to praise, and are hurt by a negative review. It’s a useful exercise to remember that none of these things matter. What matters is the art. Making art without caring about (or fearing) the consequences could (should?) be a meditative discipline like Zen archery, where the arrow is shot at a target without caring if it hits the bullseye. You might ask, “if hitting the target is so unimportant, why do they shoot at one at all?” Well, you need the target – that’s the thing you’re trying to drop – that need to hit the target.

So, it’s back to the studio for me – trying my best to create good art, while trying hard not to care about what happens to it. It’s a struggle. I’m not there yet. There’s a target out there, and I’m still all too inclined to aim at it.