Donald Trump: Latest Parody Pic

Viewing the pic and discussing some Photoshop techniques

donald-trump-twelve-days-of-trumpster-by-michael-howard

Donald Trump – The Twelve Days of Trumpster

I’ve been slaving away in Photoshop to bring you a new Donald Trump parody pic, this one combining the Big Brother and Twelve Days of Christmas themes. I’ve already posted the lyrics here, but the new pic adds something special. In the argot of the song, it boasts a:

Big Brother head,
Big groping hands,
And an eagle in an Aryan meme.

If you’re sick of seeing alt-right depictions of Donald Trump as Norse God and Emperor of Europe, this parody may give you a chuckle. (“Look to the sleigh / See the Donaldus — Oy veh!”)

Regular readers of my blog know that I sometimes get obsessed with Photoshop, which is actually a good way to get stuff done. Despite its comic intent, this piece demonstrates some useful Photoshop techniques.

If you’re just getting started with Photoshop, one of the best things you can do is just look — look carefully at the elements which make a good composition. Here you can look at the lines which draw the viewer’s attention toward the center of the picture. In your mind’s eye, draw a line from the cat’s hindmost paw to the standing reindeer’s top antler. This is the main line unifying the different figures.

Note also the contrast between the saturated colours in the body of Trump, and the outsized head which “pops” because it’s grayscale. Also note how some areas of the composition are crowded with detail, while others give a much needed sense of space.

If you want to create montages in Photoshop, it’s good to work your way through the exercises in Photoshop tutorials so that you’re fluent with the techniques. One book that really helped me a lot was The Photoshop Wow! Book, which includes beautiful and artistic examples that make you really want to learn the techniques.

Once you have some technique under your belt, get creative with layers, masking, and blending modes. Always ask “What if?” and don’t be afraid to experiment. When making changes, save your work frequently.

When you get into a groove with Photoshop, you’ll find that amazing things happen! A strong technical foundation means you can use your intuition to lead you in a good direction, without having to think everything through.

Is the central figure standing or sitting? Well… both! The standing figure seems to be wearing a blue tie, but as your eyes follow the tie down, it seems to culminate in a belt buckle worn by the sitting figure. The Christmas wreath has two red bows hanging down, and these look as though they’re draped on the knees of the sitting figure.

Effects like these can be achieved using layers, layer masks, and blending modes like Overlay and Luminosity. Sometimes you may like an effect but find that it’s too extreme or that you only want it to appear in part of an image. You can reduce the opacity of a layer, or add a layer mask and paint on it with white or black paint to “brush in” the effect exactly where you want it.

Before starting work in Photoshop, I spent a long time collecting a “morgue” of Donald Trump and Christmas images, not really knowing what I would end up using. Eventually, viewing the collected images, some ideas began to take shape in my mind. Then I started doing rough drafts in Photoshop — refining the basic composition, then taking things to the next level with outrageous layer effects.

I hope these ideas inspire you to explore your own creativity using Photoshop or similar image-editing software.

Michael Howard
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Defringe Your Cat

Some people declaw or even neuter their cat. If you’re a Photoshopper, you want to be sure and defringe your cat. In the best of possible worlds, I would like to have done a better job removing the green fringe from around the outline of the cat. But at some point you have to consider a work finished. After all, this one isn’t destined for the Sistine Chapel!

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Margaret and Gillian Series

Three recoloured photographs from my archives

Margaret and Gillian 1

Margaret and Gillian 1

Margaret and Gillian 2

Margaret and Gillian 2

Margaret and Gillian 3

Margaret and Gillian 3

I did these quite a few years ago, using Painter 5, Photoshop 5, and Paint Alchemy. It was nice to be reminded of them by an old friend — the husband of Margaret and father of Gillian, who also took the original photos.

Barack Obama Song Now On YouTube

Barack Obama farewell tribute video

Whew! Finally finished work on the video and posted it to YouTube. Makes it easy to learn the song, plus I spiced up the intro with some painterly effects and an Obama speech excerpt:

It’s 720p, so if you click on the embedded video’s title bar (upper left), you can watch it on YouTube and choose 720p full screen.

For more about the inspiration behind the song and its meaning, please see “Gratitude to President Obama.” If you sing this song in a big space like a cathedral, you’ll notice the echo effect when you get to the Grand Canyon part. 😉 This song is not so funky and poppish, but is better suited to a church choir. Try singing it in rounds!

If you care about the technical aspects, media tools used include:

Dynamic Auto Painter
Adobe Photoshop
Finale
Audacity
Wavelab
XMedia Recode
Corel VideoStudio 12
Xvid codec
LAME MP3 codec

The versions of these tools used were fairly ancient, running on an old Pentium 4 single-core computer with Windows XP.

The introduction, where you see a quick montage of painterly images, is based on using Dynamic Auto Painter to create variations. The final image in that sequence is a composite done in Photoshop which combines parts from different versions, plus a snippet of sheet music. The still images were then brought into Video Studio and crossfaded.

I’m a big fan of gestural brushstrokes, so if you open this image in a new tab and view it full screen, you’ll see lots of details that otherwise might pass you by.

Photoshop obsession is an affliction affecting many modern persons. It can be cured through your generous contributions to the Get-A-Life Fund. 🙂

Brushing aside all that technology, the core inspiration for the song was Sri Chinmoy, who wrote thousands upon thousands of songs, many of them honouring the people he knew or met, great or small, from many nations, of different beliefs, but often sharing a longing for world harmony.

Michael Howard

Of Further Interest

Portrait of Sri Chinmoy
Janaka Alan Spence: We Live in Hope

* * *

Put a Bird on It! Part Two

Examining the work of Sri Chinmoy, including his abstract expressionist paintings and bird drawings. Plus, learning what he himself says about art.

The question has arisen: How seriously do mainstream art critics take the art of Sri Chinmoy? The words “mainstream” and “seriously” tend to cloud the issue; but the simple answer is that some critics do take Sri Chinmoy’s art very seriously, especially those interested in Asian art and spiritual art, and those who are curators of peace museums. He would not have had numerous gallery exhibitions if there were not some corners of the art world which deeply appreciate his visionary approach.

In the postmodern period, there is nothing resembling a single centralized authority on art. A successful artist is one who enjoys an audience which values his or her art, and which includes some favourably disposed art critics. Sri Chinmoy certainly achieved these things, as is borne out in the following video:

Deeper and more meaningful questions might be asked, such as:

– What is valuable in Sri Chinmoy’s art?
– How should we understand it?
– What is the connection between spirituality and art?
– How does he himself speak about art?

I will endeavour to answer some of these questions — not that my answers will be in any sense definitive, but they may at least shed some light and lead to other more interesting questions…

Sri Chinmoy is not the product of Western training in art, and is not responding to trends in European art. He’s not answering Picasso or Warhol or Rothko or Rauschenberg, or commenting on the century of death which was the twentieth century, or protesting by going on an art strike. He’s doing something quite different.

More than anything else, Sri Chinmoy’s work represents a magnificent outpouring of joy which bypasses the intellectual mind. Yet, we should not mistake his art for the naïve. He had a fantastic capacity to absorb different influences and to make them his own. Some of his major works can be most easily classified as abstract expressionist.

Sri Chinmoy dwarfed by a stage backdrop developed from an acrylic painting he did on November 19, 1985. Original 30 x 22 cm. Photo by Apaguha Vesely.

Sri Chinmoy dwarfed by a stage backdrop made from an acrylic painting he did on November 19, 1985. Original 30 x 22 cm. Photo by Apaguha Vesely.

To hone in on the details, we can turn to this video (produced by Kedar Misani) of the original painting:

There is clearly a worlds within worlds quality as we move through the different sections; and while most of it is abstract, bird forms do emerge amidst a riot of colour and texture which is yet not chaotic, but reflects a balance between freedom and harmony.

One thing art critics do appreciate is an enduring vision carried out prolifically over a multi-year period. This is one of the ways Sri Chinmoy distinguished himself. What’s often overlooked is that Sri Chinmoy is (in part) a conceptual artist. In addition to his abstracts, he drew millions of birds, and was the original put-a-bird-on-it guy, as I discuss in Part 1, which includes videos of large gallery exhibits.

