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Aesthetics of Zen Buddhism in the works of M. A. Voloshin
(On the example of poetic miniatures inscriptions for watercolors)

Bai Yan

ORCID: 0000-0003-0530-5471

postgraduate student, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, Peoples' Friendship University of Russia

117198, Russia, Moscow region, Moscow, Miklukho-Maklaya str., 6

Pinaev Sergei Mikhailovich

Doctor of Philology

Professor, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, Peoples' Friendship University of Russia

117198, Russia, Moscow region, Moscow, Miklukho-Maklaya str. 6, 10, of. 2










Abstract: This article examines the embodiment of the ideas and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism in the works of M. Voloshin. The purpose of the article is to identify how the thought and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism are presented in the works of M. Voloshin. The material for the work was M. Voloshins poetic miniatures - inscriptions on watercolors, autobiographies and memoirs. M. Voloshin himself called Buddhism the first religious step in his autobiography. Zen Buddhism does not accept the dualism and irreconcilability of Western philosophy, for example, the opposition God-man, moment eternity, peace struggle, etc. One typical feature of M. Voloshin's work is philosophical harmony, and many of his poems resonate with the poems of Zen (Chan) masters. Categories embodied in Zen poems, such as the frailty of the earthly, eternity and harmony of nature, can also be found in the poems of M. Voloshin. The novelty lies in the fact that currently little attention is paid to the manifestations of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism in the works of the poet. The analysis of Maximilian Voloshins watercolors paintings allows us to assert that Zen Buddhism occupies an important place among his aesthetic and ideological guidelines. The study of the reception of Zen Buddhism in the work of M. Voloshin is of great importance for understanding his poetry, the concept of creativity and worldview. Under the influence of the ideas and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism, Voloshins poems reflect his three fundamental categories of aesthetics: The principle of simplicity; Harmony; The principle of emptiness and silence.


Voloshin, worldview, Zen Buddhism, aesthetics, the principle of simplicity, harmony, oppositions, Chan, nature, silence

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Maximilian Voloshin is one of the greatest poets of the Silver Age. Since childhood, he has shown an unusual interest in art and religion. Under the influence of his teacher N. V. Gurkin, M. Voloshin came into contact with Buddhism and Eastern philosophy and read a book about Buddhist teaching, The Light of Asia. In September 1902, in Paris, M. Voloshin met the Buddhist scientist Agvan Dorzhiev. From him M. Voloshin learned a lot about Nirvana and other categories of Buddhism, which greatly "turned many thoughts" of the poet. Voloshin writes about this in his Autobiography: "I happened to get to know the Khambo lama of Tibet, who came to Paris incognito, and thus touch Buddhism in its origins. This was my first religious step" [1, p. 37]. In a letter to M. V. Sabashnikova, Voloshin states: "Christianity is the furthest from all religions to me. Buddhism and Olympus are closer to me" [2, p. 30].

Although Voloshin had not visited the East, he showed great interest in Eastern philosophy. The poet read the book by the French writer Paul Claudel "The Knowledge of the East". Under the impression of this book, Voloshin wrote his article "Claudel in China", which begins with a visit to the Chan Temple. In his article Voloshin tried to convey the spirit of China and its wisdom, including the practice and aesthetics of Chinese Buddhism Chan Buddhism [3].

Chan Buddhism was formed in China at the turn of the V-VI centuries A.D. According to philosophical teaching, Chan Buddhism does not consider discourse and logical thinking as a way to comprehend the supreme truth, but tries to understand it spontaneously through intuitive insight. And Chan Buddhism seeks to remove all opposites "subject and object", "truth and falsehood", "time and eternity", "life and death", "good and evil" and others [4, p. 15]. Chinese scholars (Ge Zhaoguang, Yi Zhongtian) note that Chan Buddhism is even broader than Taoism. In their opinion, the Chinese tradition merges into chan, including Taoism and Confucianism, Indian yoga, and many other specific features. They even believe that Chan Buddhism is not so much a religion as a worldview, a philosophy of life designed to guide a person along the path of self-knowledge and development [5].

Since the IX century, Chan Buddhism has spread in Japan, then the Japanese will call it "Zen Buddhism". Zen Buddhism, as an integral part of Eastern culture, has influenced various types of art, in particular poetry and painting. During his fascination with Buddhism , the poet wrote: "I decided to leave Paris for now and in the fall I will go first to Lake Baikal, where I will have letters to some Buddhist monasteries, and then to Japan to learn to draw" [6, p. 42].

