The Great Perfection of Creativity
From the profound teachings of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, GESHE TENZIN WANGYAL teaches us how to unleash powerful creative energy we can use anywhere, from the office to the art studio.
There is little in life that does not require at least some measure of creativity.
you are trying to compose a symphony, write an essay, find a job, cook a
meal, or express an opinion, you cannot achieve your goal if you are
not creative. But the fruits of your efforts will depend, in good part,
on how you define creativity. According to the Dzogchen (Great
Perfection) teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism, true creativity has to do
with more than just ability or skill, or even actions or behaviors.
While those play an important role, creativity ultimately has to do with
our state of being.
can be seen as a state of natural flow, one that spontaneously and
effortlessly gives birth not only to manifest form, but to all
experiences of body, energy, and mind. This state of flow, which has its
roots in openness, occurs only in the absence of hope and fear. It is
at once naturally joyful, peaceful, compassionate, expansive, and
you know how to tap fully into this open, creative flow, its beneficial
qualities can extend to any area of your life. You can paint more
masterful paintings. Your music can have more depth of connection. Your
writing can be more genuine and moving. You will be able to solve
problems at work, resolve conflicts with loved ones, or even shift your
thought patterns with more natural spontaneity.
The Wrong Way to Create
say your creative goal for today is something very utilitarian—to
convince your boss that you deserve a promotion. You know this new job
opening is meant for you; you have been thinking about it for weeks. But
you know skill will be needed to sell the idea to your boss.
you enter the meeting with him or her feeling positive and spacious,
you are far more likely to present a skillful argument from a place of
genuine self-confidence, connection, and enthusiasm. These are qualities
any boss would treasure in an employee.
people, however, seek solutions from a place where the creative flow is
blocked and, as a result, their words and actions are contrived and
effortful. For example, imagine that on the morning of the day you are
meeting with your boss, you wake up in a bad mood. For whatever reason,
you are feeling a little depressed, pessimistic, edgy. The problem is
self-image; you identify with the negative energy. You think, “I am
feeling bad,” or “Something is wrong with me this morning.” It’s a
familiar feeling of unworthiness we often wake up to.
say you don’t do anything to clear the negative energy. You sit on your
bad mood as usual. so as the appointed meeting with your boss
approaches, it is from this place of negative self-image that you begin
to feel nervous. You sit with agitation and your mind becomes
increasingly active. You wonder: “Has my co-worker already been chosen
for the new position?” “Has anyone even noticed all my contributions at
work?” “That mistake I made last month—will my boss hold it against me?”
these thoughts continue, then by the time you sit down across the table
from your boss, you will actively be trying to hide your fear and
agitation. You are dressed professionally, speaking well, expressing all
your well-rehearsed arguments for why you deserve the promotion, but
the right causes and conditions are not realized internally. No matter
how well you smile or speak, your words come out as planned and
of seeing genuine confidence and enthusiasm, your boss will instead
sense conflict and doubt behind a confident facade. At best your boss
will assume this is due to nerves. At worst, he or she will conclude
that you doubt your own ability to take on new responsibilities. Maybe
that promotion is not right for you.
Adjusting Your Focus
in stressful situations, like meeting with the boss, people tend to
focus too much effort on creating results and too little on taking steps
that will allow the intended results to spontaneously arise.
you play piano fretting about what the audience thinks of the music,
your notes may come out as stilted. If you paint a watercolor worried
about messing up a brushstroke, the finished artwork may lack soul. If
you give a gift worrying about how its value will be perceived, the
recipient may dismiss it as not coming from the heart. To keep from
getting caught up in these hopes and fears, you must first stop focusing
so much on the goal.
football, placekickers are trained to focus not on the goal but on
making solid contact with the ball. They remain conscious of the goal
posts, but just before they kick they keep their head down and their
eyes on the ball. Target shooters are given similar advice. They focus
not on the target but on lining up the sights; the target itself remains
a blur beyond the sights. Likewise, even as you are conscious of your
creative goal, it makes sense to place your attention on lining up the
sights—taking the steps that can cause your desired results to
of how you feel as you are helping loved ones move forward in their
lives. People who get excited about helping others don’t base their
actions on hope or fear and are not concerned about feeling unworthy.