Sri Chinmoy was a gentle soul, yet in his art he has something to say and is extremely persistent and insistent on saying it. This makes him worth listening to. Just seeing a handful of his works in small format on the Internet hardly does him justice. In Asian art and spiritual art, we often find a convergence between the gallery space and the sacred space. It’s in the gallery space that Sri Chinmoy’s art really comes alive, creating a universal sacred space whose deity is joy. (We all need joy.)

It’s one thing to draw a few birds; it’s quite another to draw literally millions of them, so that they remain (for all intent and purposes) countless. Only when one sees those rare gallery exhibits where there are thousands of his works on display on multiple levels does one begin to get a sense of how vast his vision was, and how deeply he believed in the essential message which underlies his work: Life is beautiful! If it isn’t, put a bird on it! (Yet, even large gallery exhibits can only hold a fraction of his work.)

Most often exhibited are his paintings and drawings on canvas or paper, but he was also fond of drawing on objects such as those he encountered in his travels. While visiting Bali in 2001, he transformed ordinary objects into objets d’art by adorning them with his characteristic bird forms.

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, drawn object

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, drawn object

There is often a sense of playfulness in Sri Chinmoy’s work, and this playfulness is meant to disarm the viewer.

Kagoshima, 1997: Sri Chinmoy draws birds on a background containing multiple iterations of the same cat

Kagoshima, 1997: Sri Chinmoy draws birds on a background containing multiple iterations of the same cat

The latter work may make us smile and remind us of the Dada artists. In a world of mass-produced commodities, Sri Chinmoy adds his signature element — his consciousness — to something that was extremely ordinary, thus transforming it. Mass-produced cats vs. hand-drawn birds!

Sri Chinmoy: another work from Kagoshima, this one reflecting strong Japanese influence

Sri Chinmoy: another work from Kagoshima, this one reflecting strong Japanese influence

Art as Anti-Environment

There are deep parallels between art and spirituality. The secular non-art space we routinely inhabit and traverse tends to numb us and make us unaware of the artistic and spiritual dimensions of life. The secular media space of news, traffic, weather and sitcoms — as well as the physical space dominated by rectangular office blocks and subways filled with trash — these things constitute a pervasive environment which shapes our perceptions while also numbing us. That’s why environmental psychologists are fanatics for creating parks and odd-shaped spaces which liberate our perceptions and give us back our humanity.

It’s no wonder that someone with a new message to communicate may go up on a mountaintop or take followers out into the desert in order to create a liminal space — a place where change becomes possible. Society tolerates all kinds of ideas as long as they don’t lead to real change. But historically, the typical reaction to anything producing real change has been one of hostility.

Ideally, a sacred space such as a church or temple should be a place where change is possible; but this is not always the case. In Jesus’s time, the temple had become ossified and was not the best place to present a blueprint for creating a more compassionate society.

A museum can be a sacred space. Critic and curator Germano Celant wryly observes:

Art is the new religion of today. When you go [to an avant-garde museum], you don’t understand, but you trust. That’s what the religion is about — you have to trust because it’s in the museum!

BBC presenter Michael Wood notes:

Our works of art appear to have become ruins. Only our perception is real, and our senses are bombarded with the images and sounds of media which inform us, but do not transform us. In a society saturated with data, the function of the artist is no longer to depict events, but rather to reawaken our perception.

This reawakening of perception is a shared concern of both artists and spiritual teachers.

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, people got something from this which they weren’t getting from their temple at the time. The temple had become a commercial space due to the activities of the money-changers. There, it was business as usual. In the physical space of the temple, Jesus did not find the openness or suspension of disbelief which would have allowed him to create a sacred space. Therefore, he spoke upon a hillside. Had there been a museum handy, perhaps he would have chosen that!

Like a great music that puts to shame lesser musics, the sacred space is innocent in itself, but reveals by contrast that which is profane or devoid of true meaning. The truths we encounter in the sacred space — whether we call them spiritual truths or artistic truths — may put us in conflict with the conventional and mundane. This is so because the conventional and mundane is not actually a passive or neutral environment, but rather a place where messages are being blared over loudspeakers, only we have grown deaf or numb through constant exposure.

Insipid elevator music is propaganda, smoke-filled rooms are propaganda, political speeches which say nothing are propaganda, commercial advertisements are propaganda. Together these things speak of an existence ruled by production, consumption, procreation, entertainment, technological enhancement, and miracle drugs. It makes no sense, yet there is little time to ponder it. The space for artistic and spiritual enlightenment either does not exist, or else has been banished to some remote location we must consciously seek out. I would say the latter is the case.

This is the subtext of François Truffaut’s vastly underrated film version of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. There, in the mainstream everything has become topsy-turvy: Instead of putting out fires, firemen burn books. The only remaining option for people of refined sensibilities is to seek out an alternative community which still values art, literature, and spiritual insight.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 — ending

There’s a paradox here: On the one hand, we need only look within. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find support for the inner journey while fully ensconced in the noisy hubbub of the mainstream.

In Marshall McLuhan: Theoretical elaborations, Gary Genosko writes that “McLuhan sees art as creating a conflict which results in making things intelligible. He even suggests at one point that environment is propaganda until dialogue begins…”

When the artist does something new and unexpected, this initially creates confusion and conflict; leading to protest and condemnation, but eventually to dialogue. Finally, in the course of trying to understand the artist, we do get an intelligible picture. We gain insights previously lacking because we were stuck in an environment which constantly (but invisibly) reinforced a trite, propagandistic view of reality. But by creating an “anti-environment” (or sacred space), the artist ultimately liberates us. This is similar to the spiritual teacher who challenges our preconceptions and ultimately ushers in a new consciousness.

Genosko writes: “The question becomes whether the hateful contraries are in a work or whether a work forms a hateful contrary to [conventional] reality.” This is similar to questions asked by sociologists about new religious movements. Most movements do not intentionally advocate some contrarian ideology for the express purpose of entering into conflict with society. Rather, like the artist, they offer a fresh perspective which is interpreted with hostility by the mainstream because it’s different, not immediately understood, and viewed as threatening. We can consider the Sermon on the Mount in this context. The ideals Jesus commended were not hateful in themselves — far from it! But they threatened what was then (and to some extent, still is) the established order. The order of the day remains self-interest; most individuals and nations continue to pursue it single-mindedly. Still, there has been some progress.

Henri Rousseau and Sri Chinmoy

Gary Genosko also writes: “Humour and even amateurism become anti-environmental modes for McLuhan in The Medium is the Massage. Humour and amateurism both apparently undercut the ‘official’ and therefore take the present environment, which is invisible, and suddenly make it visible…” We can use this concept to better understand painter Henri Rousseau — and via Rousseau, Sri Chinmoy.

Rousseau was neither a member of the official school, nor a true member of the avant-garde. But he was embraced by the avant-garde because his works had a slightly humorous, amateurish quality, yet were filled with freshness and originality.

Henri Rousseau, his 1897 painting Sleeping Gypsy, and a trope by The Simpsons 100 years later

Henri Rousseau, his 1897 painting Sleeping Gypsy, and a trope by The Simpsons 100 years later

Unlike the core of the avant-garde — who were rebelling against things they had learnt — Rousseau was not schooled in the official style. He was a self-taught painter who followed his own visions and inclinations. His originality does not speak of rebellion, but rather a charming naïveté. He achieves uniqueness not by rejecting something, but by being true to his inner self. As his friend and fellow painter Robert Delaunay said: “He didn’t establish his style by comparison or out of obedience to style. It came from his spirit. His art is old, and also very modern.”

The same can be said of Sri Chinmoy’s art and music. He was not schooled in any Western tradition, and is not rebelling against anything. Rather, by being uniquely himself he manages to create an experience of extraordinary power for his audience — always depending upon their receptivity and openness. (I will enlarge on this shamanic aspect in Part Three.)

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, there’s a send-up of the Sermon on the Mount in which a bunch of quarrelsome stragglers at the fringes of the audience fail to get much beyond “Blessed are the cheesemakers!” Yet, one cannot judge the underlying value from such stragglers. To understand what an artist or spiritual teacher is saying sometimes requires preparation, study, and (of course) interest and eagerness. Sri Chinmoy writes, “A life with no imagination is a life of imprisonment. With the wings of imagination, we must try to fly into the Beyond.”

