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URTHONA Buddhist arts magazine

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 Explore art & culture from a Buddhist perspective

Welcome to Urthona magazine, taking its name from William Blake’s zoa or archetypal spirit of the creative imagination Urthona blends a Romantic concern with inner and outer spiritual freedom with the insights of the Buddhist East. Urthona appears once a year in 68 page full colour A4.

This site is best viewed in desktop mode. Click on ESSAYS & ART FEATURES above for online essays on literature, art & more. Access all 35 printed back issues at URTHONA SHOP. More on our vision at ABOUT URTHONA link above. Scroll down for EDITOR’S BLOG – musings on art & spirit of place.


Current issue: e-Mag American Zen

CLICK IMAGE to buy current issue from Square storefront. American Zen issue 35 investigates the influence of Zen Buddhism on American letters and fine arts, from Pound to Cage via Abstract Expressionism.


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NB The American Zen issue (35) is only a available as digital download due to Covid restrictions. Issue 35 explores the dynamic encounter between American culture and Buddhism, especially Zen in the mid 20th century. From John Cage, to Beat poets Ginsberg & Snyder plus Abstract Expressionist painters such as Mark Tobey. In fact many of the most iconic figures of American arts are on these pages. Contents includes: * The Crack of Vision: Buddhist influenced poetry in North America – Pound to Snyder. * Fine new poetry from Dhivan, Paramananda, Rachel Jagger, Penny Hope and many others. * Rothko: Horizons, Emptiness and Perfect Vision by Donal Mac Erlaine. * Zen and Abstract Expressionism. * Ginsberg and the Beats – a personal memoire of 50s California from Acarasiddhi. * Gary Gach on Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. * Fascinating abstract art from Abhayavajra in Suffolk…

If Romanticism did away with the notion of art as a mirror, D. T. Suzuki introduced another mirror to the discussion: the Zen mirror, an ubiquitous symbol of the clear mind reflecting reality as it is… Suzuki wants it both ways: he asserts the value of originality and creative particularity but insists that this should be neither personal, as the Romanticist claimed, nor social, as many contemporary thinkers argue, but should be based on an immediate access to and representation of reality that transcends the personal and the social.

This quote from David L. McMahon’s groundbreaking study The Making of Buddhist Modernism sums up the encounter between a modernism still deeply indebted to Romanticism and a vision of Zen shorn of its normal cultural and ethical context. This attempt to discover the deepest truth of the everyday, of ‘this very life we are living’ in the words of John Cage, who was profoundly influenced by the writings of D. T. Suzuki, is the topic of our 35th issue. Here we explore the transformative encounter of Buddhism, especially Zen, with 20th century poetry and painting.

Urthona’s Vision

Urthona, appearing once a year, is a lavishly illustrated, 68 page,  glossy magazine: with original and inspired poetry, fine art & photography features, reviews plus in depth articles on a fascinating theme chosen for each issue. Themes have included Indian Art, Romanticism, Art & Ecology, Writing as a sacred art…

We explore art, literature, culture and imagination from a modern Buddhist perspective. Our inspirations are William Blake and the Romantics, the zen poets of Japan, symbolists, psychonauts and radicals of all ages and climes.   

Editor’s blog: musings on art, literature & spirit of place – scroll down this page.

On top menu above: click ‘ABOUT URTHONA + CONTACTS‘ for more on our vision.

On top menu above: find links to feature pages for longer online essays / art features on many dimensions of art and the sacred for the 21st century.


Two Buddhist Novels

After Absalon by Simon Okotie
The Lost Sessions by Sebastian Beaumont

A brief review of two very contrasting novels written by ordained Buddhists.

Neither of these writers has their work marketed as anything to do with Buddhism. Nevertheless they they both show awareness and imagination deriving from their practice of mindful engagement with the breadth of human experience. 

The Lost Sessions

by Sebsastian Beaumont

Myrmidon, hb £18

This is Beaumont’s (his Buddhist name is Maitrivajra) third published novel. Thirteen, about the adventures of taxi driver in Brighton, and a disappearing house, established him as a story teller of depth and imagination with a touch of magical realism. This novel similarly has an apparently supernatural or certainly magical dimension, but it is set in a very different contemporary world, that of therapists and therapeutic process. The protagonist Will has a serious accident which not only scrambles his brain but also seems to scramble the temporal structure of his world. While unconscious he appears to have seen clients and made some remarkable interventions with them. They have the scars or the emotional breakthroughs to prove it and yet he recalls nothing at all of what he did. Things get stranger and stranger as the narrative progresses. There are many intimate details of therapeutic sessions here, and much sensitive emotional engagement with the details of how therapy actually works. There is magic and realism. And some subtle insights arising from their interplay as Will learns some hard truths about himself and his relationships with his partner and his family. For me, while apt and engaging in its portrayal of the therapeutic world, and the very human struggles of therapists to deal with their own material, I was not as excited as I was by the previous portrayal of the world of taxi drivers. There is much more material nitty gritty in the world of a taxi driver, in a particular city – colourful Brighton in this case –  and I missed that. At times I felt that I was floating in an ungrounded world of emotions here, but that may just reveal my own biases..!

To be sure there was a sense of mysterious transcendence towards the end of the novel, as we find out more about the enigmatic presence known simply as Emma, who has been intervening in Wil’s personal and therapeutic lives, perhaps from beyond the grave. With Emma’s help Wil’s very sense of self is scrambled up and called into question in what turns out to be a most fruitful manner. This novel’s strength is a focus on insightful emotional process without distractions, but with a sense of mystery.  

After Absalon

by Simon Okotie

Salt, £9.99

This novel is not in the tradition of Dickens, Flaubert or Proust. It is a modernist novel, but hardly reminiscent of Joyce, perhaps a touch of Virginia Woolf but not really. The best point of reference is probably Samual Becket. This and Okotie’s (his Buddhist name is Manjusiha) previous works, Whatever happened to Harold Absalon and In the Absence of Absalon share a protagonist who is a detective – of sorts. Okotie’s Marguerite  must be literary fiction’s most ineffective detective. In his first outing he takes most of the book simply to walk down the stairs. In fact these are novels not about detection at all but about the average human stream of consciousness in all its muddled, mundane proliferation. They are novels focussed on prapanca, to use the Buddhist term for the thoughts that distract us in meditation and in one’s life generally.    

This new novel is also very much about the rules and workings of language itself. In the opening of one chapter the word swept is used to describe the detective ascending some stairs. Then the rest of the chapter concerns itself with the way that ‘swept’ has been used here, how it does not connote a broom, but, digression, digression, brooms might or might not be used in other investigations. And so we dawdle on, getting nowhere, but enjoying a dry, ironic humour in exploring pedantry, not to mention out and out literalism, at work and play.

This is fiction for the patient, for lovers of digression and delay. The nearest thing to a narrative arc is provided by Marguerite’s descent of a ramp in pursuit of a mysterious woman in a pin stripe suit. He also feels that he is being pursued, maybe… More pertinently his thoughts are being monitored from above he suspects, by you the reader in fact, self referential meta fictionalising is constantly in play here, but nevertheless we remain grounded in the material facts of a particular city with ramps and road-side trees. Meanwhile we observe our hero spending chapters pondering that noise just behind him – is it some sort of skateboard? Could he commandeer it to speed his progress down the ramp towards the pinstripe lady…?  The central insight, perhaps, is just how much possibility and ramification bifurcates away from even the simplest perception or movement in the everyday world. The infinite choices available in each moment. Even the most powerful chess computer can’t investigate all possible outcomes, the possible moves pile up into billion-fold factors of ten beyond the number of atoms in the universe. Effectively infinity is in just that small board with its strict rules. How much more so in life and consciousness as it unfolds moment by moment. Infinite choices… Okotie has not been afraid to try and show us some sense of this, whilst remaining light and playful. All the same this is not a journey for the faint of heart. 

That both of these novels so different arise from people in the same Buddhist Order is illuminating. It shows us that a dharma response to our lives and worlds now is wide open. It will be aware and value driven, but could be anything, literally anything. If you want to taste that sense of possibility get both of these novels and read them slowly. 

GroundWork Gallery

GroundWork during a previous major exhibition

Yesterday I was privileged to visit GroundWork, in Kings Lynn a wonderful gallery space by the Kings Lynn historic waterfront that focuses on environmental art. The current exhibition is ‘Extraction: Loss and Restoration’ – looking at the effect of large-scale mining and quarrying on the landscape.

Featured here from the exhibition work by Onya McCausland showing a series of paintings making use of pigments created from mineral residues generated from the processes of mine water treatment. These wonderful ochre shades have been used to create subtle and evocative abstract pieces. And they matched my raincoat rather well!

The large mycelium painting one the wall of the gallery is by Chris Drury: ‘Dust to Dust’ 2021. Mural painted in dust and ashes of a mushroom spore print on the wall. Painted in situ for GroundWork gallery by the artist using silt residue rom a local quarry, Middleton Aggregates.

Current exhibition runs until 30th September.

