This (previous) story, the gathering-art of Captain Bill, illustrates certain aspects, all of which must be implied or inferred since Bill is no longer with us and didn’t make any sense talking when he was, of the seven conclusions I made earlier (q.v. previous). To me, the most generally particular quality of Bill’s art is that it puts the emphasis on process over product, which is not to say that the works themselves were good, bad or indifferent – many of them were spectacular – but because it was inevitable that the product would be scattered within hours of it’s completion. Whether he was aware of it or not Bill’s artistic ventures were analogous to the Tibetan sand-painting tradition, in which the mechanics of art composition aid the process of meditation and enlightenment, and the learning gained from this ritual then reinforced by the deliberate destruction of the art when it is completed. The veneer of Bill’s activities speaks of isolation, observation, acceptance, equanimity, decision, reaction, synthesis and a rhythm determined and strictly enforced by daylight, and all this in the service of vividly impermanent results. Likewise, Tibetan mandala-painters induce a state of quiescence through the step-by-step process of visualizing and acting, until the process of thought and act becomes habituated and the perception of self is dissolved.
“Although there be this state, which may be called a state of superconsciousness (Lhang-tong), nevertheless, individuals, or ego-entities, so long as they are such, are incapable of experiencing it. I believe that it is only experienced when one hath gained the first (superhuman) state on the Path to Buddhahood. Thus, by thought-process and visualization, one treadeth the Path. The visions of the forms of the Deities upon which one meditateth are merely the signs attending perseverence in meditation. They have no intrinsic worth or value in themselves.
“To sum up, a vivid state of mental quiescence, accompanied by energy, and a keen power of analysis, by a clear and inquisitive intellect, are indispensable requirements; like the lowest rungs of a ladder, they are absolutely necessary to enable one to ascend. But in the process of meditating on this state of mental quiescence (Shi-nay), by mental concentration, either on forms and shapes, or on shapeless and formless things, the very first effort must be made in a compassionate mood, with the aim of dedicating the aim of one’s efforts to the Universal Good. Secondly, the goal of one’s aspirations must be well defined and clear, soaring into the regions transcending thought. These, I understand, to be the highest of all Paths.
"Then, again, as the mere name of food doth not satisfy the appetite of a hungry person, but he must eat food, so, also, a man who would learn about the Voidness (of Thought) must meditate so as to realize it, and not merely learn its definition. Moreover, to obtain the knowledge of the state of superconsciousness (Lhang-tong), one must practice and accustom oneself to the mechanical attainment of the recurrence of the above practices without intermission” (Goddard [ed.],”The Life and Hymns of Milarepa,” p. 564-565).
There is an embedded art lesson in these Buddhist teachings, such as this: “you’ve got to train yourself to think of everything you draw as being solid – as having bulk. John [Buscema] calls this ‘thinking through the object.’ Think all around it – think of its sides as its top and bottom” (Stan Lee, p. 20).
So, approaching Buddhahood and drawing Spiderman have this methodology in common: focus on an object while being mindful of its unseen qualities, and engage a mechanical response to this act of contemplation. Senses, intellect and motor-response dovetail into trance. The construction of a Tibetan sand painting, which incorporates the figures of hundreds of deities, is a means to transcend the limitations of consciousness by inducing a trance-like state of quiescence. And likewise, a kid drawing Spiderman might not achieve enlightenment that day, but, if he is of the right temperament, will remain quiet for longer than normal because the simultaneous engagement of mind and motor-functions on one single task causes a decrease in peripheral awareness. In the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, this quasi-hypnotic state is deliberately induced by the creative process in order to gain enlightenment. In drawing Spiderman, this same state is caused accidentally by the artist in order to hang a drawing on the refrigerator. It may take an hour to draw Spiderman. It may take several lifetimes to achieve superconsciousness. But in both cases the creative act lumps senses, thoughts and actions together and subsumes them. This creating-effect is familiar to most people. For example, anyone enjoying their work or putting on makeup. It is this trance-like state which catalyzes the artistic process, perpetuating the cycle of thought, action and reaction until the artist deems the work, or himself, finished.