One aspect of the contemporary avant-garde is directness of expression, and a willingness to explore new techniques to achieve it. If one views videos of Sri Chinmoy improvising on piano or pipe organ, one sees that his technique is quite avant-garde, including liberal use of fists and elbows. When one opens one’s ears and one’s heart to his music, one discovers unparalleled directness of expression. The great leap for the listener is to catch a glimpse of what Sri Chinmoy is trying to express. Then one can never doubt his genius.

It is the same with his painting. By being uniquely himself and expressing a rare vision with directness, he manages to go beyond easy categories. Frances Morris — curator at the Tate Modern — says of Rousseau:

He can never be confined to any of the conventions or avant-garde structures that surround him. So, although he aspired to be an academic painter, he wasn’t an academic painter; although he was in some ways appropriated by the avant-garde, he was never really an avant-garde painter; nor can he be confined by terms like primitive, or naïve, or a Sunday painter. And therefore, he’s never been put to bed. And in a way, each generation, I think, can and has rediscovered Rousseau for themselves.

Like this, Sri Chinmoy has the potential to be discovered by successive generations. One of his aphorisms is “Simplicity is an advanced course” (shades of Picasso). He delighted in drawing his signature bird forms on ceramic plates, clocks, children’s toys, and seashells:

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, seashells

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, seashells

He didn’t do this to be froward or puckish, but because it brought him (and others) innocent joy. His art encourages and fosters the same type of consciousness which is also open to receiving profound spiritual teachings — not profound in the sense of “difficult to understand” (like Schopenhauer), but profound in the sense that they reflect an enlightened awareness. Paul Jenkins, interviewed about Sri Chinmoy’s art in 1975, said:

Was Monet a beginner? Was Picasso a beginner when he was about to die? The artist is always rediscovering the child. I don’t mean that he is childish, I mean he finds the child aspect. And we must remember also that Freud said that to be creative is to be prodigious. And that’s one thing that is misunderstood in the art world. Everybody feels that the fewer things you do the better you are. Not from Freud’s standpoint. To be creative means to be prodigious.

Peace Run 2016: Two Missouri schoolchildren receive a poster of a Sri Chinmoy painting for World-Harmony on behalf of their entire school. https://www.peacerun.org/us/news/2016/0516/1639/

Peace Run 2016: Two Missouri schoolchildren receive a poster of a Sri Chinmoy painting for World-Harmony on behalf of their entire school. https://www.peacerun.org/us/news/2016/0516/1639/

Sri Chinmoy’s art reflects “beginner’s mind” — a much sought-after quality which is difficult for most of us to achieve because it entails unlearning so much of what we had learned previously. When we contemplate his art we are shaping our consciousness to comprehend the sublime truths which he also expressed in poetry:

Revelation

No more my heart shall sob or grieve.
My days and nights dissolve in God’s own Light.
Above the toil of life, my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.

I have known the One and His secret Play,
And passed beyond the sea of Ignorance-Dream.
In tune with Him, I sport and sing;
I own the golden Eye of the Supreme.

Drunk deep of Immortality,
I am the root and boughs of a teeming vast.
My Form I have known and realised.
The Supreme and I are one; all we outlast.

— Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute

A very happy 85th birthday to Sri Chinmoy, whose legacy continues on after his physical death.

sri-chinmoy-animated-gif2


Sidebar 1: Sayings of Sri Chinmoy and other artists

Sri Chinmoy sometimes preferred giving concerts, art exhibitions, or live demonstrations of painting to giving talks on spiritual philosophy; and I suspect this is related to the ability of art and music to bypass our ordinary, prosaic thinking and create a sacred space which gives rise to poetical perceptions.

Renaissance artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo believed that to create a Divine work of art, they first had to transform their human minds into the Divine Mind. Then the Divine Mind would shape the clay, chip away at the stone, or place the ideal colours on the canvas to create a Divine work of art. Sri Chinmoy offers a similar theory of poetry:

“In order to write a poem, the poet must transport himself to the sphere of the Muse and lose himself there. He has to be like a flame that burns away everything but itself.”

Henri Matisse said:

“I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”

Sri Chinmoy said:

“If my paintings are beautiful, then it is because I am trying to keep my heart always beautiful. My paintings are the outer expression of my heart’s prayer-beauty.”

Sri Chinmoy, July 2006, Kamakura, Japan. Shortly before his 75th birthday, 75 of his acrylics on paper were exhibited at the Kōtoku-in Buddhist Temple. See http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2006/1FB7.en

Sri Chinmoy, July 2006, Kamakura, Japan. Shortly before his 75th birthday, 75 of his acrylics on paper were exhibited at the Kōtoku-in Buddhist Temple. See http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2006/1FB7.en

He grew up in an ashram setting where music-making was a natural activity in which everyone could participate according to his skill. The subtext of his free concerts is let us discover together. His heart is in the audience, for the audience; and the audience gets the most joy from opening their hearts to his many modes of musical expression — discovering along with him. He says similarly of art:

“Most of the time when I paint I get a kind of inner joy and a kind of inner discovery. When I paint, I discover something which I did not know before.”

Claude Monet says:

“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things.”

Henry Ward Beecher says:

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

Albert Einstein says:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Sri Chinmoy says:

“God the Musician is divinely and eternally mysterious. Man the musician is humanly and temporarily marvellous.”

The reader may observe that I speak of Sri Chinmoy’s music, art and poetry somewhat interchangeably. I do not do so out of carelessness, but because they are intimately connected. When one enters into Sri Chinmoy’s sacred space, one finds bird forms, bird references, and bird imagery everywhere. He sometimes opened concerts by playing the dove ocarina — a flutelike instrument in the shape of a dove. His was blue ceramic.

There’s a distinction between the subject/object distance sometimes found in European art music, and the communal experience of music growing out of the Vaishnava tradition and the Indian music schools. One way of understanding the more communal view comes via the concept of “Trilok,” explained here by Brooklyn-based arts organization Trilok Fusion:

Trilok in Sanskrit means three worlds. In Indian mythology the three worlds are heaven, earth, and the world beneath the ocean. As artists we consider the three worlds to be the world of the performer, the audience, and that abstract space where the performer and the audience meet to achieve a sense of harmony.

Here again, the concept of the sacred space — which is not a static space, but an active environment where learning and growing takes place.

One imagines that when Plato taught the “Metaphor of the Cave” to students, he did not ask them to copy it by rote, but rather opened up a sacred space in which their minds might grasp the possibility of life beyond the cave.

Peace Park, Hiroshima is a sacred space. It’s also a counter-situation made by artists. Marshall McLuhan quotes early twentieth century metaphysician and curator A. K. Coomaraswamy: “We are proud of our museums where we display a way of living that we have made impossible.”

As the world is ravaged by war, peace becomes something we find in the museum. In the age of the electric, outside and inside disappear. The global community of artists and seekers dedicated to peace becomes a museum without walls. We bring Peace Park home with us, cleverly hidden somehwere near our aorta, unattested to by customs declarations. We recreate it where we are.

Someone once inquired of a Far Eastern Zen master, who had a great serenity and peace about him no matter what pressures he faced, “How do you maintain that serenity and peace?” He replied, “I never leave my place of meditation.” He meditated early in the morning and for the rest of the day, he carried the peace of those moments with him in his mind and heart.

— Stephen R. Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

sri-chinmoy-blue-bird-august-2003


Sidebar 2: Paul Jenkins and Sri Chinmoy

Paul Jenkins and Sri Chinmoy, 1975

There are many ways of understanding Sri Chinmoy’s art, not least of which is to approach it directly, or to encounter it in its natural habitat — that is to say, the sacred space. But for those who prefer a more traditional art history approach, once can begin to understand some facets of Sri Chinmoy’s art via Paul Jenkins.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently quoted a Mexican proverb which says: “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” Those who walked with Sri Chinmoy were often fellow poets, musicians, and artists who shared an interest in meditation and Eastern philosophy.

One of these was Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), the American abstract expressionist painter, who studied with Sri Chinmoy in the 1970s, and appears in two short films about Sri Chinmoy from the period. In one, he discusses Sri Chinmoy’s painting; in the other, he talks more about Sri Chinmoy and meditation, as well as demonstrating his own style of painting at the time, which was a type of action painting (or pouring) guided by meditation.

