Extract from: Beyond the Stage of Time, Volume I Realised Realms. The Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat

48 49 a natural tendency to seek to transform consciousness through various means. We constantly seek to transform our intellect—to take lower-level truths and try to trans- form them into higher-level meaning, to fi nd new perspective on ourselves and our environment. It’s a means for pursuing wisdom. I have incorporated ideas about alchemy into my paintings in two ways. Th e fi rst is that I see a strong connection between painting and alchemy. Th ey’re conceptually similar in that they transform lower-level components into higher-value entities. Base metals into gold in the case of the alchemical metaphor; pigments and paper into meaningful art as the act of painting. For me that transformation of means into meaning is a profound and deeply rewarding exercise, leading to greater understand- ing and wisdom. Th ere is a distinct sense of purpose and satisfaction in starting with a blank sheet of paper, a basic tool with little independent value but plenty of poten- tial, and transforming it into something more meaningful. Th e second way is a direct assault on the goal of the transformation of conscious- ness—something I take to be an urgent matter, as I’ve said. Th e many inscriptions, the re fl ections, theoretical musings, other-worldly ramblings, poems and analogies are, taken together, a metaphor for the accessibility of the mystical realm; an explora- tion of its nature and bene fi ts. G Th ose inscriptions have been a growing and very distinctive feature of your paint- ings. Why do you feel the need for such lengthy (sometimes novella-length) writings on your paintings? M Two main reasons. Th e fi rst is that the Chinese tradition of painting has long since linked painting, calligraphy and poetry, but in this sense ‘poetry’ refers to po- etic expression rather than a strict verse form in the way that it’s usually understood. So it never occurred to me to really choose to use inscriptions; they were a naturally occurring element of the whole. Th e second reason was that in recognising the collective nature of artistic com- munication and its role in distilling transcendence from the dusty world of things, I was simply following the same Chinese tradition of knowingly expressing some- thing beyond the picture itself. One of these days, the sum total of all the inscriptions is intended to add up to my overall re fl ection on life, consciousness, meaning and the universe. (Whether anyone will ever bother to add it up is another matter.) I’ve long been intrigued by the hidden message, the arcane and esoteric, the shimmering essence of reality beyond de fi nition. G On that subject, I note that many of your inscriptions seem to assume a sort of alter ego outside of time; an immortal wanderer spanning the centuries, meeting with sages and recluses, and so on. What’s his signi fi cance here? M I don’t mean ‘immortal’ in the sense that one lives forever, which is something that no one has actually managed corporeally so far. I use it in the sense of step- ping o ff the Stage of Time, an essential element of the Enlightenment experience throughout history. In Chinese culture, one can become immortal in the blinking of an eye. Th e alter-ego character in my inscriptions has done just this and is, therefore, unbounded by conventional temporal restrictions. He’s not living forever, but simply living outside of conventional notions of linear time. Th e centuries-spanning wan- derer is a metaphor. G So do you believe that you have achieved enlightenment in this sense? M Yes, I do—just as countless others have before me. G Th is all sounds a bit God-like, if you don’t mind me saying so. Are you implying that you’re some kind of elite superior being? A Time Lord, perhaps? M Of course this all sounds like hubris if you start to put labels on it. It probably makes more sense if you focus on the experience of transcending the intellect, and becoming one with a transcendent order. Th ere’s nothing elite about that—it’s open to everyone on an equal basis. More than that, I suspect anyone dying a natural death experiences it. As usual, though, all the terms we have to describe it are inherently intellectual ones, and can thus only fail to convey the reality of it. So terms such as ‘special’, ‘immortal’, ‘god-like’ and so on have no real meaning in this context. Th ey’re all analogies conjured by our intellect, the very thing we are trying to transcend—so while they may be useful in some senses, they inevitably fall short as adequate de- scriptors here. It’s true that not many people achieve enlightenment in this sense. But even if it’s a small group, it’s hardly an elite—as I said, anyone can join in the blinking of an eye. Plus, of course, hundreds of thousands of people get glimpses of this transcendent state, particularly in the experience of music, the least inhibited by its medium of all the arts. G You mentioned dying naturally above. Is enlightenment a kind of death, in that case? M Now there’s a question. Transcending the intellect is, to a large extent, a matter of closing it down by some means. It can be entirely unexpected and accidental. It can be aspired to and aimed at through a variety of meditational techniques. It can be achieved through various psychosomatic drugs (peyote, LSD, certain hallucinogenic fungi and so on). But it can also occur when the brain is starved of oxygen and the intellect is closing down. Accounts of near-death experiences commonly include a sense of utter understanding and peace, or an engul fi ng luminescence. I think we can agree that there is nothing either special or elitist about death. G While we’re dealing with big questions about life and death, let me ask you a fi nal question about your broader perception of the universe. I get the impression you are not a religious person, although you clearly are a very spiritual one. Do you believe in God? M If you mean God as personality, a celestial dictator—I do not. In that sense, God seems to be a minor deity invented by humankind to fi ll the aching void of ignorance,