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Frame of Reference - Index

Vicesimus Quattuor Stele

Culture - Art

1) `Culture’ is a word used to describe many different, seemingly unrelated activities, but it usually involves some level of intelligent intervention or creative action by Man. It can mean good breeding, a love for more elevated aspects of human life, such mundane activities as tillage of the land, raising oysters for their pearls, training the human physique, and the propagation of micro-organisms (yogurt). In 1871 Edward B. Tylor, the founder of the modern science of anthropology, defined culture as follows: “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” From making beer to training horses, from making shoes to composing symphonies--in our modern society, nearly everything we touch or see is connected to culture, not always expertly done.

Living with culture is what it takes to be human, and without it man would be simply an animal (and indeed some animals, the beaver for example, have complex cultures.) Religions have codified cultural elements and convey these from one generation to another. But as we develop intellectually, without a dogma, we can pick from a vast smorgasbord of culture--those elements that seem interesting, useful or somehow emotionally satisfying. We can have it our way, as long as we respect the same right for others. If we play music too loud and antagonize our neighbors we miss the point of culture; this usually has undesirable consequences and suggests a conflicting cultural choice.


The Song of Life

The Song of Life is a common melody
Performed by many instruments ensemble
Creating a Symphony from simple sounds.
The wind in the trees and the bird songs
Alarm the day with a pleasant Reveille.
Coffee Overtures, and arouses generous Sun.
The city traffic crescendos as Chorus.
The Theme today is flowing water, giving life,
Life-giving-rain thumps a constant tympani.
Each nuisance is Verse in a ritual hymn,
Each disturbance an appoggiatura.
These combine in rhyme and resonate,
Giving rhythm to our mundane motions
Synchronous to the bells and whistles
An arpeggio of sounds from a solemn chord
All To the beat of each step tapping the floor,
Both mine and the neighbor above.
Insensitive to this Opera of Living
We waltz through the day dumb to the Song
Only because we are Conductor, composer,
Choir, audience and musician, together.

(IJ: January 29, 2003)

3) Biological mutations produce humans with the potential to grow into geniuses at a steady rate at all times and among all peoples. The culture that allows great minds to flourish is much more rare than the human potential. Even the lowliest Shoshone family unit had a remarkable amount of knowledge about plants and animals in their environment. They harvested in excess of one hundred species of plants; they knew when rabbits would be most plentiful, when pronghorn antelopes would be in the vicinity, and when grasshoppers would be abundant. This knowledge became part of their culture and was transmitted from generation to generation with a simple but adequate oral language tradition. Since their numbers were few the probability that a genius would occur was correspondingly very slim. Cultural advancement is therefore slowed in isolated wilderness areas that support low population densities, where nutrition is inadequate and where interaction with diverse people to stimulate new ideas and combinations of thinking is missing.


The Spirit of Poetry

There is a quiet spirit in these woods,
That dwells where’er the gentle south wind blows;
Where, underneath the white-thorn, in the glade,
The wild flowers bloom, or, kissing the soft air,
The leaves above their sunny palms outspread.
With what a tender and impassioned voice
It fills the nice and delicate ear of thought,
When the fast-ushering star of morning comes
O’er-riding the gray hills with golden scarf;
Or when the cowled and dusky-sandalled Eve,
In mourning weeds, from out the western gate,
Departs with silent pace! That spirit moves
In the green valley, where the silver brook,
From its full laver, pours the white cascade;
And, babbling low amid the tangled woods,
Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter.
And frequent, on the everlasting hills,
Its feet go forth, when it doth wrap itself
In all the dark embroidery of the storm,
And shouts the stern, strong wind. And here, amid
The silent majesty of these deep woods,
Its presence shall uplift thy thoughts from earth,
As to the sunshine and the pure, bright air
Their tops the green trees lift. Hence gifted bards
Have ever loved the calm and quiet shades.
For them there was an eloquent voice in all
The sylvan pomp of woods, the golden sun,
The flowers, the leaves, the river on its way,
Blue skies, and silver clouds, and gentle winds,-
The swelling upland, where the sidelong sun
Aslant the wooded slope, at evening, goes,-
Groves, through whose broken roof the sky looks in,
Mountain, and shattered cliff, and sunny vale,
The distant lake, fountains, -and mighty trees,
In many a lazy syllable, repeating
Their old poetic legends to the wind.