In 1973, Jenkins created Sri Chinmoy, a silkscreen which uses a photo of the guru as its core element, to which Jenkins adds patches of super-saturated colour:

Sri Chinmoy, by Paul Jenkins (1973)

Sri Chinmoy, by Paul Jenkins (1973)

One could draw arrows (albeit disjointed arrows) from Jackson Pollock, to Paul Jenkins, to Sri Chinmoy. Yet, Pollock and Chinmoy represent polar opposites whose approach to abstract expressionism differs greatly in both philosophy and practice.

Pollock was an innovator, but also a volatile personality who struggled with alcoholism and tragically died in a car accident in 1956 at age 44. There’s a sense in which he broke painting wide open in the late 1940s and early 50s, but his style of “action painting” could be difficult to control, and by its nature did not offer an obvious route to further development. In some ways Pollock’s style was a violent reaction to conformism in the era of the gray flannel suit.

Paul Jenkins befriended Pollock and learned from him; but Jenkins was of different temperament. He gradually came to explore the connection between meditation, movement, and painting. He relished freedom and the chance meeting of paints on canvas; but unlike Pollock, Jenkins preferred to paint in smooth, flowing motions, acting from a calm, meditative center and guiding the flow of poured paint with his cherished ivory knife.

Sri Chinmoy was not explicitly an action painter, since he did not typically drip, pour or splatter paint. Yet, he often worked with tremendous speed, completing even large works in one concentrated painting session with not a single misstep or erasure. The significance of this approach is given in a quote from Helen Frankenthaler:

A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it — well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that — there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.

As a meditation master, Sri Chinmoy is king of the beautiful wrist motion synchronized to head and heart. This shines through in both his abstracts and his more calligraphic bird drawings. The latter were also done with great rapidity, so that what we see especially toward the end of his life are great clouds of birds or bird gestures, drawn with such fluidity and rapidity of motion that they seem ready to fly off the canvas.

Soul-Bird drawing by Sri Chinmoy, January 1, 2006 No. 5, courtesy http://daily.srichinmoyart.com/2016/03/06/bird-drawing-by-sri-chinmoy-1-1-2006-5/

Soul-Bird drawing by Sri Chinmoy, January 1, 2006 No. 5, courtesy http://daily.srichinmoyart.com/2016/03/06/bird-drawing-by-sri-chinmoy-1-1-2006-5/

Returning to the earlier referenced 1985 acrylic, we can say that on a local level Sri Chinmoy uses techniques similar to those of action painters to achieve fortuitous collisions of colour and texture, and to create a sense of driving energy and synthesis. Yet, looking at the painting as a whole, it’s not a collision or explosion, but rather reflects a calm guiding hand.

In Sri Chinmoy’s abstract expressionism we find a tremendous outpouring of emotion, but never any violence. He is not obsessed with filling the canvas to maximum density through collision, but with orchestrating local areas of chaos into a symphonic whole. There is movement but also stillness; density but also space. Comparing details of his 1985 acrylic with Paul Jenkins’s Untitled I (1983), we can see similarities in the broad gestural brushstrokes and areas of textured paint.

Two details from a Sri Chinmoy acrylic, November 19, 1985

Two details from a Sri Chinmoy acrylic, November 19, 1985

Untitled I (1983) by Paul Jenkins

Untitled I (1983), by Paul Jenkins

Western civilization has tended to progress through violent trends and counter-trends. The artist is often expected to be a rebel who explicitly sets himself in opposition to society and flouts even its most basic conventions and requirements.

Yet, in much of Asia art is understood to be a natural part of life, as is spirituality. The spiritual artist need not act out a stereotypical role as rebel. His goal is not to destroy society, but to gradually transform and enlighten it.

In recent centuries, one division in Western thought has been that between the intellectual and the spiritual. The art world is not unaffected by this division. Because Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual artist who values spontaneous expression of the heart, his work may seem less accessible to those critics for whom art is primarily an intellectual pursuit (and a secular one at that). This may contribute to the view that Sri Chinmoy is a non-mainstream artist.

But Sri Chinmoy did what artists do: He continued to devote a huge portion of his time to painting over a period of decades, produced an astounding number of works which reflect his unique vision, and gathered a community around him which is eager to see his work in galleries and contemplate its meaning. Sri Chinmoy also taught: not painting, but meditation and philosophy of art. Here Paul Jenkins explains what he takes from Sri Chinmoy:

(If the embedded video doesn’t play, view on DailyMotion here.)

The art world has its trends, such as secularism. None of the articles I’ve read about Paul Jenkins mention his studies with Sri Chinmoy or the 1973 silkscreen. But these things clearly exist, and have their own life and meaning apart from what anyone says (or fails to say) about them. The same is true of Sri Chinmoy. As a spiritual artist, he may sometimes be marginalized by segments of the secular art world, but this in no way detracts from the value of his work, of which Edith Montlack said:

As an artist, I do admire very deeply his sense of colour, the rhythm in his strokes, his lovely compositions, the sunny light that emanates from his canvases. I feel that his art has a tremendous way of inspiring and uplifting the viewer. So from that point of view I do feel that his art is extremely important in this twentieth century. And I think it will leave a very great mark in the world of art for the future.

As trends shift over the centuries, I believe Sri Chinmoy’s work will be rediscovered at a time when society has found a more beneficial balance between the secular and the spiritual. Future generations who are more keenly aware of the significance of spiritual art (and the genius of simplicity) will treasure that which some of Sri Chinmoy’s contemporaries have passed over far too quickly.

In the meantime, those who appreciate spiritual art today will continue to bask in Sri Chinmoy’s glorious achievements.

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

Michael Howard


Special thanks to Kedar Misani, without whose videos and photos of Sri Chinmoy’s artwork this article would not have been possible. Visit Kedar’s YouTube page here.

Profuse thanks also to Priyadarshan Bontempi, chief curator of SriChinmoyLibrary.com, which houses an extraordinary collection of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, as well as a growing number of book covers. Visit Sri Chinmoy Library and you’ll always discover something new!

* * *

Sarama – The Hound of Intuition

Tribute to Sarama Minoli

Sarama was one of Sri Chinmoy’s earliest disciples. She joined Sri Chinmoy Centre (then called AUM Centre) in 1967, and chronicled the early years of Sri Chinmoy’s mission with her peerless photographic skills. Here’s one of her photos which was later used for the book Brother Jesus, published in 1975:

sr-chinmoy-meditation-16-by-sarama-3cSarama describes coming to Sri Chinmoy’s path in her own words this way:

Considering that I entered this world as a fourth generation atheist, who would have predicted a future in the spiritual life for me? I certainly wasn’t given any training in spirituality as a child. But the concept of infinity always fascinated me as it eluded me. I spent summers at my grandmother’s house in the New Jersey countryside, where I slept on a porch that was all windows on three sides. I would lie there looking up at the night sky, where the Milky Way and millions of stars were visible (you could see all of that clearly when I was a kid!), and I would imagine more space behind the stars and the Milky Way, and more space behind that space, and more space behind that space, and more space – and more space – until, my head spinning, I fell asleep.

As a young adult, I came across the writings of Edgar Casey, Yogi Ramacharaka, and that wonderful classic, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. My fascination with yoga, vegetarianism and spirituality was growing. After a two-week vacation at a yoga camp, my fate was sealed. On my return home, Yoga of Westchester, my yoga studio, was born.

One day during the following summer, I had a visit from an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a number of years: a violinist named Sol Montlack. We were having a chat when I recalled that he had been with a spiritual group. Nearly a year of involvement with yoga had intensified my new interest in spirituality. I asked him about the group, and his answer was that he was no longer with that group or any of the many others he had tried.

He said, “I have found a Guru who is everything I have been looking for.” I asked the Guru’s name, and Sol said, “Chinmoy.” For clarity, he pronounced it as if it were two words. “Chin Moy?” I said. “That sounds Chinese,” while the thought ran through my mind quickly that I would meet his Guru and that he would be my Guru as well.

Read more of Sarama’s story on the Sri Chinmoy Centre site here.

