Dharma Art: Explorers of the Richness of the Phenomenal World

In the 1970s as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche introduced Tantra, the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism for the first time in America, he also founded Naropa Institute. It was his aspiration to create a great spiritual, academic, and artistic learning center similar to those he had grown up with in Tibet, in order to “reignite the pilot light” of wisdom.   He began presenting courses in creativity, principles of visual art, perception, photography, and court protocols that were all grounded in meditation practice. The arts included dance, flower arranging, music, theater, spontaneous poetry and spoken word, visual arts, traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies, calligraphy, and archery. Summers at Naropa were feasts of explorations and performances, lectures and hands-on workshops. Throughout the teachings he repeatedly stated that the arts were vital to artists, but as important to “non-artists,” who could benefit from engaging in the art of life.

He introduced Dharma Art practices as the gateway to manifesting enlightened society; a culture based on compassion, generosity, and awakening heart and mind on the spot.  Those of us who were fortunate to be present at the seminars and workshops in Boulder, Colorado (where he brought some of the most important experimental artists in the world), or who have studied and practiced the teachings he documented in film, writing, and teacher training, have been deeply impacted in our every day lives, our work, and our teaching.  It has become more and more evident that the Dharma Art exercises provide a vivid way to gain direct experience, beyond concept, of the core teachings of Buddhism and Shambhala.

In these difficult times, the Dharma Art principles offer a dynamic experience of awareness, compassionate expression. They prepare us to engage in the world as stewards of skillful means and penetrating kindness.  Whether one is an artist deepening the spiritual aspects of one’s work, or involved in any endeavor, the Dharma Art practices, constantly harvested and explored by senior students, provide essential means for developing true perception in creative works or meaningful conversations that bring benefit to ourselves and the world.

Both Lance Brunner and Laura Simms have been studying and teaching the Dharma Art principles as teachers of Shambhala, Buddhism, as well as music, poetry, dance, voice and engaged storytelling (spontaneous narrative poetry) for over twenty five years. The Dharma Arts Weekend taking place March 30-April 1st at Shambhala New York is a presentation of the basic Dharma Art principles in an atmosphere of play, poetry, working with space and speech. It is relevant for artists in all disciplines as well as those involved in leadership, education, healing, community building, and any work or life mission that depends on communication and compassion including business, banking, legal and humanitarian fields of service.

We are delighted to present these teachings in an active, experiential way, combining periods of meditation and “playful embodied exercises” with rich conversation about the nature of Dharma Art and its applications today.  

To learn more about the principles and history of Dharma Art, read TRUE PERCEPTION: The Path of Dharma Art by Chogyam Trungpa published by Shambhala Books.