And this is the sweet spirit, that doth fill
The world; and, in these wayward days of youth,
My busy fancy oft embodies it,
As a bright image of the light and beauty
That dwell in nature,-of the heavenly forms
We worship in our dreams, and the soft hues
That stain the wild bird’s wing, and flush the clouds
When the sun sets. Within her eye
The heaven of April, with its changing light,
And when it wears the blue of May, is hung,
And on her lip the rich, red rose. Her hair
Is like the summer tresses of the trees,
When twilight makes them brown, and on her cheek
Blushes the richness of an autumn sky,
With ever-shifting beauty. Then her breath,
It is so like the gentle air of Spring,
As, from the morning’s dewy flowers, it comes
Full of their fragrance, that it is a joy
To have it round us, -and her silver voice
Is the rich music of a summer bird,
Heard in the still night, with its passionate cadence.

(Henry W. Longfellow, 1830 age 19)

5) Anyone who has seen the tools and weapons of the Eskimo in a museum knows how carefully, and often beautifully, they are made. That fact has interesting implications for theories about the beginnings of art. In the far north, where man must face the constant threat of starvation, where life is reduced to the bare essentials -- it turns out that one of these essentials is art. Art seems to belong in the basic pattern of life of the Eskimo as well as for most other native American peoples. The North American Inuit, Eskimo, has exploited the Arctic environment with all the ingenuity of the igloo, sled, harpoon, snow goggles, kayak and many other advancements. They demonstrate the resilience of human nature, and more, that Man is innately creative and strives for artistic achievements to enhance life.


Tears of Joy

I hear your heart singing
When I sit in any quiet place.
That mournful song
Which I have no skill to echo.

That cautious, callous, canto
That lives in my own heart
And nags my rest and happiness.

When any song surrounds me now
I grow subdued, conquered
Imbued by an unrequited love.

A love that lived a tragic drama
So profound at its pinnacle
It persists to inspire my own atonement.

Leave me in peace, I declare
To no-one else’s ears; alone,
In an anguished voice that cracks
And torments my demons even more.

I lament my sorrowful state
In a vicious cycle of morass.
The harder I try to dismiss my pain
The more it chases and haunts.

Is there a word in your song
That wishes me farewell?
Can I dare hope for you
The peace I would seek for myself?

But if I said this to you
Would I only arouse your pain?
And tare the scab off my soul?

Sing, when you do, for me too.
And may our tears become of joy.

(IJ: Februrary 5, 2003)

7) The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Centuries were the golden age of Islam. Invigorated by the conquest of the Greco-Roman territories, the Byzantine and Persian heritage, Islam evolved a brilliant culture of its own. Art was slow to progress because of sanctions on idolatry, but philosophy and poetry flourished in Baghdad and other great cities of the Arab Empire. Mathematics and medicine advanced; Moslem architects created masterworks like the Taj Mahal, a wonder of the world. The elegant, simple message of Islam continued to spread, borne by merchants and wandering Sufis (mystics) across Asia to the Indonesian islands.


The Bird

That bird...
...over there.
Sings for its mate
the way I would
if I could sing.

(IJ - 1998)

9) “If you are going to paint the traditional way, you’ll need to chew up salmon eggs and spit them on cedar bark. The bark will pull the transparent shell away from the eggs, and your saliva will dissolve the water-soluble omega-3 oil in the fish eggs so that when you paint it on your carving, the wood fibers will absorb the pigment you have mixed with it: ocre (red), charcoal (black), cattail pollen (yellow) or plant ash (white). If you lived up north, you’d mix copper with salt water and young boy’s urine to oxidize the copper, mix that with fish egg oil and that would give you that pretty blue-green.” (Jewell Praying Wolf James, Lumni artist, Bellingham, Washington)


Worthy Questions?

