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Brief encounters of the Artistic kind – Prasanna Seth: Artist, Poet, Philosopher by Rattan Gujadhur

Vendredi 31 Août 2018

“It is always the false that makes you suffer, the false desires and fears, the false values and ideas, the false relationships between people. Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy, truth liberates.” ― Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj


I left home early morning on Sunday August 26th, and drove to Sonoma County. I had arranged with a close friend who also lives in Sonoma, to meet the elusive but acclaimed, well-known iconic artist Prasanna Seth. This meeting, it must be said, had been planned for months prior. Most of those missed opportunities, had been sadly missed, primarily because of my own erratic schedule, and grass hopper mind. 

Upon arriving, the simplicity of the place was a breath of fresh air, shoes left outside, and a nice fresh glass of water after an almost 2 hour drive from the bay area, in Sunday morning traffic was, an innocently pure advaitic welcome. There is always traffic in the bay area, even on Sundays. 
Mr Prasanna has been living in Sonoma since the early 70`s. As the beatnik generation was slowly dying off in California, and being converted into IT yuppies, in came this man from Mumbai. He recalls, he tells me, of one other Indian family in the area, but this was not important information, and he did not talk about any experienced forms of oppression or racism to me. These things did not seem to bother him or were not trivialities. 

Prasanna was now in his 80`s and was not the kind to whom one blurted out a list of interview questions, so he could give sway to his ownself, and expound his knowledge. Instead, it was I who started discussing my often futile passion for Buddhism, and then after waffling on for thirty minutes, there was a sudden silence in the room. He asked me very gently, kindly, and with infinite grace, you have talked a lot about precepts, and codes, but ‘In Buddhism, who really experiences the suffering’, ‘Suffering there is but who is the ‘I’ that experienced it’. This is the exact point, when I realized one is best equipped here in this encounter, to shut up flatly, and let the man`s experience and philosophy unleash itself, so one can leave here with wisdom and not knowledge.

Prasanna was steeped deep, not knee deep, but his whole being seem to be immersed in Advaita, not in a philosophical ‘out of this world kind’, but a deeply practical kind that enforced his own outlook in life. There were brief allusions to his past life, his very devout mother who was a Vaishnavite, and his bicycle ride across India when he was a teenage boy. Prasannaji (as I called him) always seemed to be dragging the interview to one point, and the point, that most mattered to him, that of ‘present; immediate awareness’.  His often calm composure, eyes closed, listening to me with rapt attention, and his acute sharp answers, felt like one was in front of an enlightened being, an old Rishi Muni of the past.

‘Rattan you open your eyes, you are here. You know you are present, the mind, it, is an imagination, image producing machine, it does not mean, the world is imagination and not worth living, it all means, all points to ‘cittramatra’, all is first created in the mind, all I know is truly this,  ‘I AM’. This was the crux of his vision’. Thought, becomes, afterthought, awareness is lost to distractions, but bring yourself to your Self.

With time as the interview unfolded one understood this artist was immersed in old Upanishadic verities, and lived them to the fullest in a practical way. He painted when the gist came from his intuitive awareness, and did not paint because of false mental pictures, or the desire to impress others with the histrionics of his brush, he had to wait (often for months) for all images to perish, for his focus to be one with the ‘One’, in full awareness and then the brush moved. Like in Ghalib`s famous lines, ‘Ghālib' sarīr-e-ḳhāma navā-e-sarosh hai (In Ghalib`s sound of his pen, there is a mysterious divine voice)

Prasanna`s works are timeless, a wave or a particle that is ever dancing. The painting of his old friend (see below), is done is sharp brush strokes, almost like he used a knife laced with paint, and cut through the canvas.  A forceful mission to remember a dear departed one. The departed one`s beauty is eminent, striking, but the artist seems to be telling us all, what a waste of time, to cry over the passing of time. Live in the present, the beautiful past is long gone. Did it even exist?

The final plat de resistance, was a mysterious work of the divine that he showed us with much humility. Two concentric circles on a white canvas, the circles, perfect circles, seen to our surprise, pulsating with life. The ephemeral nature of these strokes gave a sense of wild constant movement and wonder, unceasing, pulsing. I left this vision in awe and when he told me, ‘how did you feel’, I was almost stunned in silence, except for these words from the Kena Upanishad that I shared with him, ‘it is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the speech of the speech, the life of the life, the eye of the eye. The wise, freed (from the senses and from mortal desires), after leaving this world, become immortal’. 

And in this encounter, I was far from being the wise one !


Brief encounters of the Artistic kind – Prasanna Seth: Artist, Poet, Philosopher by Rattan Gujadhur

A propos de l'auteur : Rattan Gujadhur left Mauritius for higher studies in the US in 1999. He has practiced in the Pharma and Biotech world for over 29 years and is a Dr in Chemistry. He remains deeply in love with Mauritius and has published reminiscences of Mauritius via a poetry collection and a novel 

Rédigé par Rattan Gujadhur le Vendredi 31 Août 2018

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