Urthona issue 36 due out late autumn 2022 will contain a feature on the gallery and some of its artists including renowned landscape artist Chris Drury, as well as many other features on landscape painters and sacred landscapes around the world.

https://www.groundworkgallery.com

Shades of the sublime

Kate Boucher uses charcoal to evoke liminal transition zones, skies at dawn and dusk, coasts and mountains in shifting atmospheres of wind and cloudscape. Each of her landscapes is an intense study of a particular mood, not a portrait of one moment or scene, but a response to the essential qualities inherent in a time and place based in many different angles of engagement. These studies arise from a deeply sensitive awareness of the emotional energies evoked by wide open landscapes. The working with soft layers of charcoal, with many stages of rubbing and melding results in a subtle and fluid interplay of form and movement.

It was a privilege to see Kate at work recently when she had a residence at the excellent Fen Ditton Gallery, Cambridgeshire, just a couple of miles walk by the river meadows from my house. I was entranced to see scenes from nearby fields, walked a thousand times and hardly seen, transformed into essentials of light, space and air.

Working with wide open fenland skies was something of a new departure for Kate, but she seemed to respond very quickly to that sense of infinity in the sky with dark earth shades below one’s feet. That being grounded and infinitely expanded at the same time, which is so characteristic of the fens. More often she is based in a Wales, and engages with the boundary zones of coasts and mountain slopes, but similarly with a strong sense of the essential fluidity of these places.

More images and details of exhibitions on her website: KateBoucher.com

Kate’s Instagram Page

Waterlight – portrait of a chalk stream in winter

The Mel in winter, January 2022

Waterlight is a film project inspired by a chalk stream in Cambridgeshire, the Mel, which runs between the villages of Melbourn and Shepreth. Waterlight began as a collaboration between poet and writer Clare Crossman and James Murray-White. The project team grew to include local expert Bruce Huett and filmmaker Nigel Kinnings.

Bruce Huett will appear in Urthona 36, due out summer 2022. He writes about spiritual inspiration from landscape and draws on his experience of our local chalk streams as well as eco-spiritual shamanic projects in the Mendips not to mention his travels in central Asia and Tibet, regions where water is deeply venerated and often considered to inhabited by gods and nature spirits.

Preorder you copy by supporting Urthona magazine for only £1 a month via Paypal:

Urthona recently visited the Mel and was pleased to see that the hard work undertaken by many volunteers is still in place. The stream runs pure and cold and the meander banks have been reinforced with ecologically sensitive areas fenced off.

Ratnagarbha, the editor, took a set of seven photographs on a Canon EOS M100, a bit of tweaking in Lightroom brought out the inherent colours although it was a cold, overcast winter morning. You can see a little of the peculiar cold purity, slightly misted by the chalk content of the water which remains at the same temperature of ten degrees above freezing the whole year round as the water comes from deep under the earth and has been filtered for years through chalk strata before it emerges.

But this is only to draw attention to the movie which is wonderful evocation of a particular kind of eco system that is under threat from over extraction by water companies – pure chalk streams are very rare world wide and England has a large proportion of the surviving examples. The movie features interviews with local people who live along the stream, beautiful photography and an evocative poetic commentary by local poet Clare Crossman who sadly passed away recently.

Watch a trailer, buy the video or download and read more about the project here:

The Mel facing south towards its source in Melbourn meadows

Zen and AI

A fascinating book we previous reviewed ‘Zen and Artificial Intelligence’ by Paul Powell is now out in paperback, for half the price of the hardback –25.99 from Cambridge Scholars Publishing:

https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-5275-3704-0

Urthona and other reviews mentioned by CSP highlight the playful quality of this volume, in which deep ideas about Zen, Literature (including the Lord of the Rings) and AI are explored from the point of view of a post modern Zen practitioner.

Zen and AI out now in paperback

Waterlight – the story of an Enligish chalk stream

The sunlit river Mel as it winds through Cambridgeshire

Waterlight, is a film project inspired by a chalk stream in Cambridgeshire. Waterlight began as a collaboration between poet and writer Clare Crossman and filmmaker James Murray-White, and the project team has now grew to include local expert Bruce Huett and filmmaker Nigel Kinnings.

The finished film is wonderful evocation of a particular kind of eco system which is under threat – pure chalk streams are very rare world wide and England has a large proportion of the surviving examples. The movie features interviews with local people who live along the stream, beautiful photography and an evocative poetic commentary by local poet Clare Crossman who sadly passed away recently.

Urthona is very pleased to feature this ecological film and we hope to take this further by having a feature based on the work in art ecology and climate change being undertaken by the talented team behind it… watch this space for further news…

Watch a trailer, buy the video or download and read more about the project here:

https://waterlightproject.org.uk/

A closeup of the very pure river Mel

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