Sarama went on to become one of Sri Chinmoy’s closest disciples — with him for forty years during his lifetime, and continuing her journey with Sri Chinmoy Centre until 2013, when she finally departed this world. July 2016 marks the three-year anniversary of her passing.

She was known for her deep spirituality and her adamantine belief in the life of the soul. In the book His Compassion Is Everything To Us, Sri Chinmoy recounts one particularly striking incident concerning Sarama:

This time I meditated only on compassion, bringing down compassion. Here quite a few disciples — about twenty — have received abundant compassion. Somebody has received the most, although she is not here physically, and that is Sarama.

At one point I was looking just at the front of the room, where the disciples are not supposed to sit, and Sarama’s soul was there. I said to Sarama, “What are you doing? Why are you sitting in the ‘forbidden area’?” In a joking manner I said it.

She said, “I am not the body; I am the soul.”

I said to her, “Where is the difference, good girl, between the body and the soul? For me there is no difference between the body and the soul, the substance and the essence.”

Sometimes when I see the body, inside the body I immediately see the soul’s entire divinity; and sometimes when I see the soul, I see inside the soul the qualities and capacities of the body. There is no difference between the body and the soul.

This was Sarama’s message: “I have come here to swim in the heart-sea of your compassion.”

I said, “Swim as long as you want to; swim to your heart’s content. I will let you swim inside the heart-sea of my compassion.”

This was Sarama’s soul.

Nineteen other disciples have received compassion in profuse measure, but her soul has definitely received more than anybody else. When we meditate, the soul of somebody who is not physically present can come and receive. It happens; it has happened many, many times. I am very grateful and very proud of Sarama’s achievement.

Read more about this incident on Sri Chinmoy Library here.

To worldly people, the life of the soul is sheer imagination if not hallucination. For them, life is measured only in earthly years and the physical body. Then it is “out of sight, out of mind.” But Sarama was known for her intuition, which came from a higher plane. Intuition is deeply connected with spiritual intelligence, but that is the subject for another article!

Still, to those who have cultivated spiritual intelligence it’s not surprising that the essence of all a person was and is continues after death. If the person was a spiritual soul, then they look down from Heaven to see what their loved ones are doing, and try to inspire them to lead a higher life. We may no longer see them with our human eyes, but we may experience them powerfully in dreams, where they come to us to give us the inner message on how we can make progress.

Trivia

A little-known fact you won’t find elsewhere on the Internet is that for a time Sarama ran a thrift shop called I Need This Store. (This was in addition to her yoga studio.)

* * *

Alice in the Snow I

A Christmas in July video gift to my readers

There’s beauty all around us, but we sometimes need to be in the right place at the right time to see it!

Then, as aspiring artists, we try and find a way to share what we’ve seen so that the edited view communicates strongly.

It took me a surprisingly long time to get this short video of the Alice in Wonderland Statue in a snowstorm just the way I wanted. I hope you find as I do that it communicates peace, beauty, and an unseen world that seems to have its own life when no one’s looking.

The best haiku writers are said to gently eavesdrop on their subjects, so that the impression you’re left with is of the thing itself. When filming, I longed to merge with the winter scene so that there was no me anymore, and what was left was simply nature unfolding of itself, for itself.

An ambitious (and pretentious) longing — one that can only be hinted at in this short video. I actually have lots of footage of sculptures in the snow, so much so that the thought of editing it all is daunting. I once did a roughish edit (to VHS tape) that expressed some of what I would like. I remember a particular day when I spent from morning till evening filming in the snow, and Nature made such a strong impression on me that later that evening I felt as though the snow were still falling in my mind.

Time seems to expand in a really good snowstorm, and it’s wonderful to surrender to that sense of monumentality — the feeling that it has always been snowing and will always be snowing; that the amount of snow which could fall is infinite; that it might easily bury the Empire State Building or even all of civilization, leaving only whiteness.

melting snow
an old woman in black
feeds red-tailed squirrels

* * *

Greenspan Bobblehead Shocks Nervous Britons – UPDATE

Why’d the Beeb do it?

alan-greenspan-BBCFriday was a day of well-rounded insanity for the United Kingdom, with reverberations felt ’round the Western world and some parts East. The pent-up demand for faux freedom led to renewed cries of Texit! (Texas seceding from the United States) and Sexit! (Slovenia seceding from the European Union). Probably when the dust settles, it will be found that the appetite for such changes is less real than imagined. But the present period is one for calming of waters and not further exciting residents of Blighty. So it was exceeding strange when a BBC interview with former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan which should have had a palliative effect instead took on an air of the shocking and surreal.

The interview had been scheduled in advance, but Mr. Greeenspan came down with a head cold. Yet, it is well known that the mere manner in which he snaps his briefcase can soothe troubled markets, and when the Nagus himself appears, the effect is all but narcotic.

Rather than cancel the interview or conduct it purely by telephone, the Beeb elected to put up a bobblehead of Mr. Greenspan, just as one might prop up a stuffed animal to comfort a young child waking from a nightmare.

The bobblehead is, of course, a uniquely American institution, born of fan giveaways at baseball stadiums, but occasionally extended to non-sport VIPs like Pope Francis. There are relatively few bobbleheads of economists, and after careful consideration I conclude that this is for good not ill. Economists are best left to work behind the scenes rather than gracing car dashboards and curio shops. Just one look at the Alan Greenspan bobblehead should persuade doubting readers of the verity of my thesis:

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

Suffice it to say, the calming effect yearned for was not in evidence among BBC viewers, who flooded the switchboard with complaints that much as they love their Doctor Who, now was not the time to be showcasing the latest monster dreamt up by children writing in to Blue Peter — a possible successor to the Abzorbaloff.

When queried about the cock-up, the characteristically brusque Jeremy Paxman — called out of retirement to conduct the interview — replied, “No comment.” To restore public order, the Beeb enlisted Basil Brush to help explain what Brexit would mean to the average Briton:

basil-brush-youre-screwed-animEnhanced security was put in place at retirement homes over concerns that young people might blame seniors for sabotaging their future plans for free travel and a united Europe:

old-people-walking-animFears of atonal music and riots in the streets prompted the Beeb to temporarily revert to a schedule of old-time programming with more reassuring presenters offering lessons in post-Brexit economics:

(I wonder: Is Oswald The Ostrich an appropriate meme for those voting “Leave”?)

Once calm was restored, plans for a Nouriel Roubini bobblehead were quickly scrapped — as was the Greenspan bobblehead. There are rumours of a Richard Dawkins bobblehead, but as yet no one believes in its existence.

The Home Secretary is said to be working closely with the BBC’s head boffin to carve out a new policy on bobbleheads — one that doesn’t ban their use outright, but does flash a brief disclaimer so that epileptics and those easily succumbing to fits of hysterical laughter are properly forewarned.

Jeremy Paxman on Alan Greenspan

“Tomorrow’s Greenspan: more of the same! I don’t know why they make such a fuss about it.”

extra-credit-projectThough public viewing of Alan Greenspan bobbleheads may cause mass insanity, individual viewing in the home may have a beneficial effect, not unlike a mild emetic. You can spend a pleasant rainy afternoon assembling your own Alan Greenspan craft project out of pipe cleaners, Silly Putty, head cheese, and India ink. Here’s how:

First, make a flower out of different coloured pipe cleaners. Next, cut and trim the head cheese to fit inside the flower. Then shape a slab of Silly Putty to form a smaller concentric circle inside the head cheese. Finally, use India ink to draw Alan Greenspan’s head on the Silly Putty. (Be careful not to spill the ink!)

When you’re done, you’ll have a valuable curio which you can treasure in years to come. It also makes a great gift for an economist, parole officer, or that special someone in your life.

blue-peter-badgealan-greenspan-craft-project-by-michael-howard

* * *

Put a Bird on It!

Artist and spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy drew countless birds — not just on paper or canvas, but on clocks, seashells, glass, fabric, and children’s toys.

Countless are the birds of the air, and countless are the fish in the sea. We call something countless because — even though it has a finite number — it defies our human capacity to quantify. We could start a project to count all the birds in the air, but it would take generations and by that time there would be new birds in the air not counted previously. There would be innumerable technical challenges, and who would fund such a study?

