Erenlai - Bendu (笨篤)
Bendu (笨篤)

Bendu (笨篤)

A case of double identity... "Bendu" is no one else than Benoit Vermander when the latter takes refuge in painting, calligraphy and poetry...

Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:47

Travelling through fire and water

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in the “The Divine Milieu”, gives a beautiful account of a travel into one’s inner world:

And so, for the first time in my life perhaps (although I am supposed to meditate everyday!) I took the lamp, and leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationship where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel simply that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came, arising I know not whence, the current which I dare to call my life.

In the passage quoted above the water metaphor seems to predominate. In other passages, “fire” is the leading image, the one that speaks of the Divine and of His working within the soul and the whole universe. Mystical language is always shaped by extreme contrasts: high mountains and deep abysses, fire and water, dark night and glowing light… The metaphor of wind and breath is also a basic element of mystical language – strong wind and gentle breeze, as in this other passage by Teilhard:

A breeze passes in the night. When did it spring up? Whence does it come? Whither is it going? No man knows. No one can compel the spirit, the gaze or the light of God to descend upon him.

On some given day a man suddenly becomes conscious that he is alive to a particular perception of the divine spread everywhere about him. Question him. When did this state begin for him? He cannot tell. All he knows is that a new spirit has crossed his life.

It began with a particular and unique resonance which swelled each harmony, with a diffuse radiance which haloed each beauty ... All the elements of psychological life were in turn affected; sensation, feeling, thoughts ... I had in fact acquired a new sense, the sense of new quality or of a new dimension. Deeper still: transformation had taken place for me in the very perception of being ...

LiJInyuan_sky6_2009Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is one of the favourite authors of Li Jinyuan. And I would suggest that Li Jinyuan does with painting what Teilhard does with words: he explores the mystery of the Spirit that works through the individual soul and the cosmic whole, through creation and death, through joys and sufferings, through all kinds of contradictions, for eventually bringing everything to completion and reconciling everything and everyone within the One from whom we all originate.

This mystery does not contradict the laws of Matter. It rather first manifests within them. The Spirit already dwells in the Matter, and the Matter becomes the flesh of the Spirit. Painting manifests in a special way – better than words and music can ever do – the germination of the Spirit within the intricacies of the flesh. The brushstrokes of Li Jinyuan are at the same time tortured and triumphant, for they speak of the struggles of flesh and Spirit as well as of their final assumption.

The structure of the world of spiritual experience is intimately connected with a symbolism built into our own deep psychology. To pretend to find a way in the spiritual world by putting symbolism aside is impossible. Only the ultimate experience takes us beyond everything, but still what we experience is not perceived outside of mental and psychological structures. The paintings of Li Jinyuan make use of symbolic resources built into the universal psyche, but it also points towards the need to displace and subvert all images and signs so as to continue the journey. As Zhuangzi says:

Do not listen with your ear, but listen with your heart. Do not listen with your heart but with your vital spirit. Hearing rests with the ears. Heart rests with signs. As to the vital spirit, it is emptiness and lets things manifest themselves. The Tao alone concentrates on emptiness. Emptiness is fasting of the heart.

The paintings of Li Jinyuan lead us through this “spiritual listening”, which is also contemplation. We look at them first with our eyes, and our eyes tell us that we have to look deeper, to look with our heart, for our heart is sensitive to the sound and meaning of symbols that the painting suggests and develops. But the very structure and soul of the painting is calling us even deeper, toward the “fasting of the heart”. Something here is shown and is not shown, is said and is not said, something leads us throughout fire and water beyond all signs and metaphors.

The root of spiritual experience lies in our capacity to develop pure attention. Pure attention starts with our capacity to be open to the mystery contained in all things, to discern the working of the whole cosmos in the tiniest of its manifestations. It bears fruits in the loving solicitude and listening we are able to extend to people around us, particularly to the ones to whom such solicitude is usually not granted. It leads us towards a state of mind that transcends all objects and feelings: pure attention is attention without object, ceaseless communication with the source of “the current which I dare to call my life” when speaking as Teilhard does. When I look at Li Jinyuan’s paintings I somehow progress in the art of pure attention, for they are bathed in the mystery of fire and water that we learn to discern in all things.



Paintings by Li Jinyuan

Friday, 17 July 2009 00:00

Treasure and Treachery

Poetic exploration of a treacherous island.

