The Art and Writings of Seiho
Zen Spirit is a careful selection from the scrolls, paintings, calligraphy and writings of a remarkable artist, martial artist, writer and sage. After youthful years of adventure in pursuit of the arts, M.J. Sullivan awoke to his true inner being about the time he was awarded the name Seiho (Mountain Sage); this honor was bestowed on him for his mastery of calligraphy. He was at the same time also studying and gaining mastery in the arcane discipline of Japanese swordsmanship, where again he distinguished himself by winning a Prefectural championship in Japan, possibly the first Westerner ever to so do.
In time, his teachers sent him back to the United States, where he felt himself expected to transplant a dojo of his school of Japanese sword in America. His pursuit of this mission would express the student’s gratitude to his sensei, a thankfulness he felt deeply towards his teachers.
However, he had also made a retreat into the mountains of Japan, an event he
seldom discusses, where his encounters also radically deepened his personal
spirit quest; and so, upon the culture shock of arriving back in the West, before undertaking his missions into the world, Seiho retreated to a cabin high in the Colorado Rockies. There, he realized that his true inner path was continuing to open to him. In a sense he has never returned from those hermitages, half a world apart, in the Japanese and Colorado mountains.
Yes, he did fulfill his missions in his own way and by his own light. Seiho
clarified his school of swordsmanship, heightening its Zen focus to the point that he felt obliged to present it in his privately-printed (and now rare) book, Sword & Psyche. He also was invited back to Japan to translate his calligraphy school’s textbooks into English.
As he immersed himself in the daily discipline of calligraphy, Seiho expanded into large calligraphic paintings; and from there explored the art of collage,
focusing on calligraphy and framing the traditional Japanese household shrine,
Be the calligraphy for the martial arts, or Zen for meditation, each is exquisitely brushed to be hung in some special place. Each scroll is a thought, or sometimes a koan wrought to haunt, or perhaps even to sound a quiet intonation of "AUM" in one's innermost ear.
The commentary in this book is both deep and honest. At times it is playful. Yet by simple commentary on scroll after scroll, and taking the body of commentary as a series of insights, it is enlightening. These brief comments on the calligraphy can open an understanding of some of the concepts of Zen that are most difficult for Westerners. If Zen enfolds non-form and the calligraphy in which it is expressed is an ever-flowing form, the two may dance together, as in the phrase from the Heart Sutra, "emptiness is not different from form."
As M.J. Sullivan, he also has written novels, and as Seiho, an early manifesto
for trans-Pacific art. Introductory samplings from much of this exceptional work are included herein. Of special note are the tantalizing segments from his book Shingyo: Reflections on Translating the Heart Sutra, which guides us into deeper understanding of this much-loved text.
The Scrolls, artwork, calligraphy and tokonoma collages are treasures to be
slowly savored from day to day. Their messages linger in the aftertaste. Scroll by scroll, painting by painting, each finely brushed writing, can take one deeply into the mind of those who practice Zen, or the martial arts, or Zen and the martial arts. There is a Seiho tokonoma calligraphy of ku, (Emptiness) that is enshrined above my writing table in the desert.
But this collection of Seiho’s art and writings stems from, and harkens back to, his early, enlightening retreats into the mountains. It is this Zen Spirit, which for him forever dances around the Heart Sutra; and it is this Zen Spirit which focuses and binds Seiho’s art and writings into a unified, organic whole. You may read this book from cover to cover, or just open and browse. Each separate piece weaves into the others.
That said, however, I recommend that you start with Roland Roemer-kyoshi’s
wise and insightful Foreword. As the kyoshi tells us, for his students, coming to Zen Spirit through the discipline of the Japanese martial arts can give even very young students a visceral awareness of that spirit. As Seiho teaches, in swords as in life, “there is only the battle within.”
If enlightenment is in the ever-present Here and Now, a beautifully executed
calligraphy can act as a living verb, a flow that is both captured and alive, everrenewing in the aware beholder the eternal reality beneath the surface of the merely physical.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Before a dramatic mid-life course correction while in Japan, young Michael Justin Sullivan had been a sailing captain, delivering yachts from the Northeast to Fort Lauderdale, the Bahamas and beyond into the Caribbean. These were the last days of canvas sail, teak decks and navigating by sextant, a time in the ‘50s and ‘60s when Ft. Lauderdale was still a sleepy Florida city and there were but a few paved roads on the Out Islands.
This is the era captured by Three-Strand Cordage, a novel of one man’s life in three interwoven tales. Against the tranquil background of this vanished era, he finds himself caught up in kidnapping and a murderous shootout, deceived and betrayed in a gun-smuggling plot by anti-Castro Cubans, and fleeing from drug smugglers with his daughter, only to sail into Hurricane Agnes.
In his mid-30s, M.J. Sullivan became a champion Japanese swordsman. As Seiho his calligraphy has twice won the Kampō Prize, as well as the prestigious Nippon Shuji Prize.
His novel, In This Living Body, is twinned with his Shingyō: Reflections on Translating the Heart Sutra, both now available on Amazon.
With a Masters in Asian Studies, three of his calligraphy workbooks have been published in Japan. His classic book on Japanese swordsmanship, Sword and Psyche, led to WAZA, his first novel about Japanese Buddhism and the martial arts, which received the CoVisions Recognition Award for Literature in 1994.
Now primarily a literary author, he still teaches the Zen of swordsmanship and custom brushes calligraphy for clients and collectors from his studio in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.