The Chinese art, as any other art, is understood via itself. To understand the spirit of the Chinese means to understand the spirit of the eastern man. This means to understand the Chinese culture, philosophy, that is, the Chinese thought, expressed in this very art. This is maybe, much more than the west, as the art here is a complementary part of the wholeness of life, at all level of its living.
The Chinese painting had its boom and blossom in the time of Tang (618-907) and Song (969-1279) dynasties, which were renaissance periods of the culture and civilization in general, and this paper refers to them. More specifically, the philosophical foundations and implications of the landscape painting are presented here.
1. Philosophical Foundations
What essentially determines the art of the east, being its immanent part and at the same time its expression, is the philosophical thought. Thus, one should start from the philosophy, especially the Taoist one, as the expression of the Chinese spirit and way of thinking. The Buddhist thought, on the other side, although Indian in its origin, is significantly changed when it enters China, it is shaped and even naturally incorporated in the Chinese thought, becoming equally necessary for the understanding of the Chinese painting. The esthetic of the east “… has evolved in the unique fusion of Buddhist and Taoist principles of experience.” (Inada, 1997)
The instable times that followed the fall of the Han dynasty (211 a.d.) weakened the Chinese empire, both politically and economically, which was reflected on the philosophical spirit as well. The intellectual exhaustion and resignation, both with the Taoists and Confucians, was favorable for the Buddhist thought, where the philosophers found the possibility of spiritual and intellectual realization. The attempt to make the Buddhism understandable by translating the sutras, resulted in a connection of the Taoism and Buddhism in a new stream, which would at the same time have the features of both – Chinese Buddhism. This connection will be expressed in a best and most authentic way in the Chan of Zen Buddhism.
The eastern thinkers understood the insufficiency of the being to express the complete fullness of the existence. This spiritual researches, first of all, both with the Taoists and the Buddhists, resulted in strives to another aspect, which will give more complete knowledge, explain the existing and possible problems – the nonbeing. Inada replies the question on where the two streams meet: “For the Buddhist, it is the ‘discovery’ of emptiness (sunyata) in the becomingness of things or emptiness in the beings-in-becoming. For the Taoist, it is the ‘discovery’ of nothing (wu) in the Tao of things.” (Inada, 1997)
Tao has no name, nor can it be determined. Still, it is a cosmic force, the mystic process of the world, the inner nature of everything that exists, nature which is not discovered, but revealed. It is the ruling force of the eternal change that inspires all, acts by non-acting (wu-wei), creates, not by making, but rather by growing, it creates from within. The Taoism is an affirmation of the unconventional knowing by developing of the so called peripheral or non-self-aware seeing, unintelligible penetration into everything, into the nature of things. Both Taoism and Buddhism are philosophies of the experience. Tao is not discussed generally, outside the practice, and therefore it is best understood via man, Man of Tao:
“Therefore the sage manages affairs without action (wu-wei)
And spreads doctrines without words.
. . . . . . . . .
He accomplishes his task, but does not claim credit for it.
It is precisely because he does not claim credit
that his accomplishment remains with him.”
(Lao Tzu, Ch.2 transl. by Wing-Tsit Chan)
In Zen Buddhism this is related to wu-shin, or non-mind, which is a state when the mind functions freely, non-self-consciously, a spiritual state of peace and direct insight. Mind is not a component of the cognitive process, it is the process. To break the appearance of the world and to experience it in its “it-ness” (tathata). It is seeing through, seeing the things as they are. “Tathata indicates the world as it is, unhidden and un-separated by symbols and definitions of thoughts. It indicates something specific and current, not abstract and conceptual.” (Watts, 1982, p.67)
Both Taoism and Buddhism are holistic schools. In the Taoism everything is in The One, everything that is real, everything that is existing and potential, everything that is and can be is in the eternal creating process of Tao. Yin and Yang are only the energetic models of its occurrence. There is no dichotomy in Buddhism as well, although it can be thought at first view. Thus, the nirvana and samsara, shunya and maya are not opposite things. To “escape” the samsara, and strive towards nirvana, means to confirm and continue the karmic process of return. Because: “The search for nirvana implies the existence of the problem of samsara.” (Watts, 1982, p.64) Things are not opposite, they are One. The emptiness is revealed in the new viewing of the reality. Seeing it is its “it-ness”. It covers all, all the shapes dissolve in it, and at the same time it is every existing form. Therefore, the negation in Buddhism does not refer to the reality, but to our idea of it. “The shape is no different than the emptiness; emptiness is no different than shape, Shape is really emptiness; emptiness is shape.” (Watts, 1982, p.65)