(Vinod Anand)

You are standing in awe in front of a painting. You are getting lost in this labyrinth of shapes and forms, until you are no more. And yet, you are more yourself than you have ever been before.

If you’ve ever experienced this, you know that art of any kind can induce meditation. Vallabhacharya argued that the ego can transcend through bhava or feelings.

More precisely, if you are gazing at a painting, it can arouse so much bhava in you that your ego gets dissolved in feelings. Aristotle argued that tragedy (and hence, I would argue, also other types of art) can give us what he calls catharsis, a “purification of emotions” and a “pleasurable relief”, occurring as we undergo emotional states of pity and feat which we are in turn able to judge and apply appropriately in real life.

Some even compared catharsis to rasas or aesthetical moods, which are again intimately linked to bhavas, although rasas comprise more feelings than pity and fear—hasyam or humour and sringaram or love. Aristotle’s theory is controversial.

Yet, if we dare to combine it with Vallabhacharya’s thinking, it could enhance the idea. By submerging ourselves in a piece of art, we lose our ego in feelings and experience relief.

It is not only purification of our emotions, but purification of ourselves, a reminder, no matter how briefly, to exist without ego. Some may argue that emotional meditation is not the right way to curb ego, because emotional states are evoked by ego and therefore are reinforcing it. If this is the case, there is still the Schopenhauer cure.

Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy is in many aspects similar to much Indic philosophy For example, he argued that a major part of ourselves is the will to live, which causes us constant pain through desire.

If we are audacious, we could compare it to the ego. He also believed that space and time cause the “principle of individualization”, maya; hence we perceive each other as separate, even though everything is one, underneath. This underlying unity is somewhat similar to the concept of Atman.

According to Schopenhauer, through contemplation of a piece of art we are able to overcome maya. If one “abandons the entire power of his mind to the view, one entirely gets carried away, and lets consciousness be filled. One altogether gets lost in that object”, then there is no longer the perceived and perceiver.

This state is the inexistence of subject and object. The subject has become one with the object and the dividing dualism, causality, and the other hindrances on the path to truth vanish.

This method of contemplative meditation was oftentimes voiced by Krishnamurti, “to observe with silent mind”, un-prepossessed, the true form of meditation. Unsurprisingly, Krishnamurti also pointed out that the will is the essence of desire and looked for a methodology to exist without it.

Depending on our philosophical disposition, we can argue that art is, either by means of feelings or contemplation (as in silent observation), a gateway to the ego-less sphere. Perhaps, in times where increasingly more people find it difficult to merely be, art could succor or even be, as Heidegger thought, the way out of the “crises of modernity”, by giving access to “truth”.

So next time, bring your incense to the gallery, sit down in the lotus position, and render a homage to gurus of the brush, the pantheon of the pencil.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.