Brush Yoga


Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book “Yoga Samhita”.

Concentration of mind for which the Yogi practising the Yoga of Patanjali Maharishi has to struggle hard, comes easily and effortlessly to the Brush Yogi. The landscape before him or the inspiration within him at once subdue all other Vrittis (thought waves) and the Vritti of the Perfect Beauty alone remains behind. Perfect Beauty is the nearest approximation to God, or the Absolute. By experience and keen observation the painter or the artist discovers what is particular and uncommon in every object he sees. He has clearly understood the common nature of the objects. By long and intense contemplation, he has found out that there is some defect in every object; the same defect is not found in all objects. The particular or uncommon feature in an object is its highlight; the defects are its dark points. The artist seeking out Perfect Beauty in these objects, tries to reconstruct Nature by synthesising all the great characteristics found in various objects and by removing all the blemishes that mar the beauty of those objects. Thus he arrives at Ideal Beauty: and the method that he has adopted is precisely the same that the Jnana Yogi adopts in arriving at the consciousness of the Absolute (i.e., the method of negating all the imperfections that exist in the sense-objects as they are contradicted by others, by asserting the perfections that lie beyond these imperfections and finally by diving deep into these perfections to discover the Absolute which is Perfect, Infinite and Immortal). The artist’s studio is to him what a cave is to a Jnana Yogi.

This Ideal Beauty is not the product of the finite intellect of the artist. No artist, however much he struggles with the help of his little intellect, can ever arrive at the Ideal Beauty. Ideal Beauty is the Light that descends into his consciousness when the intellect has ceased to function. Long and protracted concentration on the Perfection which is the substratum of all imperfections in Nature, persistent application of the Neti-Neti doctrine by which all imperfections and blemishes are negated as “Not this, not this” ultimately lead the artist to the realm of the superconscious, where the unthought Truth reveals itself to the heart of the artist. In this enlightened heart is born real art. Thus the artist is a Dhyana Yogi or Raja Yogi.

This method of arriving at the Ideal Beauty precludes the artist getting attached to any particular object or conception. The real artist should be pre-equipped with the sword of discrimination with which he ruthlessly slays the imperfections and limitations that hide the spark of Perfection that is the Reality of every object. He perceives an object, at once separates the Reality from the appearance, the Substratum from the sheaths, the Truth from the limitations. No doubt it was the object that inspired him; but his inner consciousness does not receive the consciousness as it is, but the Truth underlying what appears to be. There this spark of Knowledge is added to the store of knowledge thus acquired before and the Ideal grows clearer within. A stage is soon arrived at, when the artist feels that art itself is a step in the ladder at the top-rung of which is his goal. Art, he realises, had turned his vision inwards in quest of truth. The quest now takes a different turn altogether. He feels that Ideal Beauty exists only in the Self, the Beauty of beauties. Thenceforward, he strives to realise the Self, even abandoning the art which had served only as a ladder to ascend to the threshold of Self-realisation.

That indeed is the goal of this glorious Brush Yoga. Brush Yoga includes not only the art of painting, but all the plastic arts, sculpture, architecture, even photography.

If you closely analyse the stages that precede the birth of a great work of art, you will readily discover that art is a kind of Upasana or devotional practice. First, the artist gets into the mood; his mind becomes calm and serene. It is like the stage when the aspirant is ready for meditation. With this serene mind he begins to contemplate upon a concrete object, the thing that he wishes to express in his work of art. This is the commencement of meditation. The third stage is when the object is transformed within the consciousness of the artist into a symbol. The name and the form have lost their value and out of them arises a symbol, an ideal. This ideal rising within the inward consciousness of the artist, attracts to itself, like crystal a number of other ideal concepts. This is meditation. The next stage, if it can be termed a stage, is beyond thought. It is the field of intuition. The work of art is born within the artist’s consciousness, intuitively. It is like Samadhi. Then the artist comes down to external consciousness and thinks of translating the vision into an artistic form. He selects the material and method of achieving this aim. This is more akin to the sage’s Lokasamgraha Karma, or service of humanity. The final stage is, of course, the actual reproduction on the canvas or in stone, the symbol that was intuitively born within the consciousness of the artist. This is the actual Lokasamgraha Karma of a Jivanmukta. By its very nature, all works of art share the imperfections of phenomena for that intuitive realisation of the artist is of a realm far beyond the mundane, and no brush can paint it and no chisel can shape it. It is this factor that leads the dissatisfied artist to excel himself every time, and finally to discover the Beauty of beauties within himself in his Self.

The artist is a very great Karma Yogin, too. In how many hearts devotion to God is aroused by a great work of art. How wonderful are Ravi Varma’s pictures of Gods! How charming is the picture of Murali Manohar painted by Sri Nathu Ram! The picture is so attractive that the Sadhaka very easily concentrates and meditates upon the Lord and thus attains Him. The picture speaks to him: it is not the picture, but the Lord who is present in the picture. To produce such inspiring forms is a great service to the world. These artists have rendered the greatest service to the world. They are great Yogis. Glory to the Brush Yogis! May God bless them all!

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