We have the honor of working with Nicholas Kirsten Honshin to produce the Zen Cat series of calendars and greeting cards (as well as his series with Thich Nhat Hanh). In his recent newsletter, Honshin shared stories about his fascinating background and the inspiration for his work. ~Amber Lotus
“The way of peace is the way of liberation” — Nicholas Kirsten Honshin
The teachings of Nicholas Kirsten Honshin’s internationally-renowned Zen Cat Series are born in awareness and the oneness of existence. They demonstrate the love, peace, and joy that unfold in our hearts as we embrace the sacredness and beauty of all life. This acclaimed series has resulted in his best-selling Zen Cat Wall Calendar, which is a meditation in art and words on the interconnectedness of all life.
Honshin’s art is an expression of his personal journey. The Zen Cat series was born from both childhood experiences with his father in coffeehouses with the Beat Generation and his experiences with many felines – including one who would crawl into his lap as he was reading the Buddhist Sutras.
Daiensai Kuden Bonseki Dojin, Honshin’s father, was a renowned artist and ordained Buddhist Priest whose exhibitions ranged from museums to the walls of Beat Generation coffeehouses. Like the French Impressionist artists of Paris, the Beat writers were a small group of close friends first and a movement later. The core group – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy, and William S. Burroughs – met in the neighborhood surrounding New York’s Columbia University in the mid-40’s. They later migrated to San Francisco, where Gary Synder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, and Lew Welch joined the group, and their focus started to move toward expanding consciousness with Buddhism, Jazz, and Poetry.
Young Nicholas would often accompany his father to these venues. “The musicians were often referred to as ‘real cool cats’ and when they were also practicing Buddhism the name evolved to ‘Zen Cat.’ As a child this profoundly captured my imagination.” he recalls.
Later, as a young man living in Seattle, Honshin cofounded the Kirsten Gallery. He personally designed and built an accompanying Zen Garden, where he would often meditate and read the Buddhist sutras – his only company being his cat.
“I would read the sutras out loud to the cat,” says Honshin. “And she was in such stillness, such presence I would think ‘she is getting this more than I am.’”
A true fusion of East and West, Honshin’s art and poetry are a reflection of his experience with ancient Eastern spiritual practices and the philosophies of Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and ancient Mesoamerican cultures. He was profoundly influenced by the famed Pacific Northwest School of Visionary Art, which included his father as well as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and many other acclaimed artists of this period. For these artists, art is a vehicle of spiritual practice.
In the Tibetan tradition, to manifest an object with the power of “Liberation Through Seeing” is the highest aspiration for a creator of sacred art. An object with that power can be a catalyst for conscious evolution. Using painting, printmaking, sculpture, jewelry, and poetry as tools, Honshin’s intention is to convey the unity of consciousness and life of all things in the universe.
The legacy of his father’s influence is also reflected in his artist’s name, “Honshin Kaigen.” In the Japanese Zen tradition of teaching, when the teacher sees that the artist has achieved an individual expression of the sacred arts they honor them with an artist’s name reflecting what the teachers see in the work. In 1985 this revered designation was bestowed on Honshin by his father, acting on behalf of two Zen Masters in Japan, after nearly three decades of their observing his work. “Honshin” means the original mind is the heart. “Kaigen” is the opening of the spiritual eyes and the transmission of visions through the creative.
Honshin has received international acclaim for his work, which he sees as a mirror reflecting the true beauty and healing connectedness of all cultures. In 2001 he was invited by Thich Nhat Hanh’s publishing company to collaborate in a series of calendars, datebooks, journals, and note cards combining his artwork with the poetry and teachings of the renowned Buddhist teacher. For the past fifteen years, they have inspired and guided people worldwide to practice the principles of compassion, love, kindness, and the joy of living in the present moment.
For more information, please visit his website.
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