Creativity, the self, and Awakening

When we find our unchanging nature to be pure Awareness, we do not find our changing bodies and minds to be irrelevant. Seeing others suffering in their bodies and minds, and working with this situation in ourselves, we can see this worldly presence as the opportunity for action, connection and communication. Our physical existence, although empty of being the self we once imagined, is still the means by which we fully Awaken ourselves, and is our way to help others Awaken.

Being a person visible and audible to others, we need to tread a line between overstating the case and dismissing its importance. The former mistake is to ignore or downplay our only lasting reality as Awareness, by believing in a self which is not found in our experience. This leads to identifying with desires, aversions and emotions. The other extreme, of believing the emptiness as a truth to cling to, would be to ignore our human manifestation and its possibilities.

finding the right balance

As always, the Heart Wish* is our guide – provided we remain open to its signals. Our urge towards connection with people, with meaningful communication (informed by our Dharma understanding), and with generally expressing ourselves in the world — these are to be taken seriously and used positively.

Someone in the grip of self-belief might well use these avenues of expression for attempting to support their idea of themselves, and they will find this as fruitless as any other self-based (samsaric) activity. Once we have noticed the pointlessness of working for the ego, our wish to express ourselves in helpful ways is our primary motivation. The natural creativity of the human spirit comes into its own when not tied to self-aggrandisement. What is being expressed and communicated relates more to qualities of our true nature, such as beauty, harmony, nature, truth, love.

many means of expression

Relationships and contact with others is one area in which our Buddha Nature expresses itself, aligning our communication with truth, as best we understand it. Other more material forms of creativity can stand as missives which may be open to more people over time, and may represent more condensed and focussed forms of expression. Paintings, writings, music, performances, and all forms of creative output can link people to their own true nature, and the more we can do that, the better for all.**

I sometimes compare such creations to ‘writing in stone’ as opposed to the transience of thoughts, conversations and everyday actions. It’s interesting that this is not just a metaphor, since much of the oldest evidence we have of human activity exists as stone monuments of spiritual significance. I also acknowledge that a lifetime of expression and activity can add up to an inspiring example – a different kind of monument.

Our physical and mental presence in the world is not to be brushed aside in the rush to know ourselves as pure Awareness. As the title of one of Douglas Harding’s great books puts it: “To be, and not to be, that is the answer”.


* Heart Wish – the intrinsic deepest wish of our heart, which leads us to wisdom and compassion. See Lama Shenpen’s “Living the Awakened Heart” training at

** Finding skilful ways to Awaken others is referred to in Mahayana texts as “upaya”.

Five Cram Buddhist blog

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