Zen Calligraphy, Alok Hsu Kwang-han

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An Interview with Alok Hsu Kwang-han
by Suryo Gardner for NEW TIMES, Seattle, April 2003
On Creativity of Non-doing


Suryo: The Seattle Asian Art Museum has invited you to give your workshop, “The Creativity of Non-doing.” The title is a wonderful juxtaposition of two concepts. What is the creativity of non-doing?
 
Alok:    I begin with “non-doing.” It is a translation of the Chinese term “wuwei.” On the literal level “wu” means “no” and “wei” means “intention” or “motivation.” Human “doing” is motivated action, thus the translation “non-doing.” We all have intentions and motivations. It’s impossible not to have them. So how could “wuwei” mean “no intention” or “no motivation”? 

In the Zen tradition, “wu” could also mean “nothingness.” I have come to understand “wuwei” as the “nothingness of motivation” or the “emptiness of intention.” Not that we negate or deny our intentions or motivations, but we hold our intentions and motivations in emptiness, with deep acceptance and understanding of them, allowing them their natural energy, but with no attachment to them, no investment in what might happen, no claim for what it might mean for the self. My rendering of “wu wei” is “Resting in presence and moving from emptiness.”

Suryo: Where does the creativity come in?

Alok:    Creativity comes in on its own! It happens when you give up trying to do it! Just being present, available, playful, not knowing—the intelligence, wisdom, and creativity of existence can “inter-happen” with you and through you. It’s a great adventure!

Suryo: “Resting in presence and moving from emptiness,” how are you going to evoke that in people in your workshop on May 10th and 11th?

Alok: In the workshop I will lead us in Qigong exercises, so our energy can become relaxed and spontaneous, full and flowing through the brush. We will also engage in simple meditation exercises, or sing impromptu songs, such as what became the theme song of our last workshop in Sweden—“Yes, we have no bananas. We have only loose screws today!” Or we might pair off and you paint the energy of your partner acting like a wild animal…. Being so light-hearted, you fall into a gap, where thoughts, emotions or intentions don’t take up much space and we relax into just being. The purity of just being is emptiness.

Suryo: Please say more.

Alok:    This emptiness is an absence but it’s also a powerful presence. At this level, the opposites become complementary.  Resting in this presence and moving from this emptiness is the heart of this workshop and to me, the art of life. We play with exquisite Chinese calligraphy brushes, ink and xuan paper to invite this experience to happen. And it does happen at some point to everybody! It’s exhilarating and very healing because when we come home to the Source, it is healing. So I don’t know whether to call this a painting workshop or a being workshop.

Suryo: If a person has never experienced emptiness, will he/she fail in your workshop?

Alok:    Hmm, even the busiest minds have experienced some gap and just be-ed. Being is the gift of life! not something one can achieve. so how can one fail being? Also I will show you simple effective exercises to accept and not to identify with the selves that intrude, such as the self who’s fearful of failure or the ambitious self. Then you are back to emptiness, the purity of just being.

Suryo: Who comes to this workshop?

Alok:    All kinds of people come to this workshop—accomplished artists, competent designers, many psychotherapists, individuals who were told they couldn’t paint in grade school, or regular folks just interested in playing with Chinese calligraphy tools…. Yet they all have a sense of being confined by what they know and what they could do and they want to go beyond that confinement. Miraculously in two days, they become so thrilled that through them, right in front of them, all these incredible forms arise from formlessness this moment!