By Moji Agha, Tucson, Arizona
INTRODUCTION: The Last Supper! Yes, THE Last Supper (shaam-e aakhar, in Persian) is the title of a fine work of art I purchased in Tehran and brought with me 2 years ago, on my way back to the U.S. from a trip I took to Iran, due to the passing away of my mother. It is a small hand-made Persian rug depicting in exquisite detail, the Last Supper.
This precious piece of art is the work of a most likely observant Moslem from the "Holy City" of Qom, in central Iran.
It symbolizes for me, in one amazingly "simple" object, the fascinating relationships that exist among art, spirituality, and peace: Ambiguous relationships at best, given that even the basic definitions, let alone the lived experiences, of such abstract concepts are open to infinitely diverse interpretations, in our very human attempts at "giving" them meaning and discerning their visible or hidden contexts.
This wonderful rug-painting has gifted me with a way to explore the integrated essences of art, spirituality, and peace, which I will try to briefly outline here.
Put simply, the Last Supper rug is an integrated art product capturing a spiritual situation about the active desire for profound peace, both internal and external.
I will come back to this inter-related distinction between inner and outer peace later.
Will I be as successful as this unknown skilled artist, at weaving and communicating in this very brief essay how the essences of art, spirituality, and peace are interwoven? I hope so. I too will do my best.
ART and SCIENCE: If we agree that art's essential significance is that it is a reflection or a presentation (or re-presentation), alas, a deep meditation (consciously or not) on the awesome desire and ability of consciousness to be conscious of its own consciousness, then we could perhaps also agree that art is the "science" of the "subjective," the inner world manifested, in inevitably faithful subjective exactness, in the outer.
Before going any further, let me emphasize that here I am referring to GENUINE art and science the kind not contaminated by the corrupting often destructive influences of ego, power, and money, because such servile "art" or "science" is not worthy even of the name.
Now, if science is an objective accurate description of the WHAT IS of the external world, art would be a subjective accurate description of the what is of the inner world-- a text presented to and reflected in the mirror of the communicable consciousness via the vessel of the individual consciousness.
THE QUESTION OF VALUE: Now, given such definitions, if we are to faithfully examine the complex relationships among art, spirituality, and peace, we need to ask the following crucial question:
Does the subjective nature of art "free" it from objective scrutiny, the essential value, of science, hence abandoning art in the meaningless wasteland of rampant relativism?
In other words: Is there an essential "transcendent" value to art, as exists in science? And if so, how is one to discern and understand such an integrating value?
The exploration (and later on the careful discernment, and eventually the proper understanding of the significance-to-life-and-existence) of this essential consensually-arrived-at BASIC VALUE inherent to art, is the portal or the opening through which we may be able to arrive at a possible coherent understanding of art, as it relates to lived spirituality and eventually to peace, in our awesome and inter-connected yet humble and increasingly fragile world.
DIVERSITY, COMMUNICATION, AND ART: Whereas science is the evolving key that humans have cobbled painfully together to help them understand the basic laws, the hidden mysteries, and the infinite diversity in the sensorial world, of natural and biological forms, art is our suffering-purified key to experience, to hopefully understand the true significance of the diversity of experienced consciousness.
In other words, art is the mirror of the infinite subjective diversity of consciousness, which reflects (thus making accessible to objective human reality) the infinite possibilities of communicable inner meanings: The meanings that evolve as consciousness itself evolves, toward its own infinite manifestations in the cycle of evolution, in our experienced and inevitably shared world.
In still other words, art is the awesome clearing through which we can come in actual and amazing contact, and miraculous communication with, the infinitely diverse manifestations of inner consciousness, so that meaning and cross-consciousness communication can be born and evolve toward maturity and experienced (and hopefully appreciated) wholeness.
Understood as such, diversity is that essential value that only art can birth into manifestation: An infinite and lived diversity which is not reducible to unity, and in fact is as "sacred" as the unity from whose abstract inner womb it is born, manifesting the amazing outer diversity, which then inevitably keeps evolving, and in so doing joins the miraculous evolutionary dance of being in universe.
SPIRITUALITY AND ART: Such birth and evolution is also the key to understand the spirituality of art. Why?
Because, the infiniteness of the diversity of artistic manifestation is the portal to transcendence, the essence of spirituality.
Rumi advises: Seek not water, seek thirst.
Why? Because we are the "separated prisoners" of our consciousness, we seek transcendence, re-union.
In such seeking, we experience a maddening paradox. The same paradox that we experience as we make genuine contact with any genuine work of art--such as our Last Supper Persian rug-painting.