They just feel joy and openness in doing a simple task without
expectations. If you can have a similar experience of openness in your
professional life, you are more likely to land a job promotion. It’s
good if you can have fun doing what you’re doing, with no expectations
of becoming wealthy, yet still make money. That is what is called a
Three Steps to Creativity
you are looking to transform a life of sadness and depression into one
of happiness and joy, or you are wishing to take your artistry to a
higher level, instead of keeping your attention on the goal, focus on
taking these three steps:
1: Clear your inner obstacles
first step toward unleashing the open flow of creativity is to attain a
state of openness. That requires clearing away your negative
who are stuck always seem to have excuses for not moving forward. not
having enough money or lacking support from loved ones, friends, or
colleagues are very common examples. You may think, “I’m not good
enough,” or “No one else has done it before,” or “This is not the right
time and place.” But whether you have ten reasons or one hundred,
external factors are not the real obstacle. The real block is within.
It’s not that someone else is in your way—you yourself are the block.
You are attached to the aspect of yourself that is blocking the way.
are many methods for clearing awareness and improving self-image. Talk
therapy is one. Practicing yoga is another. on a deeper level,
meditation techniques such as the Bön Buddhist practices of tsa lung
or the nine breathings of purification can help you clear the physical,
energetic, and mental obstacles associated with negative self-image.
Here is a simple clearing practice you can try right now in order to begin the process of unleashing your creative energy:
Notice your internal dialog. Are you always telling yourself things
like: “This can’t work,” “No one will like it,” “I’m not good enough,”
“I don’t have the energy,” or “It’s not worth the trouble”? Identify
your primary obstacle. simply being aware that it is within you can help
begin the process of unblocking.
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a moment to feel the
stillness of your body. Listen and hear the silence within and around
you, and abide in the spaciousness of your mind. rest in this place of
openness for a few minutes or longer.
Now, from that place of stillness, silence, and spaciousness, bring
your main obstacle back into awareness. observe it nakedly, without
concepts, judging, or evaluating. This is what I call “selecting” the
Take in a deep breath of pure awareness, bringing it directly into the
image or energetic feeling of the inner obstacle you have selected. As
you exhale, breathe out the blockage and experience it dissolving into
space. Be aware of that space and effortlessly rest there for a few
this breathing cycle over and over until you start to feel clearer
inside. The more you become aware of what is blocking your creative flow
and practice clearing it, the more you discover and cultivate a more
positive sense of self that is based on the absence of obstacle. This
much larger sense of self has nothing to do with identity and everything
to do with openness. You are the infinite space that has opened up.
may fear that without your old, familiar sense of pain identity, you
are nothing. But as you clear your sense of negative self-image, you can
begin to discover that in its absence, you are everything. A sense of
self that is founded in openness is unchanging, indestructible, and
practice you use, the point is to discover a place of spaciousness
within. Give time not only to clearing obstacles but also to becoming
familiar with what opens up as a result. every moment you spend in a
state of openness is cumulative and supports your ability to be in the
flow. Let go, rest in the openness, and become familiar with it.
Cultivate confidence in the realization that your true inner being
cannot be changed by any force.
2: Open to your potential
you can successfully clear the clouds of negative self-image and become
more familiar with the vast sky, then by resting deeply enough in that
space, you will begin to feel an even greater opening and sense of
peace. The sparkling qualities manifesting in that space are the light
of awareness and potentiality.
the second step toward unleashing a free flow of creativity is to
cultivate and connect fully with that awareness and sense of unlimited
potential. Once you do so, you can come to realize that not only are you
more than you had always thought you were, but your entire world is
full of positive alternatives. nothing is missing in your life; you are
solutions to problems may only require a new perspective, but sometimes
it requires exploring whole new horizons. For example, in recent months
I’ve met many people who have been telling me they can’t find work. But
I truly feel that the reason they can’t find a job is only because they
are the same person looking in the same types of places where they
found no jobs before. The point here is to consciously and energetically
let go of feeling not only internally blocked but also externally
is very hard to look in a new place for solutions when you are the same
old person. When there are obstacles in the way of reaching a
professional, personal, or spiritual goal, a shift has to take place
3: Nurture a sense of warmth
you have realized a sense of openness, confidence, and unlimited
potential, then qualities of joy—what I call warmth—can naturally arise.
