Giacometti's Han PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Larson   
Saturday, 09 January 2010 04:50

Sotheby's auction house plans to sell one of Alberto Giacometti's rare, life-sized bronzes next month. "L'Homme qui marche I" is a typical Giacometti, pitted and pared down to a haunting thinness. Frozen forever as he leans deeply forward, Walking Man seems kin to the mythical character Sisyphus, both striving resolutely yet doomed never to progress. Grown thin but with the mass of metal, Walking Man is both distant and unavoidable at the same time. “L'Homme qui marche I” in it’s remote and ever vainly advancing thinness, carries with it according to William Barrett in Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1962), ".. the view of 20th century modernism and existentialism that modern life is increasingly devoid of meaning and empty. 'All the sculptures of today, like those of the past, will end one day in pieces... So it is important to fashion ones work carefully in its smallest recess and charge every particle of matter with life." (via wikipedia) Looking at "L'Homme qui marche I" I am reminded of the shivering thud of the han, a wooden block which is struck at many Zen monasteries to call the monks to the Zendo to meditate. Written on this block is this inscription:


“Great is the matter of birth and death, quickly passing,

gone, gone. Awake, awake, each one, awake.

Don’t waste this life.”



Many times we would like to block out awareness of this unavoidable state of affairs, but great art and great faith may bring us back to this realization.  Like the flash of lightning, or the dew already drying on the grass, each moment may be our last. Rather than something that whittles us away to near nothingness or a deep despair, this realization, in Buddhism, is used to orientate the sincere practitioner in the direction of an active engaged and fully present life. Faced with inevitable dissolution, the question always remains churning like a lead ball in our gut: How shall we spend our time? Each moment demands: "What can we do, right now, to honor our life and the lives all around us?" 

Suzuki Roshi wrote in Zen Mind Beginner's Mind:

"I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, along time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling."

It is very important to keep in mind that while this life is not to be repeated and is gone in a flash, we are not nearly as separate or as alone as we might imagine. We each rise up out of the same mystery and will be reunited in the emptiness there. From the scientific perspective, everything ultimately gets recycled. Flowers bloom, fade and fall. The system, impersonal and without a self, repeats itself. Filled with great doubt, questioning the meaning of life, we each are called to live lives of meaning. Living out lives that are both separate and as deeply connected as the drops of a waterfall, we answer as best we can the question each moment calls us to remember: What matters most?



L'Homme qui marche I 


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 January 2010 02:35

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