Friday, May 8, 2009

Master Apprentice Relationship

What does it mean to be an apprentice? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Tsherin asked me to apply for the ACTA master/apprentice program with him for teaching traditional art forms. This is a serious proposal.

in the early 2000's, I started studying under Tsherin. I've gone through periods of becoming very serious of a student to being more lackadaisical about it. Mostly depending on the extra time I had free to devote when chasing money for work or with accessibility of Tsherin being in the country. the middle 2000's were a strange era with Tsherin not being able to renew his greencard because of stricter laws. A few of his students went to visit him during that time in Nepal. I couldn't afford to go. I always feel like the poor student. I can't afford commissioning him for paintings. With this bad economy, I've barely been able to afford classes even though I've had more free time again. Luckily Tsherin let me work something out until my finances became better.

So yes, I feel thrilled that he asked me to participate in this master/apprentice relationship with him. Now I'm trying to figure out how that will look. I'd love to have the opportunity to spend more time during the week to study under him When I'm practicing at home between class sessions I often feel like floundering around trying to find the right brushstroke. In class a few second's worth of instruction can solve an issue that I've been struggling with all week long.

My concerns aren't with a more intensive relationship. My concerns are with what the grant society wants. Both Tsherin and I want to preserve this traditional type of painting. One of Tsherin's teachers ,Kyentse norbu, even asked him to preserve a dying style of thangka painting.

The teachings that come from this core practice is helping both of us relate to who we are in our modern society. So a secondary type of relationship is coming about. Teaching how a Tibetan can become part of the west as well as how an American can be influenced by eastern thought.

That brings me to my second concern. Am I too "white" for the grant committee? I look at the pictures of the past grant award recipients and don't see people like me. Will my Polish/Scottish descent hinder me from being "traditional"? I think that is a question that will come up again and again throughout my contemporary art work about identity. what does it mean to be an american buddhist?

I recently saw one of Gyonkar Gyatso's series of identity photos were he is portraying himself as what he sees as various parts of himself. That reminded me of this older photo of Tsherin in more traditional Tibetan garb painting away looking "authentic". People see Tsherin as a high lama because of his cultural heritage. And although he is probably the most amazing artist/craftsman/teachers that I've ever encountered, he is not a lama. Westerns have a tendency to see all Tibetans as already enlightened. We hold onto that concept as if they are glass dolls that shouldn't be corrupted by our degenerate american culture. For example, one of Tsherin's first memories of being in america occured during a teaching in Marin county. During a lunch break, a woman became very angry because she saw Tsherin drinking a can of coca-cola. He has been in our country for only a short while yet we have already corrupted him. No thought that people outside of america could have "western" attributes. and that is ok...

Maybe what we should learn out of this strange behavior is to treat everyone like they are already enlightened. Not just the Tibetans. Wouldn't that be amazing.

Next tuesday is the grant informational meeting. will learn more then/