Of those things which are countless, the most countless of all is infinity. When I was growing up, math teachers liked to recommend George Gamow’s book One, Two, Three…Infinity as a way of grappling with deep concepts. It was entertaining and profound at the same time, explaining how there could be differently sized infinities. But even Gamow (half-jokingly) admitted that when you expand your thinking beyond a certain point, you’re no longer dealing with Math or Science but Divinity:

There was a young fellow from Trinity,
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits, Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

— George Gamow

The Upanishads say:

Infinity is that.
Infinity is this.
From Infinity, Infinity has come into existence.
From Infinity, when Infinity is taken away, Infinity remains.

After reciting this passage in a 1971 Yale lecture, Sri Chinmoy continued:

Creation is the supreme sacrifice of the Brahman. Creation is by no means a mechanical construction. Creation is a spiritual act, supremely revealing, manifesting, and fulfilling the divine splendour of the Brahman. The divine Architect is beyond creation, and at the same time manifests Himself in and through creation.

— Sri Chinmoy, The Upanishads: the Crown of India’s Soul, Agni Press, 1974

On earth, we are limited by the finite. We cannot create anything which is literally infinite. But by knowing the infinite, we can speak of the infinite in our creations. We can point to the infinite, approximate the infinite, give a taste of the infinite even within the finite.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony runs about 26 minutes in human time. But within that time, worlds within worlds open up for the listener, and the experience of infinity becomes immanent, palpable.

Gustav Holst, in the closing strains of his orchestral suite The Planets, was likewise able to convey a sense of countless years in the life of the planet Neptune.

In his poems, Sri Chinmoy often speaks of infinity, and of endless days with “no dole, no sombre pang, no death in my sight.” He writes:

At last I know my age.
My age is Infinity’s page.1

and

Above the toil of life my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.2

He also writes:

Birds have a very special significance; they embody freedom. We see a bird flying in the sky, and it reminds us of our own inner freedom. Inside each of us there is an inner existence we call the soul. The soul, like a bird, flies in the sky of Infinity. The birds we see flying in the sky remind us of our own soul-bird flying in the sky of Infinity. While looking at the birds, feel that you yourself are a bird; you are your soul-bird flying in the sky of infinite Light, infinite Peace and infinite Bliss.3

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

This connection between birds, flight, and infinity is a pervasive feature of Sri Chinmoy’s artistic oeuvre. It’s also present in his music — particularly his piano and organ improvisations which are filled with a maelstrom of notes that would be nearly impossible to transcribe, and which call forth a sonic impression of infinity.

Yet, we may fail to notice infinity in his bird paintings and drawings due to the inherent limitations of the formats in which they are presented. On the Internet, we may see a few of his works, or perhaps a short video showcasing more still. And while such presentations may communicate both spiritual and decorative elements, they stop short of communicating the conceptual nature of his art.

It’s one thing to draw a few birds; it’s quite another to draw literally millions of them, so that they remain (for all intent and purposes) countless. Only when one sees those rare gallery exhibits where there are thousands of his soul-birds on display on multiple levels does one begin to get a sense of how vast his vision was, and how deeply he believed in the essential message which underlies all such paintings and drawings: Life is beautiful! If it isn’t, put a bird on it!

 

 

Sri Chinmoy traveled widely and often used native materials in his art. His Oslo exhibit displays a riot of iridescent colour, while the one in Kagoshima reflects a more sparse, calligraphic style, well-suited to zen meditation:

 

In Bali, he amassed an amazing collection of objects on which to draw, including a cheap knockoff Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock:

Sri Chinmoy draws on Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Sri Chinmoy draws on a Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Here are a few more videos which hint at the countlessness, vastness, and infinitude of Sri Chinmoy’s art:

 

 

It’s clear from these videos that though Sri Chinmoy created countless paintings and drawings, he did not do so mechanically but from a state of rapt creative attention, investing himself fully in each brushstroke.

sri-chinmoy-animated-brushstrokes

Collector Robert Scull (1916-1986), interviewed in 1975 at the Jharna-Kala Gallery on Mercer Street, said: “It’s an incredible output, and I think that that amount of paintings done in two months must be coming from a deep autobiographical well of images and feelings.”

sri-chinmoy-jharna-kala-painting-1_v2Artist Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), interviewed on the same occasion, said: “The abundance! Yes, there are many watercolors, but what’s here is an abundance of color, abundance of images, abundance of things that come through your mind when you meditate. And I don’t look at them with a tough eye, say like an artist art critic. I look at them for what they are: for his joy.”

sri-chinmoy-blue-crayon_v2

In presenting Sri Chinmoy with an award from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in June 1976, the late Brian F. Gormley described his work as “art cleansed of all the ambitions and desires that we too often see in the art world.”

sri-chinmoy-soul-birds-20-1-2006-2Sri Chinmoy died in October 2007, and a few years later the comedy series Portlandia created a stir with its “Put a Bird on It!” sketch, gently satirizing the artistic spirit informing some good Portlanders. That concept re-echoed through the blogosphere in March 2016 when a Portland rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was unexpectedly visited by a “sparrow to believe in”:

 

But Sri Chinmoy was the original put-a-bird-on-it guy:

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-1He really did it and meant it and lived it, and one of his talks is rumoured to have received a similar (benign) avian visitation.

During a peace ceremony in Malta in 1991, he released doves into the air as a symbol of the commitment to world peace made by the leaders assembled on that day:

In his concerts, he performed on an ever-changing variety of instruments, including the dove ocarina. Sumangali Morhall describes a concert she attended in September 2005:

The maestro arrives, and the hush finds new depths. The opening meditation is a silent overture, creating most seemly and serene environs for new sounds to take flight.

The blue ceramic dove is first as always, like a sweet ethereal invitation to another realm, then the esraj with its seamless husky call; one note yearning for the next. A western flute somehow echoes in a bass octave, doubling its mellow melting warmth, yet still mirroring the surrounding silence. A dance of strings: the curled smiling sunny tones of the sitar follow those of smaller things responding brightly to Sri Chinmoy’s touch.

Delight is not just in the sounds themselves, but also in the physical beauty of each instrument, and in the grace with which they are handled to draw forth their truest, sweetest, and most powerful voices. Sri Chinmoy’s image on the screen portrays the depth of meditation holding the source of every note. How haunting the harmonium; the notes hanging as backdrops in the air, and then Sri Chinmoy sings… I feel only heart then; one vast affirmative in that striking yet mellifluous flow of sound and expression.

— Sumangali Morhall, “Sri Chinmoy’s World Harmony Concert, Hamburg”

Although it’s possible to count the numerous concerts Sri Chinmoy gave over a lifetime of service, these concerts were made up of countless spiritual moments in the lives of seekers — experiences which are recorded on the tablet of their hearts. As striking as were Sri Chinmoy’s outer achievements, they are nothing compared to his inner achievements, which can never be quantified.

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

When we think of infinity, we tend to be overwhelmed and not to think of beauty in the same breath. But in Sri Chinmoy’s song “O Beauty-Infinity” (here performed by Blue Flower), these two qualities go together:

Sri Chinmoy taught that God is infinite; but perhaps more important to the many persons of artistic temperament who gathered around him, he taught that God is “beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful. Beauty unparalleled in the garden of Eden.”4

In the inner world, beauty and infinity make two most charming companions.

Michael Howard


Special thanks to Kedar Misani of Switzerland, who has posted many excellent photos and videos of Sri Chinmoy online. Visit his YouTube page here.