When I look into the smile of your eyes
A thought flashes:
I see as in a mirror the reflection of my own presumptive virtue.
And the pleasure this gives beguiles me
Not only for the particular beauty you present
But also for the consciousness of my own superior nature.
This curious sense, like a gift from you, does not go unappreciated.
When I remember that all judgment is self-judgment
And if I am thus capable of recognizing your beauty
I can logically claim some small part for myself.
Possibly this is what infatuation is, when lovers smile together?
As they study each others’ eyes intently
They share both the truth of their mutual love
And the congratulations they feel for themselves.
Can there be so much knowledge, hope and acceptance
In such a simple gesture?
Is there part of that potency shared in every heart
When friends and family acknowledge each other with a smile?
And how about that furtive glance between willing strangers?
Is that the look of hope and self-congratulations?
Is there in truth a healing power in a smile?
Can this body language, a species signal, be so complex?
These are worthy questions best resolved between two lovers.

(IJ: January 2, 2003)

11) “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 wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed... To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull facilities can comprehend only in the most primitive forms -- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men. (
Albert Einstein, What I believe, 1930)


“Sitting in a room”

A kink in my neck tells me
To surrender to the acceptance
of my denial of my true self
Hiding in the shadows of illusion.

The wind flowing over my face
Marking time in waves
Splashing on the rocks
Of my form temporal.

Music playing the beat in my brain
With sharp spears of sound
Giving my thoughts sleep
And filling the void eternal with song.

(Kenneth Baba Jacob, December 1997)

13) “...The common belief that a work of art must look like something...other than itself. Yet it takes but little effort to realize that all art is an abstraction. No matter how meticulous or skillful an artist may be, no matter how desirous he is of producing a likeness of his subject, the painted, carved or graphic representation will of necessity be a distortion of the original...works of art...are abstractions... such abstractions may well reveal profound truths about the laws of nature or about man’s intuitive processes?

“...The province of art is in the order of man’s thought and the intensity or strength of his emotions and beliefs. The modes and forms of art must be varied...each work of art is unique, ...it is its own embodiment of truth....individual works of art...must be comprehended by itself and for itself alone... When an artist creates a work of art, he gives tangible, visible substance to his concepts. Each material used has its own potentialities and limitations, and it is part of the artist’s creative activity to determine whether a certain material is suitable for the expression of his concept and whether he is technically proficient in handling it...

“...the distinctive technique which every artist develops is his personal solution for the expression of his ideas and emotions... It is when technique liberates from matter its vital forces that it becomes an integral part of the creative process, more than a means to an end...technique is man’s skill in giving that substance its meaning.” (Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, 1926)

14) Three things soften a man’s heart:
a pleasant melody,
a pleasant scene,
and a fragrant odor.

(Talmud: Berakoth, 57b)


Welcome Sunrise

Oh, welcome Sunrise.
Wake me to an equally colorful vision.

My own legend unfolds
with less virtuosity.

But lend me for a moment
these ribbons for my banner.

With such a coat of arms
I can surely withstand any hardship.

No neglect, however mean
can stay me from my purpose
cloaked in this high fashion.

I greet each new trial
a triumphant Knight
rather than hapless Knave.

Thinking thus makes it so.

(IJ: January 18, 2003)

16) Mindfulness, or awareness for Buddha, does not mean that you should think and be conscious “I am doing this.” The moment you think “I am doing this.” you become self-conscious and then you do not live in the action. You live in the idea “I am” and consequently your work too is spoilt. You should forget yourself completely, and lose yourself in what you do. All great work -- artistic, poetic, intellectual or spiritual -- is produced at those moments when its creators are lost completely in their actions, when they forget themselves altogether, and are free from self-consciousness.


