Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lotus Lens Director's Letter, Summer 2016

We launched our year with a two-day course on compassion in the workplace, titled Action and Accountability, developed by our friends at Dorrier Underwood Consulting. Almost sixty participants from organizations like the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, American Airlines, and Toyota gathered with the Crow team to explore communication steeped in loving-kindness: speech that is closer to straight talk, yielding swifter results and more mutual understanding of common goals. One might not expect this work in an Asian art museum, but this effort to better know our true nature is beautifully aligned with our study of compassion as it is realized in ourselves, our work, and in our museum.

For the Crow Collection of Asian Art, three primary goals emerged for 2016: Fundraising, Multiculturalism, and Compassion. In tandem with premiering beautiful collections this year from Brooklyn, Chicago, and Mexico City, the Crow team is forging paths to greater independence through the launch of a development office and extending the opportunity of growing this museum to all of you in the community. In January, we received our first gift of significance, inspiring us to delve into new relationships with our beloved donors and partnering with the corporate communities as well.
Thanks to the bright initiative in the education department, multiculturalism has also been a topic of impassioned commitment among our team. I am proud to write that we are looking at our museum with fresh eyes toward mission and vision, and how this collection, forged by Margaret and Trammell Crow, finds relevance in the diverse landscape that is Dallas seventeen years later. We’ve held several internal workshops, increasing our understanding of how we are perceived in the community and how we wish to be known. This new world of broader understanding is a practice of self-compassion and one that will make our museum stronger and more diverse in the future.

In the first quarter of the year, we launched a multi-year Study of Compassion with a series of lectures devoted to this topic and how compassion relates to a human experience of art and healing. A collection of podcasts on compassion will be posted on our website and through social media in the future, as we continue to discover compassion for ourselves in an effort to make connections for others.

The opportunity to explore compassion in the works of Tibetan Buddhism is yours through the summer in Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection. Curator Dr. Kathryn Selig Brown’s delightful interview with Dr. Jacqueline Chao in this issue of the Lotus Lens illuminates lessons of compassion as they relate to attainment of enlightenment through wisdom—all captured beneath the delicate repouss√© book covers in the esteemed MacLean Collection.

Additionally, Dr. Qing Chang unveils new research of the cinnabar Lacquer vase in the collection, launching an important new commitment toward scholarly research and unprecedented study of our works. I am proud of the board’s attention to this critical and compassionate step toward our future as 

Thoughts on Study


Compassion, when one starts to look for it, whether in the gestural curves of a stele of Vishnu or in the graceful teaching mudras of a Bodhisaatva, exists in many places in and around the Dallas Arts District. Compassion is, when one starts to look for it, everywhere.

One of the first places that inspired the Study of Compassion is one block away at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Just off to the right of the main entrance, next to a life-size statue of the Virgin, is a small vestibule for the placing of prayer candles. At night, it glows: hundreds of candles placed lovingly on the shelves are a manifestation of hope and devotion, compassion and love. Placing these candles is not only a practice of a religious faith, it is an action to express care and concern for another’s suffering. Compassion lives, twenty-four hours a day, at our treasured downtown cathedral.

This experience, of being consumed by the candles in both sense and sight, propelled me to ask: Where do we find compassion in our daily lives and practices? And how can we find more of it? Very occasionally, a visitor might leave a small offering of a coin or two on the pedestal in front of the Ganesha or linger with the Buddha as part of their own practice, but how can we teach the complex lessons of compassion every day at the Crow Collection of Asian Art? Why does the need for compassion seem more urgent with every passing headline?


Where do we start? I wrote first to Karen Armstrong, author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and founder of The Charter for Compassion. Since our visit by phone, the museum has signed the Charter and joined a coalition of more than thirty cities in North Texas committed to compassion and education. Ms. Armstrong’s third chapter: Self-compassion was the signpost I was looking for, and the one I needed the most. Before we can illuminate compassion in Asian Art and teach others, we have to look to where compassion lives in us. And in me. Where does compassion live in the words that I speak, and the actions I make in conversations with others? Am I authentically practicing loving-kindness when I criticize others or speak with pretense? No. Compassion lives in the moment I pause, take a deep breath, and send love in the place of what was there. This reaction, the negative one, is the mindfulness bell to change the moment to a new action: something kind and understanding. And then, when that happens, yes, I am compassion. We all are.

Millions of Grains of Sand and One Lesson in Compassion

The monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery were recently in Dallas for the annual residency at the Crow Collection of Asian Art. The organization has been supporting our interest in sharing Tibet for seventeen years: seventeen mandalas, almost 200 monks, prayer flag exchanges, high school students immersed in widening worlds--each year our world getting a little bit bigger and a lot smaller at the same time.

The week's planning and coordination has become fine-tuned by our skillful team: schedules are full with community dinners, school visits; the altar is prepared with fresh fruit, flowers and milk; the table upon which the mandala will be constructed is painted with a fresh coat of silky black paint. I consider the layers: white chalk lines from various mandalas over the years all here on this table I hope we will always use.

Each year the group of ten or eleven men selected to participate in the US tour are different. Occasionally we may re-unite with a Geshe or a driver who has been here before, but generally our meetings are new and very literally once-in-this lifetime.

The staff at the museum loves this experience, and this passion shows in how much care and concern they devote to the week. No day is too long, every moment to be with these young buddhist scholars is the moment to be in--and nothing else matters. I watched them laugh and play, I watched them ask questions, practicing both English and Tibetan with equal patience and respect: both parties were in the moment to learn.

Is this not compassion manifest? A young team of museum employees taking these monks of a similar age into their care and expressing sincere interest in their story, their hopes and experiences. Similarly, these young monks, seeing Texas for the first time: days spent intensely hunched over the mandala: creating Amitayus in a majestic universe helping us all get a little more comfortable with the realities of time and impermanence.

What is the cumulative impact of years of witnessing the construction and creation of mandala after mandala? Are we more comfortable with endings and beginnings? Are we more patient? I see the pilgrims return year after year, and I wonder how their lives are different. I know mine is. I send only peace and gratitude to those who make the Mystical Arts of Tibet possible, and to the monks who work through aching muscles and fatigue. Dallas is better because of them.