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30 Years of Buddhism in America: Art & Artists

Inspired by the dharma art teachings of its founder, the Shambhala Sun is known for the beauty of its art and design. Continuing our celebration of the Sun’s 30th anniversary, we showcase seven featured artists whose work manifests the qualities of awakened mind. The commentary is by the Shambhala Sun’s art director, Liza Matthews.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

"Genuine art—dharma art—is simply the activity of nonaggression," said Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the most important Buddhist teachers of the twentieth-century, and founder of this magazine. He was also a multi-talented artist. Trained as a child in Tibet in the traditional arts of calligraphy, painting, monastic dance, and poetry, on his arrival in the West he immersed himself in the pursuit of new artistic disciplines, including Japanese flower-arranging, photography, design, and filmmaking. In addition he brought fresh approaches to the traditional arts he had been taught, as seen in this example of his calligraphy. Titled "Great Eastern Sun," it combines Tibetan script, three of his seals, and, on the left, the mark he used in the Shambhala teachings to symbolize primordial wisdom, which he called the Ashe stroke.

Trungpa Rinpoche taught extensively on the path of dharma art, which he said "springs from a certain state of mind on the part of the artist that could be called the meditative state. It is an attitude of directness and unselfconsciousness in one’s creative work." Chögyam Trungpa’s many works of art and his talks on art remain a vivid and unique legacy, and a portal to understanding the power of art in everyday life as a means to influence the world. For more on these teachings, see True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art (Shambhala Publications, 2008).

Don Farber

Over the years, more of Don Farber’s photographs have appeared on our covers and pages than those of any other photographer, for the good reason that he has made it his life’s work to document the spread of Buddhism in America, as well as the survival of many Buddhist lineages in Asia. He has done this without bias toward any particular Buddhist tradition, and with the view that all three major schools—Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana—are equally important manifestations of the Buddha’s teachings. In 1977, he began photographing at the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, which resulted in the book Taking Refuge in L.A. , published by Aperture in 1987. In 1989, after more than ten years of photographing, studying, and practicing Buddhism in Los Angeles, Farber established the Dharma Heritage Project to photograph Buddhist life internationally. He has been to nine countries to date, and hopes to photograph and film Buddhist life in all the traditional Buddhist countries, as well as in the West. His newest book is Holiness the Dalai Lama: Photography by Don Farber. Pictured here is a classic Farber photograph of Thich Nhat Hanh; for more examples of his work, see

Kaz Tanahashi

For centuries Zen calligraphers have painted black ink circle paintings (ensos) to symbolize oneness. A multicolored enso, as fresh and iconoclastic as the artist who made it, was on our cover in May, 2002, and more of his circles, ideograms, and other paintings have been featured in the magazine since then. The artist, Kazuaki Tanahashi, is also a Zen scholar, translator, peace activist, aikido master, calligraphy teacher, and writer. Having trained in his native Japan, he came to the West in 1977 and has been teaching and exhibiting worldwide ever since.

His calligraphy workshops have brought the ancient path of brush calligraphy to thousands of students, and his wisdom and integrity give life and relevance to this contemplative art. As he says about drawing a line with a brush, “The quality of the line is what matters most—how deep, strong, or honest it is. It doesn’t matter how good or unusual it looks.” He adds, "If your personality is interesting enough, the line will be interesting. To do this, you have to be fearless." Pictured here is a Tanahashi work titled "Recycle"; more of his work is at

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