‘Not-doing’ or refraining, is a kind of creativity.
This morning I was speaking to a group of art students. I mentioned to them how much I admire Chinese brush paintings. In these works of art only a very small portion of the canvas is painted on; the effect and the power of the picture is conveyed by the relationship between the painted form or the painted area, and that which is not painted. In fact the large blank area of the white canvas is what gives the black brush strokes their power and beauty.
So if you were to say to a Chinese landscape painter, ‘what a waste of good paper, there’s a big white area there that you haven’t painted on at all’, he would probably snort with derision. But in terms of human behaviour, sometimes we don’t see that. I think it’s rarely appreciated that certain things that we do have weight, beauty, integrity, nobility, precisely because of other things that we don’t do. Skilful abstention from actions, from certain kinds of speech, or from certain kinds of proliferation or imagination is the creativity.
Artists and writers mention this often. They tend to agree that the art lies in the editing — in what is left out. Many writers will say that it is much more difficult to write in a simple style, than in an ornate, complicated one. Simplicity is a skill to be learned; it does not come easily. And this is another aspect of our life: making simplicity a standard to return to.
We must seek not only to refrain from the immoral but also from the needlessly disturbing. We can measure our practice by how simple our life is. We can ask ourselves: Is my life getting more complicated? If it is then maybe we need to re-establish our attention on the basics. Pictures need frames. We need wise limits for our actions. Otherwise our lives become cluttered and our energies dissipated.
This reflection by Ajahn Jayasaro is from the talk, The Beauty of Sila.