When Our Smiles Match

There is a nice part of the world
During those times when boy meets girl.
Strange how in those moments
When our smiles match

And your caring eyes search mine,
Then the troubles that hound us all
Seem -in that moment- to be at bay.
There is so much to think about
During that short interval of time
When our smiles match.

I can imagine too easily
What life would be like
Without this pleasant interlude we share
Because that is our common lot.
Our troubles yap at our heels
Except for that all too brief space
When our smiles match.

Do we take this event for granted?
Is it a hackneyed phrase to boast
That there is a spark of love
That flickers in these brief moments
Like the time we first met
When our smiles matched?

(IJ: January 23, 2003)

18) Buddhism brought with it high ethical concepts: tolerance, nonviolence, respect for the individual, love of animals and nature and belief in the fundamental spiritual equality of all human beings. Much of the greatest art in Asia has come from Buddhist inspiration. The superlative art of Gupta period India, still preserved in the frescoes of the Ajanta Caves northeast of Bombay, was predominantly Buddhist as was the art of the Tang Dynasty, the golden age of Chinese civilization. Much of the tradition of literature and art that Japan learned from the Chinese and finally made its own has Buddhist origins. This same influence spread to Burma and Thailand with active trade with India, before the belief diminished in India.


Exchange of Wisdom

The trail moved along the ridge as though arranged
by a natural force which I followed sensing all around
the organic energy that softly touched and tempted
me to see beyond the valley where the next row of
hills beckoned as did this hill with its grasses and
trees full of life supporting so many animals hidden
from view but calling their stories in the same way
the short lizard ran from my advance behind the Oak
and when I searched, it moved around until, more
slowly, I caught its eye and an exchange of wisdom
passed through into my thought confirming the
ancient rites where passage is free and
unencumbered as earlier I saw the deer and startled,
it examined my stillness and sensed no threat in my
character for there was none only this desire to
move and feel where the minds of the ancients had been on
their equally peaceful traveling and they found the
same serenity I noticed when to be cooler I took off
my shirt and their spirit united with mine so we
walked together through the over-ripe flowers and
towering Pine, one shading the other, one adorning
the next, where few notice this connection because
they are concerned and occupied with grander ideas
of gold and timber then health and speed - both illusions won slowly.

(IJ: July 3, 2002) Jacksonville, Oregon

20) The Haida people (British Columbia) own the world’s only known quarry of argillite and retain the exclusive right to carve it. The rare black argillite is a slate easily carved into miniature totem poles, jewelry, plaques, boxes and pipes. This tradition of carving religious and symbolic relics is passed on between family members, and many expert Haida artists carve in wood, silver and gold in addition to argillite.


Bemused Meditation

A rhapsody of light and color streams through my window
On those Sunrise mornings that makes me glad I live here.
Perhaps it occurs elsewhere, for others, nevertheless
To greet this glorious harmony I have situated all the beds
With feet to the East so I can blink my eyes open
And imprint this visual poetry onto my optical screen.
I wonder if this is orthodox Fengshui for sleeping?

As I lie half-awake contemplating my focus for the day
And my destiny in the middle of my life full of potential,
My meditation is disturbed by the occasional pheasant
Squawking; this cock crows a reminder of my duty.
If these red-headed tyrants weren’t so handsome to watch
I would surely dispense with their early morning services.

And then the children of the neighborhood file bye
Wearing their neat two-tone blue uniforms so primly
And they walk up to my patio door and tap repeatedly
As if to let me know it is time also for me to be aroused.
These scrub jays apparently see their mirror image
As competing inhabitants of whom they are jealous.
They attack their reflection with a dominant posturing.
At first I was curious and surprised by the pounding noise,
But when I determined the routine and cause of the raucous
I was charmed and reconciled to being woken from
My bemused meditation – the spell fading - I become alert.

I count myself fortunate to have these three acts of nature
Greet me as an astounding overture to my new day.