"Inscriptions on watercolors" are poetic explanations by M. Voloshin to his landscapes on the theme of Koktebel. In Eastern culture, the inscriptions of the poem were made on paintings. M. Voloshin took this genre from Chinese artists. Back in the 11th century, the Chinese poet Su Shi wrote in verse about the famous poet and artist Wang Wei, whose work is considered the "quintessence of Chan norms": "In poetry a picture, and in a picture a verse." Voloshin learned a lot from artists and poets of the East in the depiction of plants, water, clouds and in poems and watercolors. It is no coincidence that the distinctive feature of M. Voloshin's work is the synthesis of poetry and painting. Synthesizing the features of each of the two types of art, he created inscriptions on watercolors. Depicting the picturesque landscapes of Koktebel, these poems also have a touch of Zen. The poet enumerates the images and reveals the harmony and silence of nature.

In Zen Buddhism, the awakening of the Buddha's own nature was carried out by staying in the state of the Unborn (Kit. bu sheng; yap. fuse), experiencing his directness, simplicity and effectiveness. The aesthetics of Zen is very straightforward, and any creativity of art should certainly contain two qualities naturalness and simplicity [7]. It can be said that the aesthetics of Zen consists in minimizing expressive means and creative efforts, in striving for transparency of form, elegance of actions and bringing diversity to unity. "The spirit of Zen teaching," D. Suzuki wrote, gave rise to the utmost simplicity of art, a minimum of visual means, the most concise form. Nothing should hinder the natural movement, spontaneity, self-expression of things" [8]. As he himself notes, in the method of approaching nature, studying and transmitting it, Voloshin stood on the point of view of the classical Japanese (Hokusai, Utamaro) [9]. Indeed, Voloshin expresses the main requirements for art as simplicity and elegance, that is, the removal of everything superfluous [10, p. 39]. Influenced by the aesthetics of Zen Buddhism, Voloshin simply lists images in order to express the harmony and grandeur, simplicity and silence of nature. Here is a typical example from the inscriptions to the watercolors:

Crimson arches of evening trees

And the blue eye lakes.

And the green of grass, and thickets of bushes

Purple-pink and pink-crimson. [11]

Moonlight... Dry riverbeds

And the silence of ancient waters.

June 22, 1928 [12]

Zen Buddhism does not accept the duality and irreconcilability of the essential categories of Western philosophy, for example, the confrontation "God - man", "subject object", "moment eternity", etc. Well-known Buddhist texts speak about the "wordless" words of the Buddha, about his "thunderous silence" [4, p. 79]. Russian poets of the beginning of the XX century focus on opposites: "eternity is a moment", "peace is a struggle", "earthly is heavenly". And M. Voloshin expressed one in another, for example, conveyed the eternal through the fleeting, silence through dynamics, so that the same objects were perceived through their opposite manifestations, which, in fact, constituted the essence of their inseparable unity, thus removed all opposites such as "time-eternity", "life-death", "subject-object", "truth-lie", "good-evil". The aesthetics of Zen Buddhism allows you to see the big in the small, the sublime in the ordinary and the refined in the rough simplicity, to capture the universal beauty and pristine harmony, intuitively feel and express the deep content in simple expressive strokes and laconic patterns. Here are typical examples in his poems:

Sadness is sad through the morning crystal.

("Zhar-tsvet" 1928)

...And the ringing silence of the earth

Fields of marble and mountains of glass

And soaring to the sky

icy flame

("Inscriptions on watercolors", M. Voloshin) [12]

This is a direct reflection of the Buddhist view of reality, which presupposes the constant simultaneous actualization of the opposite existentiality of seemingly identical objects that are both themselves and their opposites.

Poems on watercolors "... not the titles of watercolors at all. Their combination is not parallel, but irrational. "..." It is necessary to look for a symphonic, not a unison combination," writes M. Voloshin Yu. Obolenskaya on October 20, 1917 [13]. Rejecting naked rationalism and turning his face to nature, M. Voloshin conveys its silence in his poems, which include elements of Zen.

A wave rustles on the Koktebel coast.

(October 30, 1925) [12]

"The wave rustles" is an action; however, in M. Voloshin's poetry, he does not just state the silence of Koktebel, but expresses silence through dynamics.

Drowned in the mists

Lakes and hills. [12]

Lakes and hills are introduced into the poem to show the greatness of nature, and clouds and mists to reveal the silence and solemnity of the mountains.

In the poetry and painting of ancient Chinese masters, nature is a symbol of harmony and peace, gives a sense of serenity. Many of M. Voloshin's works are associated with the poems of the Chinese poets Chan. The categories embodied in the Chan poems, such as the impermanence of the earthly and the eternity of nature, can also be found in the poems of M. Voloshin. According to the philosophical teaching, Zen, a person staying in Zen, discovers not only his own essence, but also the amazing harmony of the world and the greatness of the surrounding. These poems are permeated with deep currents of "Zen":

And the waves of the mountains, and the mirror of the bay,

And the silence of heaven in the silence of the earth.

("Inscriptions on watercolors", 1917) [12]

The mountains and the bay are introduced into poetry to form a harmonious and majestic picture, and to show the silence of heaven and earth and the eternity of nature.