It is only from this warmth that creativity, finally, will freely
manifest. The third condition for connecting with your creative nature,
therefore, is to notice and nurture a feeling of warmth.
as the sky is the primary source of the sun and the oxygen-rich wind,
which in turn give birth to all the flowers and trees, openness is the
primary source of confidence and warmth, which in turn give birth to
creative and enlightened manifestation.
is the place from which love, kindness, compassion, expansiveness, and
creativity arise. It’s like sitting in a patch of sunlight in cold
weather. As the light warms you, you begin to smile. The warmth you
experience is a sense of feeling complete or, more specifically, no
longer feeling incomplete. You are conscious that any feelings of
inadequacy have dissolved and that you are more connected to your true
self, so naturally you feel complete.
anger is cleared, its antidote—love—can more spontaneously arise. Once
sadness and feelings of inadequacy are cleared, joy and completeness are
revealed. I’m not just saying this; for centuries, yogis and other
practitioners have witnessed these results from meditation practice, and
my own students have seen such effects within a few days of practice.
you create more space and awareness, positive qualities naturally
arise. The more familiar you become with a sense of warmth, the more
often these joyful feelings will be evident. If this warmth is something
you have seldom felt before, it’s only because you have never before
provided the space for it to manifest.
you feel the stirring of joy, just be aware of it. Particularly feel it
in your heart, and allow it to expand throughout your body—through your
blood, your skin. Feel all the billions of cells in your body
communicating with each other through this joy. Let your voice speak
from that place, and you will feel warmth reflecting back on you from
the people you speak with.
is something you’ve wanted and needed all your life, and now you are
feeling it. Warmth is not goal oriented; it is about connecting with
your very being. Creativity flows from here.
The Life of an Artist
often make the mistake of trying to act creatively before cultivating a
sense of warmth. As a result, like the nervous person trying to fake
confidence with her boss, they have only limited success. It is only
once the clouds have dissolved, revealing the clear, vast sky, that the
warmth of the sun’s rays can nourish your creativity.
any given time, consider what stage you are in, and do what you can to
move the process along. Try to focus more on what works, rather than
what is not working for you. Don’t force creativity before its time.
all the right conditions are in place, unrestricted creative flow often
comes spontaneously. If not, there is no problem with inviting it,
reminding it, bringing in a little energy as a booster. If you set up
the right conditions, focusing in all the right places, the intended
result will come.
I create a piece of calligraphy, for example, I avoid engaging with the
intended outcome—hoping the finished image will be beautiful or fearing
I will miss a brushstroke. I connect, instead, with stillness, silence,
and spaciousness. Then, from within this open awareness, I feel a sense
of warmth. I see the paper and hold the ink-filled brush in my hand.
only then, from that place of warmth, do I allow the brush to meet the
paper. The stroke of the brush is the manifest act of creativity. With
each stroke, the openness, awareness, and warmth are already in place
and fully ripened.
action is joyful action, and that is true creativity. Whether it is a
great artist immersed in the act of painting, a mother embracing her
child, or a bodhisattva expressing compassion to sentient beings, full
immersion in the creative flow brings a sense of freedom, playfulness,
you create from this place, hours can pass without your noticing. You
go beyond time and space. You have many enlightened qualities during
that timeless moment, and those qualities are far more valuable than any
product you create. People who are exposed to your product may feel
something of what you felt in the act of creation, just as one can feel
the depth of Rembrandt’s experience captured in a self-portrait fully
350 years after he applied the paint strokes. But for the creator, the
creation itself is not as important as being in the moment of creating.
That is the life of an artist.
A teacher in the Bön Buddhist tradition, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is the founding spiritual director of Ligmincha Institute in Shipman, Virginia, and the Lishu Institute in India. His latest book is Tibetan Yogas of Body, Speech and Mind.