We know that this work of art is a product of consciousness (of a fellow human artist), but we somehow also experience that such art is too a gate to some hard-to-grasp transcendent reality, a spiritual reality: A reality that is not out there or in here, but rather maddeningly and paradoxically is in between--and not in between this and that or here and there, but rather in between "I and I."
PEACE IS THE GOAL: Why are we born with this insatiable desire to transcend our limitations? Why are we not happy in our small jail of relative "I" comfort, even if we have achieved seeming self-actualization?
Rumi says the reason is our inevitable desire, our never-ending seeking for real peace, for union with the I beyond I, who is also the limited I but also is not that I:
The place that Solomon made to worship in,
called the Far Mosque, is not built of earth
and water and stone, but of intention and wisdom
and mystical conversation and compassionate action. [Emphasis mine]
Every part of it is intelligence and responsive
to every other. The carpet bows to the broom.
The door knocker and the door swing together,
like musicians. This heart sanctuary DOES
exist, but it can't be described. Why try!?
(Rumi, via Coleman Barks)
Because we HAVE TO.
This trying is the thirst that we are born with, the sweet jail which constantly compels us to try, via mystical conversation and compassionate action, to unify I with I, by our baby-step attempts at understanding the significance, for example, of the awesome fact (thanks to the Human Genome Project) that 99.9% of all human genes are IDENTICAL, yet they owe their very existence to the remaining .1% that gives rise to the amazing diversity that we see in our phenomenal world.
We owe our very existence to this sacred inter-dependent life-giving dance between our 99.9% and our .1%, the miraculous dance between unity and diversity, the amazing dance that gives rise to art, to science, to consciousness, to meaning, to communication, to transcendence, the loving dance that makes I aware of I.
Do we realize, however, that (thanks to our advanced "civilization") we live presently on an Earth in which the rate of the loss of species or sub-species of micro-organisms, plants, and animals is estimated to be a horrifying ONE PER HOUR?
Are we consuming our stupid LAST supper at our ego-isolated table of suicidal ignorance?
We indeed do NEED, in these increasingly dark selfish days, to try to do our best possible dance, on this magic carpet, drunken with the precious humble wine of sober relatedness, to hopefully transcend from the globally-warming depths of our thirsty-making limitation jail, toward the liberating hope for a wider wiser vista: We humans, through the miracle vessel of our amazing consciousness, have given birth to, and have desperately needed, such mega-institutions as science, art, meaning, and communication.
WHY? WHY? In order to survive and perhaps prosper, and perhaps to move toward achieving our awesome true "beyond I" potentials.
In this process, we have noticed, co-created, and helped to liberate the majestic and scared diversity that we experience in our profoundly and mysteriously interwoven inner and outer worlds.
Obviously, here basic safety, the gift of external peace, is a needed pre-requisite, if we humans are to be able to safeguard, survive, live in, prosper, and actualize the potentials that we and our worlds are endowed and interwoven with.
However, history has witnessed that we humans are not content, solely with the satisfaction of our biological survival needs, and even with the consumption-poisoned satiation of our self-destructive prosperity wants.
We are transcendentally greedy. We desire something more. We desire and we desire.
In fact, we have no choice but to desire to desperately seek "beyond I" transcendence.
Because, it is in trying to satisfy this fundamental thirst, this basic quest in our human reality, that we encounter our primal desire for inner peace, in addition to outer safety. This is why Rumi asks us to seek thirst, and not water.
The what, the how, the temptations, the yearnings, and the passionate struggles to achieve this elusive inner peace, at the depth of our true experience, constitutes the stuff of consciousness, history, and culture.
Whether or not we have religious faith in the epic of the Last Supper (as depicted, inter-faithfully, in our Persian rug-painting of a devote Moslem artist), it is clear that throughout history the medium of art has afforded us, at least symbolically, the opportunity not only to recognize that outer and inner peace are clear requisites for one another, but also to appreciate that any experience of transcendence, of any limitation, physical, temporal, or spiritual, thus any genuine evolution, is possible only in the paradoxically diverse yet unified bosom of true peace.
Alas, art is our mysterious portal to this enchanted land of immortal peace, in which the bread that we break at supper to feed our diverse bodies and consciousnesses, is the same bread that unifies our thankful beings.
Is art's ultimate value, its final sacrificial role, to teach us to be thankful?
About the author:
A university faculty in cross-cultural psychology and conflict resolution, Mojtaba Aghamohammadi (Moji Agha) is a peace and human rights activist, and a bilingual poet and writer. (www.interfaithful.org)
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