Chinese poets influenced by Buddhist ideas often use the traditional technique of Chinese poetry comparing human existence with natural phenomena to express the idea of the transience of life, the fragility of earthly existence. In Voloshin 's poems you can find such images:

How quickly the grass of the hills wilted in autumn

Under a wet foot.

Like a yellow leaf, purple-gray,

The day dies inaudibly.

"Zhar-tsvet 1928" [12]

The Japanese poet Basho believes that "the radiance of the thing you see you must keep it in the word until it disappears from your heart" [14]. Haiku Basho is the quintessence of the embodiment of Zen thought. Here is an example:

On a bare branch

The raven sits alone.

Autumn evening. [14, p. 27]

The poet is not talking about the loneliness of the raven, but about his own. There is a similar example in Voloshin 's poem:

In green-fawn fogs

The autumn hills are sad... [12]

The poet recreates the real landscape of Koktebel and transmits his state of mind through it. He does not talk about the sadness of the hills, but expresses his own feelings.

Satori (kensho) is a state of enlightenment, awakening, coming suddenly. According to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, enlightenment is considered a state of absolute peace. This state is instantaneous, like a "flash of consciousness". And the state of Satori cannot be described in words, but can only be felt through its indirect signs "a sense of unity, calmness, loss of sense of time and space, sudden comprehension of the truth" [15].

This requires full concentration, spiritual and physical, which allows one's own "I" to merge with the One, like a drop of water falling into the ocean. When the "I" becomes "everything", calmness, natural balance with the world and nature will be realized in this state. This state is similar to the poetic insight that contributes to the creation of such images:

... And low over the hill the trembling crescent of Venus,

Like the flame of an air-wavering candle

Misty lights and rays,

The boiling of waters, and the mercury luster of brocade,

And the echoing murmur of crumbling foam.

Rainy mountains and gray distance

On the greenery of a gentle seaside glade.

Napping under the pink full moon

Piles of hills and bays. [12]

"The echoing murmur of crumbling foam", "the dormant nazarenes", all this plunged the reader into silence, peace akin to the moment of satori, full of supreme meaning.

Influenced by the ideas and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism, Voloshin's poems reflect his three fundamental categories of aesthetics: 1. The principle of simplicity, that is, the poet captures an important moment of the state of nature, simply listing images, and thus expressing the harmony of nature; 2. Harmony is a kind of whole when the poet tries to express one through the other, while linking various antinomies together; 3. The principle of emptiness and silence, that is, the poet expresses the tranquility of nature, which resonates with the silence of chan. The analysis of the inscriptions to Maximilian Voloshin's watercolors suggests that Zen Buddhism occupies an important place among his aesthetic and ideological orientations; traces of this philosophical teaching are noticeable, which are reworked in Voloshin's work, in particular, in the inscriptions to watercolors). The study of the reception of Zen Buddhism in the works of M. Voloshin is of great importance for the perception of the poet's worldview and the artistic concept of his work.


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The article presented for consideration "Aesthetics of Zen Buddhism in the works of M. A. Voloshin On the example of poetic miniatures - inscriptions on watercolors", proposed for publication in the magazine "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, due to the author's appeal to the study of one of the aspects of the work of Maximilian Voloshin, who is one of the largest poets of the Silver Age. It should be noted that there is a relatively small number of studies on this topic in Russian philology. The article is innovative, one of the first in Russian philology devoted to the study of such issues. The article presents a research methodology, the choice of which is quite adequate to the goals and objectives of the work. The author turns, among other things, to various methods to confirm the hypothesis put forward. The practical material of the study was "Inscriptions on watercolors", which are poetic explanations by M. Voloshin to his landscapes on the theme of Koktebel. Theoretical fabrications are not sufficiently illustrated by language examples, and convincing data obtained by statistical methods or corpus analysis are presented. This work was done professionally, in compliance with the basic canons of scientific research. The research was carried out in line with modern scientific approaches, the work consists of an introduction containing the formulation of the problem, the main part, traditionally beginning with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, a research and a final one, which presents the conclusions obtained by the author. In the introductory part, the author does not give the historiography of the issue, which does not allow to fully highlight the novelty of the work. It should be noted that the conclusion requires strengthening, it does not fully reflect the tasks set by the author and does not contain prospects for further research in line with the stated issues. Russian Russian bibliography includes 15 sources, among which works are presented exclusively in Russian or works translated into Russian? The comments made are not significant and do not detract from the overall positive impression of the reviewed work. Typos, spelling and syntactic errors, inaccuracies in the text of the work were not found. In general, it should be noted that the article is written in a simple, understandable language for the reader. The work is innovative, representing the author's vision of solving the issue under consideration and may have a logical continuation in further research. The practical significance of the research lies in the possibility of using its results in the teaching of university courses in literary theory, as well as courses on interdisciplinary research on the relationship between language and society. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. The article "Aesthetics of Zen Buddhism in the works of M. A. Voloshin On the example of poetic miniatures inscriptions on watercolors" can be recommended for publication in a scientific journal.
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