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Paintings and masks by Thomas Edwards at C. G. Jung Center

Enlighten Up

I attended the Jung Center Artist’s talk by featured artist Thomas Edwards, a painter of traditional Buddhist icons of the Tibetan persuasion. The thing about icons is that one really needs the ambient cultural surrounds to reinforce the efficacy of discipline practice. The fundamental idea of Buddhism, emptiness, is practically an ideological opposite to Western thought, i.e. man attached to form, inner mind disturbed, as opposed to man not attached to form, mind not disturbed. The corresponding Buddha nature, “unchanged in all changes,” is so dualistically convoluted and semantically quixotic that the first notion of Western mind is to reach for some kind of Cartesian lamppost to steady its reeling brainpan against the migraine-inducing abstruseness of push-me pull-you scholarly argot. Certainly that is the artist’s challenge in any Westernized approach to communicating the experiential aspect of the seemingly inexpressible essence of Buddhism.

Thomas Edward’s paintings are exacting replicas of Buddhist icons scaled-up for exhibition. They are beautiful illustrations in acrylic on canvas, faithful to the originals in spirit and exacting detail. In his talk, Edwards gave a rudimentary overview of concepts and terminology, the historical background and the various visual elements of the Tantric Buddhist philosophy. He delineated the distinctions between the more familiar Chinese and Japanese styles of meditation (sitting cross-legged in tranquilizing, purity-gazing contemplation) and the more aggressive, sexually charged icons in Tantric analogies that motivate one to conquer and vanquish one’s demons, demonstrating a rather more active practice in acting, moving, performing deeds, seeing and hearing.

But here again was a psychological Moebius strip: Dhyana is attained where there is no practice, “no mind.” Edward’s didactic lecture was a useful primer for persons who want primary-color-coded visual cues for psychic adjustments in their quest for a transcendence of emotional suffering. His iconographic illustrations are well suited to the genteel, academic atmosphere of the Jung Center’s gallery, providing both the initiate and novitiate an opportunity to run barefoot down the path to enlightenment.

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