Zen and the Art of Organizational Maintenance Ronald E. Purser San Francisco State University

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  • Topic: Zen, Aesthetics, Huineng
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  • Published : April 8, 2013
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Zen and the Art of Organizational Maintenance
Ronald E. Purser San Francisco State University
rpurser@sfsu.edu ABSTRACT This paper draws from the “Zen arts” as a means for reimagining management as a mindful practice known as “organizational maintenance.” Zen Buddhism has had a profound influence on Japanese arts— such as calligraphy, sumi-e drawing, the tea ceremony, landscape garden design, archery, and Haiku poetry. The Zen aesthetic, often referred to as wabi sabi, and its associated notions as being an “artless art” that values “controlled accidents” is explored for its import value as a form of aesthetic inquiry. I propose that organizational maintenance is a noninstrumental form of artistic experimentation, involving the creative resolution of dilemmas. In such a nondualistic perceptual framework, organizational maintenance is concerned with revealing an aesthetics of ineffability, a “quality without a name.” I suggest that by reframing creative dilemma resolution as a contemporary form of Zen koan practice, it becomes an analogous artifact that can stimulate a creative inquiry into the true nature of organizations. Keywords: Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, aesthetics, wabi sabi, dilemmas

Zen Buddhism and its influence on the arts has much to offer in theorizing the connections between art, design and organizations. Many contemporary Western artists, musicians, poets and architects have been inspired by Zen, such as John Cage, Herbie Hancock, Phillip Glass, Brian Eno, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Louis Kahn (Baas and Jacob 2004). What did they find? Lanier Graham (2010), curator of a recent exhibit on Zen and the Modern Arts notes: Buddhists understand we do not have to die to find lasting peace inside ourselves, that each of us can become a Buddha, that is to say, all of us can realize our Buddha-Nature, our Unconditioned Consciousness, here and now. When this transformation of consciousness takes place, what changes occur? How are we different? We are Enlightened. It is said that as Enlightened individuals we are totally aware of the moment, not conceptualizing experience but being fully present in every experience. Unattached, we stand firmly between the experience of everything and nothing, holding on to neither. We "kiss the joy as it flies," to quote William Blake. We continuously act directly, spontaneously, fearlessly, and lovingly. Unlike Judeo-Christian religious art, the Zen aesthetic is not representational or iconographic. Rather, Zen inspired art is an expression of a new way of being/seeing—a way of directly pointing to the awakened state of mind. Many of the great Zen masters, such as Genko, Tesshu, Hakuin, and Bunsho,were also renowned calligraphers, poets, painters and musicians (Loori 2005). According to Loori (2005:5), Zen training and art practice were intermingled— 1

“Zen arts, creativity and realized spirituality were seen as inseparable, and a Zen aesthetic developed which expressed eternal truths about the nature of reality and our place in the universe.” In Japan, the Zen aesthetic developed in a refined set of principles—wabi and sabi. Wabi sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese worldview or set of aesthetic ideals, centered on the intangible longing for, as Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki put it, “the world we left as children,” a world in which we are in direct contact with a dynamic present. The close alliance between Zen and the arts it inspired is based on the premise that the state of mind expressed in artistic creation is the same as that in meditation (Dumoulin 2002). The Zen aesthetic found expression in very down-to-earth and secular activities, such as drinking tea, gardening, flower arranging, and swordsmanship, to name a few. Zen maintains that “ordinary mind is the way,” implying that there is artistry in the midst of so-called mundane activities. Such a broad formulation of...
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