References:

1Sri Chinmoy, “My Name, My Age, My Home” from My Flute, Aum Classics, 1998 (1972)
2Sri Chinmoy, “Revelation” from My Flute, as above
3Sri Chinmoy, from Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 36, Agni Press, 2004
4Sri Chinmoy, “O My Lord of Beauty” from My Flute, as above

Other items you may enjoy:

“A Magnificent Obsession” by Dr. Vidagdha Bennett
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/magnificent-obsession

“The Strange Birds of Ottawa” by Chidananda Burke
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/birds-of-ottawa

“Spiritual leader draws seven million Peace Birds” by Julie Gunther
(updated link to follow)

“United Nations Displays Sri Chinmoy’s Paintings” – Newsweek
http://www.newsweek.com/united-nations-displays-sri-chinmoys-paintings-88321

1975 Documentary on Sri Chinmoy’s Painting and Philosophy of Art
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KqmG8eOraw&rel=0

“Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music” (group discussion)
http://www.srichinmoyinspiration.com/forums/10652

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-2

* * *

Sock Puppet Theatre – A Tribute to Samuel Bradshaw

Combining the Doctor Who and anti-cult movement themes

Samuel Bradshaw is an IT manager famous for abusing the Internet (and his former friends and colleagues) by using multiple sock puppets to post hate material. Bradshaw was associated with the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association), which tries to maintain a respectable public face, but often links to extreme hate material and uses people like Bradshaw to post it. According to Bradshaw, he met with attorney Herbert Rosedale, then president of AFF/ICSA, on a number of occasions to discuss how to avoid being sued for libel. The strategy they apparently worked out was for Bradshaw to keep changing sock puppets on a regular basis, going from “Steve Stevens” to “SEEKER” to “iamschubert” et al.

But though Bradshaw changed sock puppets, he was less conscientious about changing IP addresses. People eventually caught onto his scams when they noticed that various postings alleging crimes against humanity by spiritual groups all came from the same IP address at Oliver Wyman, where Bradshaw was working at the time. Rumor has it that in some lexicons of Net jargon, the icon for NSFW is a headshot of Bradshaw. 😉

Samuel Bradshaw (center) here shown with two other ICSA deprogrammees

Samuel Bradshaw (center) here pictured with two other ICSA deprogrammees

Though Bradshaw has no training in psychology or counseling, he began giving anti-cult advice on the Internet. He would tell people to stop meditating because meditation reinforces destructive mind control. (Everyone who believes this, raise your hand!) He also began promoting exit counseling services, offering to get people discounts. This is consistent with a familiar type of fear marketing used by anti-cultists consisting of the “one-two punch”: a sermon on the evils of cultism followed by a sales pitch for some sort of anti-cult product or service alleged to cure afflicted individuals. Maybe a cream to smear on your temples so you can stop chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

While Bradshaw’s antics may seem funny in retrospect, they call attention to the serious problem of hate on the Net, which I’ve addressed seriously elsewhere. Those familiar with AFF/ICSA would know that it consists primarily of psychologists and lawyers who take the fringe view that spiritual groups pose a danger to scientific rationalism and secular materialism. Few spiritual seekers or scholars of religion would agree. The religious tolerance point of view is based on everyone just getting along.

AFF/ICSA opposes spiritual groups not only by circulating anti-cult propaganda (sometimes using third-party technique), but also by persuading former spiritual seekers to view themselves as “cult victims,” to purchase anti-cult “therapy” sessions, and (once they’ve been told during faux therapy that spiritual practice is abusive) to then sue their former spiritual group.

A bit of a racket IMHO. For example, when Samuel Bradshaw was trying to stir up enthusiasm among apostates for filing a lawsuit, he became dissatisfied with the lackluster quality of atrocity stories or “testimonials” they were submitting. So he gave them a link where they could read stories about a different guru (not the one they followed) which they could then use as models for stories alleging abuse.

I view this as tantamount to subornation of perjury by Bradshaw. It’s also typical of the idiotic notions floated by anti-cultists: All Eastern gurus are alike (they claim), so stories about them are completely fungible. If you’re tasked by an exit counselor with going on the Internet and posting something negative about your former spiritual group (as part of faux therapy), but don’t know what to write, just borrow someone else’s story. To paraphrase the famous New Yorker cartoon: On the Internet, no one knows you’re a plagiarist (or a sock puppet). Indeed, though this may be a slight exaggeration, I’ve often thought that more than half the messages on a particular anti-cult message board were written by Samuel Bradshaw and Anne Carlton under their various sock puppets. (Carlton’s specialty is starting a sexual rumor under one alias, then pretending to “confirm” it under a different alias.)

What does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, a comedy act making rare appearances on Doctor Who DVDs is the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, which (like Craig Ferguson) is an oddity that might possibly endear itself to American audiences. (I can just picture them performing during halftime at the Super Bowl, though they might have to wear shorter kilts.) This is them riffing on the fan obsession with cataloguing old Doctor Who episodes:

The above was an Easter egg for “The Dominators,” and if you ask me the serial code, I think it was “D.” 😉 Their routine may owe a little something to Abbott & Costello (“Who’s On First”) and to the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch.

So a hearty hats off to the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, the American Family Foundation, and the ever-protean Samuel Bradshaw. If someone knocks on your door and offers to attach electrodes to your arm to determine whether you are or are not a cultist, it might just be Bradshaw — whether or not he’s wearing any socks.

*  *  *

About Dailymotion videos: If you have trouble playing a Dailymotion video embedded in a WordPress post, try clicking on the Dailymotion logo and viewing the video on the Dailymotion site. Here’s a direct link to the above video:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2xz340_044-the-dominators-extra-easter-egg_creation

I usually prefer Firefox, but if you’re still having trouble viewing a Dailymotion video (even on the Dailymotion site), try using a recent version of Google Chrome. Dailymotion should really make their site backward compatible and equally accessible from all browsers and from Flash 11 on up. I’ve even dared to propose this to them, but you know how the French are: between making cheese and surrendering, they’re already severely overtasked. 😉 Software designers frequently get caught in the bells & whistles trap. They think that what makes a site popular is bells & whistles, when what most end users want is basic functionality. Just play the damn video!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

 

Doctor Who: Ghost Light Picture Gallery

doctor-who-ghost-light-picture-galleryThe real world is so fraught with conflict and suffering it’s no wonder I sometimes take refuge in the Whovian universe. While writing about “That’s The Way To The Zoo” (a song sung in “Ghost Light”), I became obsessed with taking screenshots:

From left to right: the Doctor, Control, Inspector Mackenzie, and Ace

From left to right: the Doctor, Control, Inspector Mackenzie, and Ace

The Seventh Doctor in Full Philosophical Mode

The Seventh Doctor in Full Philosophical Mode

The Doctor and Ace: dramatic tension

The Doctor and Ace: dramatic tension

 Sylvester McCoy reacts with horror when John Nathan-Turner suggests tattooing a question mark on his forehead

Sylvester McCoy reacts with horror when John Nathan-Turner suggests tattooing a question mark on his forehead

Gordon Bennett! Suddenly I have a wicked headache. (Sophie Aldred)

Gordon Bennett! Suddenly I have a wicked headache. (Sophie Aldred)

Need a butler? Just bring your friendly neighbourhood Neanderthal out of stasis.

Need a butler? Just bring your friendly neighbourhood Neanderthal out of stasis.

Exchanging pleasantries with the magnificently muttonchopped Reverend Ernest Matthews

Exchanging pleasantries with the magnificently muttonchopped Reverend Ernest Matthews

Under the gun: Such rude treatment from the Royal Geographical Society!

Under the gun: Such rude treatment from the Royal Geographical Society!

Sophie and Sylvester: a defining moment

Ace and the Doctor: a defining moment

Sylvester McCoy and Katharine Schlesinger each have their scenes with Sylvia Syms

Sylvester McCoy and Katharine Schlesinger each have their scenes with Sylvia Syms

Ace teaches an evolving life form to say "The rain in Spain falls mainly down the drain." (No, really!)

Ace teaches an evolving life form to say “The rain in Spain falls mainly down the drain.” (No, really!)

From an unfinished episode: Just to give the Doctor aggro, the Master turns Ace into a babushka doll. This episode remained unfinished because all the babushka dolls went on strike. Apparently their motto is "One out, the lot out."

From an unfinished episode: Just to give the Doctor aggro, the Master turns Ace into a babushka doll. This episode remained unfinished because all the babushkas went on strike. Apparently their motto is “One out, the lot out.”

Sylvester does his Mr. Bean impression for Sophie

Sylvester does his Mr. Bean impression for Sophie

It's getting very near the end: the last scene filmed for Doctor Who classic

It’s getting very near the end: the last scene filmed for Doctor Who classic

Sophie and Sylvester (who share the same birthday) fooling around between takes. The joke here is that Sylvester is supposed to yell "Cover your eyes!" But because he's blinded by the light he keeps covering inappropriate body parts, causing Sophie to totally crack up.