(IJ: May 28, 2003)

22) In 17th century Japan, Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637), created timeless, simple masterpieces featuring natural symbols suggesting the essence of nature. His work comes to us as coexistent with the elitist culture of noble, disciplined, masculine samurai, that sought their power in the simplicity of the ink brush, sword and tea bowl. According to Ernest Fenollosa, the great Boston connoisseur of Japanese art, Koetsu had: “Such a unique feeling for spacing, placing and spotting has never elsewhere been exhibited in the world’s art...” His passion was tea bowls -- the `active,’ intimately handled objects of a ceremony that, imported from China, had been turned into a cultural rite linked to Zen Buddhism.

The `way of tea’ became an essential part of the samarai culture, and persists as an intimate, solemn ritual in modern Japan. His art connoted roughness, naturalness and, initially, lack of pretension in which aesthetics and morality were joined with symbolic and severe restraint.


Being Happy

The air is dense with pink wild rose scent
Compounding the number and intensity
Of sensual pleasures that make me happy
As I sit in the swing-bench
On this warm summer day.

(IJ: June 1, 2003)

24) Architecture is not something people do by chance; it is the result of careful planning and creative thinking. When we build, why not do it with imagination and thoughtfulness rather than make a blank box which doesn’t even make a statement about what the building is intended to do? Build with a vision; even a modest hope is better than none at all.

“Out of the ground into the light -- yes! Not only must the building so proceed, but we cannot have an organic architecture unless we achieve an organic society! ...We who love architecture and recognize it as the great sense of structure in whatever is -- music, painting, sculpture, or life itself -- we must somehow act as intermediaries -- maybe missionaries.” (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939)



The happy moments, dragging into beautiful, long hours are gone now for both of us.
But just like the week ends with days of celebration and relaxation, we can enjoy our lives apart in this new way...
Made more poignant by the sweet thoughts of the
past that inform our memories. The voice of the wind sings your praise in spite of my attmpt to haear a more mundane note...
The tears of the rain wash my face as you once did with yours...
The warmth of lonely Sun barely inspires me to stretch and reach this energy...
For, each of these phenomena stand slighted in comparison to my glorified recollections of you.
Is this fair to prejudice the future with the declaration of such a spectacular standard?
No, but this expression of truth is more candid than biased.
Can there be pleasures coming that will inspire as did ours, peaceful, sober and absorbing?
Will there be authentic bliss or a counterfeit of what we shared in hope and solace?
Or, has our joy together in some subtle way equipped us to enjoy our lives both alone and shared with another love?
Can we be thus more receptive and wise to recognize the grace that blesses us each day?
I hope that for you and me our seasoned memories enhance each love we taste.

(IJ: July 13, 2002)

26) Apropos to which, Jazz (and Blues) is truly the only great American music form that has developed during our brief history. “There was a workmen’s bar across the street from the student dormitory where I lived, with a jukebox that had `West End Blues’ on it. I must have played it a thousand times over that summer. There’s something about Armstrong and that particular piece that just represents everything American to me. It always has...there was something in that music that spoke to me, and still does. I play Louis Armstrong 10 times a week. When I want to feel better, that’s what I plan... There is something elevating about everything he ever did...that incredible sound too...It’s so warm and so magisterial...He found the essential humanness in everything he did...`What a Wonderful World,’...And he’s an old man, and you can hear he’s not feeling well, but it still just lifts you up. And it’s all the more moving, because he’s struggling a little bit to do it. It’s as close to religion as I’m ever going to get.” (Geoffrey C. Ward)

“Well, I’ve always made that connection. My only religious experience is Louis Armstrong. He changed my life, and William James says that a true religious experience doesn’t backtrack, it changes you forever, and this passes the test.” (Gary Giddins)

“The trumpet player Max Kaminsky said, `I’m very religious, I worship Louis Armstrong’.” (Geoffrey C. Ward)

“There is an experience of conversion for a lot of people when they make the leap from knowing Louis Armstrong as one of the old entertainers...to really hearing him...it’s always seemed to me that Armstrong and duke Ellington, who was very different, are the two titanic figures in the history of [Jazz] music.” (Geoffrey C. Ward)

