The paintings of episodes from the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayanathat I viewed at the Asian Art Museum impacted me in a number of ways.
First, I derived aesthetic pleasure from seeing the exquisite renderings themselves. Some of the details were so fine that I wondered whether the artists used just a single hair on their brushes in order to achieve such results. The variety and nuances of the colors was amazing.
Time was made visible in many paintings. The past, present, and future of a particular event were depicted along a horizontal axis. You follow the chronology of the event and observe no special emphasis on one time or the other. For example, Ravana the arch-villain being killed in battle; his body borne on a bier; and then his cremation - are all presented as equally notable.
Seeing time unfold in the paintings inspired me to think of myself as approaching the exhibit, examining the paintings, and then exiting the museum ... all depicted on one canvas. I then imagined looking back on my life. It became a book where I could choose to open any page. A story with a beginning, middle, and ending, each episode having it's valence in it's time and all equally real. That perspective enabled meto feel a renewed sense of connection with beloved others who had passed away. I felt that the time I had spent with them was as real as the time I was occupying now.
The paintings were striking in another way. Whatever they depicted, whether a hero or demon, rocks or clouds, seemed equally alive and differentiated. To quote from John Cage: each being... whether sentient as we are, or non-sentient as sounds and rocks are, is the Buddha. My perspective is that sentient and non-sentient beings, all infused with a universal aliveness, made up every painting.
I thought of the paintings of Van Gogh, and how they manifest the flow of universal energy. The energy in his paintings is fierce no matter how peaceful the scene depicted (sunflowers; fields of corn) - while in the Ramayana paintings the energy is serene, no matter how bloody the scene.
Other artists come to mind .. Monet at Giverny; Turner and his renderings of sea, sky, and ships. Each has their particular style of expressing the universal aliveness that encompasses us. A timeless aliveness.
The amazing variety of artistic particularity, all expressing universal aliveness, is testament to the complexity of reality.
The Ramayana and the paintings it inspired open portals to aspects of reality we rarely consider: the unfolding flow of time, and the transcendent energy underlying that flow. Reflecting on and experiencing that flow, adds richness to our lives.
Frank Rubenfeld, Ph.D. is a BAGI Trainer and Faculty Member www.frankrubenfeld.com