Monday, 23 February 2009 00:00

The Blacksmith

Pay a visit to the blacksmith of Changxi village (Jiangxi Province)...


Friday, 23 February 2007 00:00

Treacherous Island

Two birch-trees and one monsoon frog
Converse under the majestic archway
That leads to Treacherous Island’s principal deity.
Tea leaves cover the slopes of the iceberg; rice fields
Give harvests of chestnuts; stones, shells and blades
Render the same tenuous sound; the wave never
Reaches the sand, the sand never offends the wind.

Birch-trees and monsoon frogs have little in common,
A few words, none of them coming from their mother tongues,
A few words left by Gulliver when he left these banks, a few
Words - just enough for their evening entertainment.
The principal deity remains mute, leaving ordinarily the talking
To the stars and the crabs, to the deer and the figs.

Here, men and trees are entrenched in bitter rivalry.
It seems that long ago men had roots, trees were free.
The trees were protecting these dwarfs from vultures and hyenas,
And, when the assault became too ferocious, the king tree
Consumed a sacrifice for the sweetest of the maiden, planting its feet Into the soil and freeing her from the same links, unknowing
That her descent one day would ax the fairest of its sons.

The evening is green and salty. On the top of the hill, the trees
Again recount past deeds with slow motions of the branches,
And the birds try to remember which foliage belongs to whom
Before hiding within the trunk - for these birds fear the stars.

The deity suddenly yawns, her hand raised up to the nostril.
Everything stops. Nothing happens. And the stars and the crabs
And the deer and the figs elaborate a bridge of bites and sounds
That overwhelms the poor talking of the frogs and the trees.

Below the majestic archway used to live an old witch
Hidden within a small sanctuary built for a long-forgotten hero.
She is gone now. She flew away the day a young woman
With green, curved eyes came from nowhere and silently took on
The witch’s duties.
The young woman has no name, no voice, no genealogy.
She is seen sometimes in the wood,
Speaking in her own fashion to the dead.

Such are the ways of the island.
Things just happen because it should not be that way.
And the stars and the crabs and the deer and the figs celebrate
The treacherous deity who lets them live and speak and again speak.

Frogs and birch-trees know far too much for joining in the feast

Where will I go after the night?
Into the limitless whiteness.
And I will sit there, with slow motions of the two hands.
As does a wind-up monkey with a drum.
I will sit there. In the Nowhere.
In the Nowhere so white as to defy the Artic tongues.
The countless words for “snow.” The meager word for “death.”
The whiteness has no banks.
The silence has no banks.
Except for the short night that still is to be crossed.

I fear and love water as I fear death
And try to love the thought of it,
A thought as small as these fishes purple and blue
Ten meters below the level, a thought
Sometimes as big and grey
As the monsters, lower, I never saw.

Reefs all around the island, reefs
Before and maybe after death, reefs
Green and black, reefs within me,
And the sea dugs deeper when she sees
The rocks that do not dare defy the rising waves.

Under the level of the sea,
Stories evolve into fishes,
Grainy philosophies into the stones and their flora,
And as to the giant waves that surge from the below
Nobody knows for sure what they were like before there was the sea.

This is not a country where you will find an apple-tree,
It is too shrewd or innocent for hosting fruits like these,
The fruits it grows bleed when you speak to them
And cry the cries of love once in your mouth.
The fruits are that treasure that disappears as soon as discovered.
This is not a country where you will find an apple-tree.

Fishes as sweet as pebbles are wandering
Throughout the night of the sea, and my eyes
Are lost in the drawer that hides the stars and the candies.
I have grasped the tree of coral, and the bliss
Of being alive reverberates into my knees.
Treacherous Island, I love thee, I love
The deceptive sound of the waves, I love
The insidious poison that makes the palm-trees grow
From the scars of the sea to the salt of the sky.

Saturday, 28 October 2006 00:00

Your face

Your face is made of sand and wind,
Obeying the watery heart
That beats in your ear,
You, creature of the starless sea,
Find your sole light within the wrecks.
Go, dig deeper, below the sea weeds,
Wander along the rocks where fishes find their nest,
Dive until nothing more is seen and said,
And then, surge again among us
With a new face – yet shaped by the heartbeat everlasting.

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