“...these are not just great musicians but they’re inventing the world over and over and over again -- I mean every time somebody new comes in...a whole different vision of the music [arrives].” (Gary Giddins)

“...You can’t do American history and not do race. I don’t know a single part of the story [of Jazz] it doesn’t come into at some point...There’s the blatant kind of racism...which is the idea that somehow jazz music is -- at least when played by blacks -- somehow an instinctive, raw, natural, primitive thing. That myth runs right through the whole history of the music... What they [young whites] had in common was that they were irresistibly drawn to jazz, which their friends and families dismissed as `nigger music,’ not worth listening to, let alone trying to play. They heard something in that music that spoke directly to them and they determined to try to play it for themselves ...they heard Louis Armstrong and they knew that sounding like that was something to strive for. Now, none of them ever achieved it, but no black musicians ever achieved it either...That’s one of the great things about jazz, the spectrum of emotion it produces. “ (Geoffrey C. Ward, “Jazz and America,” American Heritage, Jan 2001)

27) The Character of Man is a work of art of his own creating (not always expertly done). To the extent that Man incorporates the best traits from the best examples in society into his character and personality, He has absorbed and benefited by the culture that surrounds Him. An appreciation and understanding of the role and artistry of poetry is a mark of a refined character. This need not be an ostentation because it is a personal, and often private trait. Poetry is often a bridge between the unknown, the unknowable, human emotions and consciousness. Many holy scriptures come in the form of poetry and it’s often the best way to communicate the mysteries of love.

For example:
Canto 2, Ch. 3, Text 13 / Srimad-Bhagavatam
Saunaka said: The son of Vyasadeva, Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, was a highly learned sage and was able to describe things in a poetic manner. What did Maharaja Pariksit again inquire from him after hearing all that he had said?
A pure devotee of the Lord automatically develops all godly qualities, and some of the prominent features of those qualities are as follows: he is kind, peaceful, truthful, equable, faultless, magnanimous, mild, clean, nonpossessive, a well-wisher to all, satisfied, surrendered to Krsna, without hankering, simple, fixed, self-controlled, a balanced eater, sane, mannerly, prideless, grave, sympathetic, friendly, poetic, expert and silent. Out of these twenty-six prominent features of a devotee, as described by Krshadasa Kaviraja in his Caitanya-caritamrta, the qualification of being poetic is especially mentioned herein in relation to Sukadeva Gosvami. The presentation of Srimad-Bhagavatam by his recitation is the highest poetic contribution. He was a self-realized learned sage. In other words, he was a poet amongst the sages. (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)


The Best for Last

I lie in my bed this morning
With Sun shinning in my eyes
Through the days of my life
A forest of so many trees
Each, a different size and species
Some are elegant old growth
Above the canopy of my mind
Thus sheltered from the blue pearl sky
My imagination extends to possibilities
That might have been, had I been
That lost jewel or opportunity
Lying latent, dormant, gracefully
For me to find and experience
My blessings, had I not been
As I was for so many years
Past these beauties and truths
Which to embrace of so many choices
There was so much to see and do
Memories along the way side
I have inadvertently saved the best for last.
Get up.

(IJ: September 4, 2003)

29) “Jack recalled the exhibition of paintings by Picasso in Florence, Italy. He was inspired by the freedom of expression they projected. Those unorthodox structures expressed the essence of the war-torn psyche, the emotional life of the subjects and by extension all of humanity. Rather than merely duplicate trivial physical forms there was a celebration of mystery. That extra effort, the eccentric struggle for creativity and poignancy, demands attention. Being willing to put more into it than you get out of it adds to the total of a worthwhile, satisfying life. This gives birth to the art of life.

“The artist of life, like the architect, seeks to build a structure that is in harmony with the circumstances of its own genius. The beautiful life can rise above mundane circumstances and contribute to Enlightenment by enhancing the ethical and cultural evolution of society. Life can become more than just rational choices, it can be an inspired search for excellence.” (IJ, Jack and Lucky, 1993) [an error occurred while processing this directive]