Inadvertent naturalistic calligraphic tendencies of literati colour-field non-figuration whose outcomes exemplify not the expression of the individual or its cult but serve the collective documentation, curation and advancement of ascetic-arts knowledge.

Chan: a little Buddhist, more Taoist

1. Legend holds that in the 6th century Indian ascetic named Bodhidharma conveyed a variety of Dhyana yoga to certain spiritual communities in southern China. Yet consider that this enterprising Kanchipuram Brahmin may have never even deemed himself a "Buddhist" per se. In those days, Brahmins would not have regarded their requisite act of renunciation so much in terms of sectarian Bauddha as in the more remotely traditional sense of sannyasa ashrama. I say this in view of the political fact that Bauddha prevailed in the kingdom of the Pallavas, thriving over Jaina, Vaishnava and Shaiva factions. As sannyasin culture is essentially marked by the total and complete repudiation of all sectarian and communal identifications, I strongly suggest that the yogi Bodhidharma would never have become a Buddhist as such. In fact, one wonders if it wasn't precisely Buddh-ism that drove him out to sea.

2. This statement may in fact assert no more than, the Pallavas were sponsors of Bauddha culture along with Jaina and Brahminical faiths. The names of their kings were typically Vedic and suffixed with -varman (lit. "coat of mail"), implying 'protector' or 'protégé' – a practice mirrored by the ancient Khmer. It is also worth noting that Mahendravarman I, the son of the Pallavan ruler Simhavishnu (mid-6th cen.), was a Jaina who opposed all the Shaiva practices before being converted to Shaivism, and further, that Simhavishnus' mother may have been a Christian (Encycolopedia Britannica).

3. Chan Buddhism during its development in China absorbed much of the quintessence of Taoist philosophy. A key methodology is expounded in the doctrine of "forgetting words after getting meaning," a dictum that establishes the paradox and semiotics of language, a poetics of "amnesia," so to speak. It is also associated with the poetics of "resonance beyond tone" and "emotion-scene fusion."

4. By bringing into play an art-historical analysis of the traditional Chinese Chan/Zen narrative, Professor Pan's study "Tracing the traceless antelope: Toward an interartistic semiotics of the Chinese sister arts" (1996) discloses much as applies to, for one thing, the neo-Buddhist paradigm. In the terms of traditional Western painting, the cardinal objective of the neo-Buddhist mindset is clearly mimesis—i.e. 'imitation' at best and 'mimicry' at worst. This less-than-philosophical neo-Buddhist outlook endeavours as such to latch upon a basic set of ideological specificities that (i) allege reproduction of a "single pregnant moment" and (ii) turn "temporal flow into spatial stasis." Yet by uplifting contrast, in the Ancient Chinese "sister arts tradition" that exists between poetry and particularly literati landscape painting (shan-shui, 山水, 'mountains and water'), this so to speak Indo-European predilection for fixing on single pregnant moments is viewed as incongruous to the subtle valuations that effuse the Chinese notions of object, attainment, virtue and sense. For in the Further East arrangements, merit rests efficiently in forgetting words after gaining meaning. Such striking inference from language, however, is not just paradoxical, nor merely antinomian. Rather, words are intuited as semiotic agents, as semaphores alerting, then diverting one thither, transposing the attentive through aesthetic quandary to the "mindscape" beyond the figurative field. Accordingly, through sublime and liberating disregard of any stripe of centralized, narrow, rigid view, the elegance of Chan is precisely its transparency, its fluid perception inviting the select to plumb the depths through its Taoist procedure of abstracting nature.

5. In Laubiesan procedure, though, the painter doesn't need to actively abstract nature. "I paint from nature, and nature is abstract..." (Rene Laubies, 2007: 1).


Pan Da'an. 1996. "Tracing the traceless antelope: Toward an interartistic semiotics of the Chinese sister arts," in College Literature, Feb. Rene Laubies at Alain Margaron, Art in America, April 2007.

See Rene Laubies: tracing the non-figurative.

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