Sophie & Sylvester (who share the same birthday) fooling around between takes. The joke is that Sylvester is supposed to yell “Cover your eyes!” But because he’s blinded by the light he keeps covering inappropriate body parts, causing Sophie to totally crack up.

sophie-aldred-sylvester-mccoy-2
* * *

This fan page is intended to promote the BBC series Doctor Who. All source videos copyright BBC. Photoshopping and expressive captioning by Michael Howard.

See also “Rehearsing Doctor Who.” [link to follow]

 

More About Me

cambodian-boatman-by-michael-howardThis personal blog is happily not about me and my daily life, but about things that fascinate and inspire me — including music, poetry, art, and spirituality. It’s also about finding time to laugh out loud at Britcoms, and speak up for truth on subjects that surely demand truth.

Still, I hope the reader would learn something about me from the way I write about the artist Picasso, or Chinese female vocalist Chyi Yu, or the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo.

When I first started this blog in September 2014, I wondered if anyone would even read it, and whether I’d find the words to express my thoughts and feelings on issues I’ve subsequently tackled. As I limbered up the writing apparatus, I also narrowed down the focus and zeroed in on issues that are personally important to me, such as religious freedom.

Now that I find I do have at least a few readers, some of them are curious about the exact vantage point from which I write on certain issues. For the benefit of those readers, let me clarify that I’m not a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre or a spokesperson for the group. I am a fan, admirer, or well-wisher of Sri Chinmoy, with whom I did study meditation many years ago. That was a very enlightening experience which I’m proud to stand up and “own.” I remember countless beautiful meditations and concerts with Sri Chinmoy, and often being moved to tears in his presence. I will always remain indebted to Sri Chinmoy for teaching me the most important life-skills which I lacked: love of God, and gratitude to God.

Sri Chinmoy saved countless lives, and one of them happens to be mine. He saved my life by reaching beyond my pain, doubt and confusion, and simply opening my heart — as easily as you or I would turn a key in a lock. He was a genuine spiritual Master who had the power to give spiritual experiences, to put seekers in direct contact with the Divine. He did not merely speak about Peace. When he meditated, he filled the hall with Peace so that all those who were seeking Peace were divinely satisfied.

As an ordinary human being, I may find it difficult to live this truth 24 hours a day. But I feel honour-bound to at least speak up for truth, especially since I’ve noticed that some people speak falsely about Sri Chinmoy or try to discredit him. For me, to be true to my own experience is essential, or how could I ever hope to be true to myself? Conversely, I find that those who falsify their experience and portray Sri Chinmoy negatively tend to become increasingly troubled in their nature, being out-of-sync with their better angels.

In writing about many different subjects, lately I’ve been finding that posts about Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre are especially dear to my heart. After all, there are probably hundreds of books about Picasso, and Chyi Yu has probably sold millions of albums in Taiwan, China, and the Chinese diaspora. I love writing about those topics (and hopefully finding new insights), but how much am I really adding to the existing store of knowledge?

By contrast, I like to believe that some of what I have to say about Sri Chinmoy is genuinely new and timely. Failing that, it at least weighs in on the side of truth — and I feel that spiritual truth has become hard to hear in our society due to excessive materialism.

Though not about my daily life, this personal blog represents a continuing effort to find out what moves and inspires me and what I have to say. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Sri Chinmoy. I have no idea whether that trend will continue, but if it does, well and good. That would represent progress for me in knowing what’s important to me, what I care about. I’m sure that even if I digress into other topics, Sri Chinmoy is someone I will always return to, because his teachings are deep (even if I am shallow), and there’s always more to discover about his music, poetry, and art.

There are no barriers to entry. No matter who you are or where you are, whatever your religion or non-religion, you are free at this moment to see things anew with fresh eyes. As Sri Chinmoy himself writes:

Beyond speech and mind,
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light
My heart dives.
Today thousands of doors
Closed for millennia
Are opened wide.

— Sri Chinmoy, as quoted by Alan Spence in a BBC article on Hindu meditation

Michael Howard

About the image at top: “Cambodian Boatman” by Michael Howard, based on a video by Niriha Datta. This is a recoloured photograph, or more precisely a recoloured video frame to which art effects have been applied. I did three versions in Dynamic Auto Painter, then combined them in Photoshop, adding dramatic lighting to bring out the textures.

Sri Chinmoy Encyclopedia Article

Making sense of a teacher whose contributions were both diverse and prolific

Sri Chinmoy reading from his aphorisms for The New Millennium

Sri Chinmoy reading from his aphorisms for The New Millennium

There are many articles about Sri Chinmoy in bona fide print encyclopedias, and most are good (like this one). Recently I revisited an archived “community” article written in encyclopedic style and last updated in 2008. It comes from an emic or inside perspective, and reflects a nice balance between biographical facts, significant quotes, and understanding Sri Chinmoy’s “path of the heart” in historical context. Proof that emic accounts can sometimes be more accurate than etic ones. It includes good footnotes and many details not found elsewhere.

From reading other encyclopedia articles about Sri Chinmoy, I gather that one challenge is to understand what’s unique about his teachings, and how they relate to the Hindu tradition from which he emerged. At the same time, a purely historical or philosophical approach might fail to catch the spirit of a movement which is lively, colourful, musical, and vibrant. Sri Chinmoy is an eminently quotable writer, so an article jam-packed with quotes is a definite plus.

He was active in a number of fields: meditation, music, poetry, art, athletics, humanitarianism, and peace studies. Another challenge is to explain how these diverse activities fit together within the larger context of his teachings. This is an area where an emic account can hopefully shine.

Beginning from any facet of Sri Chinmoy’s artistic output, one may gradually experience a “worlds-within-worlds” quality similar to late period Beethoven. A friend once told me a story about a man who was visiting the U.S. from a foreign country. He stopped by Sri Chinmoy Centre to learn more. He was very inspired, but as the day wore on he became a bit bewildered because there was always more about Sri Chinmoy to take in. “You mean he paints too?” is the quote that stuck in my mind. 🙂

Sri Chinmoy painting

Sri Chinmoy painting one of his Jharna-Kala (“Fountain-Art”) abstracts

If you’re interested in an encyclopedia style article which tries to pack Sri Chinmoy’s worlds-within-worlds quality into something you can read in a few minutes, then check out this PDF:

Sri Chinmoy Community Article
https://ethicsandspirituality.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/sri-chinmoy-community-article-53.pdf

Disclaimer: I was one of the contributors to the article. Continue reading

Recent Updates and Coming Attractions: December 2015

Updates

Thanks to those who continue to express interest in my blog. While new posts are arriving at a slow rate, I’ve actually posted a few thousand words of new material in the form of updates to existing posts. The posts which have received major updates are these:

The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 1
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 2
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 3
Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1
Understanding Media: The Smear Campaign
Jayanti Tamm Rebuttal, Part 2
About page

You can read the Guide To The Posts to find out if these are posts which might interest you. Some people prefer short, cheerful posts on positive topics, but I feel the need to write about more challenging subjects as well. Please don’t read anything that you feel would lower your consciousness.

Also fixed: A few older posts didn’t display embedded DailyMotion videos due to an obscure WordPress bug. I’ve gone through the archives month by month, and updated the few problem posts. I’m happy to report that all videos are now playing properly. (Note: If you have trouble playing embedded videos, try updating your browser, or click on the DailyMotion logo to play a video on the DailyMotion site. Ditto for Vimeo and YouTube. See also Help With Videos.)

Coming Attractions

Here are some of the new posts I’m working on. No promises, but at least some of them should see the light of day, since I already have notes for them:

Sumangali Morhall: Auspicious Good Fortune (audiobook)
False Salon Story: What was said at the time
Untangling the Hierarchies of the Postmodern Era
More Sheep’s Head/Dog Meat Problems for Attorney Joe Kracht
Tawana Brawley and the High Cost of False Allegations
Bithika O’Dwyer: A Tale of Two Psyches

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear a short medley of (mostly classical) Christmas music you won’t hear in elevators, please visit:

Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful

H A P P Y    H O L I D A Y S !

alice-in-wonderland-sculpture-snow-mh

Michael

P.S. Thanks to those who’ve made this brief update a top post (because they liked the pic). I hope to post more photographs and digital images when I have time. For now, you can see two small samples of my work recoloring images in Photoshop on my About page.