Phoenix, AZ
(520) 276-9593

Whole Life Stroke: Arrival, Kālacakra, and Shambhala Art

Warning: This post contains spoilers about the movie, Arrival.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “It’s possible to make a brush stroke that expresses your whole life.” It is a statement that is audacious and bold, and typical from a man who had a deep understanding of life and art. But is it possible? After seeing the movie Arrival, I believe it might be.

Arrival is a science fiction drama that tells the story of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her work to communicate with an alien species who visit earth. A linguist by training, Banks begins the slow process of learning to speak with the aliens. Although they appear to have a spoken language, the aliens communicate through the production of circles drawn in a kind of ink. These circles, which have a striking similarity to the Zen ensō-s, are soon discovered to be very complex logograms, communicating a vast amount of information in a single shape. Even more interesting, the logograms don’t have a beginning or an end — they can be read in any direction.


Yet the deep point of the logograms is that they begin to rewire Banks brain and how she views space and time. Throughout the movie we see flashes of Banks with her daughter, which we’re likely to assume as flashbacks. As it turns out, they are flashforwards. As Banks learns the alien’s language, she begins to experience the world as they do — with ability to experience the past, present, and future. Banks comprehends the enormity of the implication, seeing how this will effectively bring together the whole world.

As I thought about the message of the movie, the ideas of the Kālacakra teachings and Shambhala Art immediately came to mind. The Kālacakra is an esoteric teaching in Tibetan Buddhism that speaks to the wheel of time, and was the sacred teaching given to the Shambhala Kings. Per the teachings, those who receive its innermost initiation obtain the Buddhahood as the personification of time. People who receive this initiation have committed to the work of enlightening all beings, acting as examples of compassion and skillful action in the world. This can be understood as a natural of outcome of awareness of the suffering and difficulties experienced by all past, present, and future beings.

In Shambhala Art as I understand it, we are always relating to our world as it is. Trungpa Rinpoche used the metaphor of square one as the space of freshness and genuineness. In the chapter “Back to Square One” in True Perception, Trungpa Rinpoche spends many pages communicating the nature of square one. I summarize this chapter for myself as groundless generosity. The word groundless means that something as infinite space in all directions in which to move and expand, and generosity is the idea of leaving out nothing. There is a connection here between Shambhala Art and the kālacakra—like time itself, square one contains all things in all its forms. All the world as it was, is, and will be exists within time and square one. Thus, moving from the space of square one is honoring all that was, is, and will be, and manifesting that awareness.

When we make a stroke, we can — if we’re groundless enough — express the totality of time and space. An arrangement of flowers can tell the story of their emergence, their presence, and their passing. A cup of tea can express the fleetness of experience as it emerges, fixates, and passes. Like the alien logograms in Arrival, the process of our life can express everything that has come before, is there now, and will be.

One Response

  1. Anne Saitzyk says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *