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Zen and the art of carving
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
ImageBuddhist teacher, Jitsudo Ancheta, brings more than 40 years of spiritual practice to artwork
By Kayla Sawyer
The artistry of Zen Buddhist teacher Jitsudo Ancheta began with gift-giving in celebration of New Year’s Day. He would carve on linoleum and multi-plate woodblock prints, embedding them with spiritual images and words, and each new year, give them to members of the local art and Buddhist communities.

The Albuquerque art scene and the Buddhist community support each other, said Ancheta. “The art supports the practice,” he explained in a recent talk with Local iQ.

While creating his pieces, Ancheta employs mantra chanting, like the “Heart Sutra,” a famous sutra in Mahayana Buddhism. The “Heart Sutra” is made up of 14 shlokas (songs) in Sanskrit, with each shloka containing 32 syllables. In the standard Chinese translation, it has 260 characters, but in English it’s composed of 16 sentences. It’s not music per say, but a sound that becomes a kind of music when one is mindfully chanting sutras. It helps maintain one’s focus and concentrate on the present, but more importantly, it creates harmony.


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“The phrases have power to them and what I feel like I’m doing is putting energy into the piece by chanting like that,” said Ancheta. “There are Buddhists all around the world who chant that piece every morning. The reality of it is that we’re all supporting each other — we’re all doing the same thing — thousands and hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

That kind of unity is a powerful idea and gives inspiration to creative pursuits. Of course there are time zones to consider, but although “timing is different, we usually do it around dawn,” Ancheta said.
Ancheta was born in Velarde, a tiny town between Española and Taos. His father, brother, uncle and aunt all pursued creative hobbies upon retirement, whether it was carving, weaving or songwriting.

Image“This is my art form and I haven’t done much more,” he said, “though I do a lot of gardening, and that’s kind of an art form too. I built a retreat center when my teacher was alive, and that was an art form in some ways. I’m a little bit of a carpenter.”

The Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, the Soto Zen Buddhist temple and retreat center built by Ancheta, sits in Idyllwild, Calif., surrounded by 160-acres of national wilderness. The Center was a 12-year project that’s still running, and remains dedicated to year-round training with residential programs, meditations and retreats. Ancheta has been practicing Zen Buddhism since 1970. He began with mediation before eventually finding a teacher. He was drawn to Buddhism because he liked the idea of being present without judging.

“I felt like there’s something deeper than what we experience and feel that you have to go beyond the intellectual process. Truth isn’t intellectual — it is and it isn’t — but it isn’t wholly intellectual,” said Ancheta. “One of the problems with intellect is that we have logic, but logic is developed by our language. The Japanese, Native Americans, Westerners have different logic, and that’s the problem we have: We can’t understand other people because we don’t understand their logic, unless you really study hard. But by just being, you can feel everybody around you.”

ImageAncheta, who will be 70 next year, said that although he still dabbles in everything, he’s basically retired. He continues to teach, but only senior students one-on-one. When asked what he brings to the Albuquerque art scene, he said, “Compassion. And I think that’s a lot.”

“I believe deeply that all of New Mexico is very supportive of the arts: The sky, the mountains, even the Rio Grande river, is all part of the art in this state and I’m proud to be here and privileged to have the experience of working here,” he said.
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