Learning from Zen arts: A lesson in intrinsic valuation

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Bai, H. (2003). Learning from Zen arts: A lesson in intrinsic valuation. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(2), 1–14.

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Asian philosophy

In this essay, I shall make the argument that, although the arts have been the victim of economism and instrumentalism, their power is such that, if only we could truly tap into it, arts can become our healing medicine.  But, for the arts to become such medicine, they have to be understood and undertaken in a better light than they conventionally have been in our culture. The conventional understanding equates arts with the domain of the beautiful.  This view stems from Western intellectual and artistic traditions, wherein the beautiful and the good are considered two not only distinct but separate qualities and values. Thus, aesthetics has been the pursuit of the beautiful, while ethics is the pursuit of the good.  But if we go to Zen or Taoist thought, we encounter a different tradition of intellectual discourse and life practices wherein aesthetics and ethics merge and become two aspects of the same radical (in the sene of the root) human experience, techincally called the 'nonduality' in Buddhist literature.  As I shall show, in this radical experience of nonduality lies the key to the resistance against economism and instrumentalism. In nonduality "the preservation of the world," to borrow Thoreau's phrase, lies. Thus, the arts are essential and critical to the planetary survival. Nothing can be further from truth and close to absurdity than the notion that the arts are a luxury item and have primarily recreational and ornamental values.         

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