Maître Banane From satirical comics to Zen Buddhism

- through Henry Oudin

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Publisher, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, Christian “Kokon” Gaudin, alias Maître Banane, discovered Zen late in life. After a life dedicated to psychedelic culture and humorous comics, this resolutely out-of-box artist took bodhisattva vows, with the credo: jokes and Buddhism go hand in hand.

When did you discover Buddhism?

At the age of forty, when I started drawing again. At that time, I was very much in love with a Buddhist friend who followed the Zen Soto tradition; when she came back from the dojo, where Roland Rech (1) led meditation sessions, her face was transformed! This challenged me, especially since this way of life was the opposite of mine: I worked in the publishing of transgressive comics. What she told me about Zen teachings joined some of my questions about the meaning of life and the nature of reality.

What amazed me from the start was that, in addition to compassion, there was humor in the way this teaching was delivered. Nothing to do with the bad memories I had of my education with the fathers, whose actions did not always conform to their sermons. In my eyes, humor is the ultimate weapon against the vicissitudes of life and ego. At that time, I had the idea of ​​telling this universe of Zen in drawing, through very friendly little cats. I started to practice and after a year I took the bodhisattva vows; I received my rakusu (2) and my Buddhist name, “Kokon”, which means “Root of Awakening”, given by Roland Rech to encourage me to root myself in reality instead of smoking cannabis. At the time, my ego squealed that I wasn't a 'Dragon of the Way' or a 'Mountain of Wisdom', but now I love the 'clown' sound of my name! (laugh)

What spoke to you in this school of Zen Soto?

I rubbed shoulders with many practitioners from other traditions, but I found in this school a state of mind that resonated with my somewhat anarchist side. - In Zen, we are used to the representation of the Bodhidharma with his bushy eyebrows, but there is another extremely famous figure, especially in Asia, it is Hotei, the laughing monk with his big belly in the air, whose statues decorate many of restaurants. He has become the Buddha of happiness in a way. It is this aspect that I highlight in my books and my conferences. I often evoke this founding episode of Buddhism where disciples gathered at the Peak of the Vultures ask the Buddha to summarize his message for them. The latter then takes a flower from a bouquet that has been offered to him and swirls it around in silence. No one understands anything except his closest disciple, Mahakashyapa, who smiles. Buddha then said: "I have transmitted to Mahakashyapa my most precious treasure". This is the beginning of Mahayana. A school that starts with a smile, that's what I really like!

What immediately attracted you to this spirituality?

What amazed and attracted me the most at the beginning, it is this possibility that the meditation gives to meet oneself. From the moment you manage to stay focused on what your mind produces, you discover a lot of things and a few surprises! Like when you are crossed, disturbed, by the same obsession that keeps coming back, and that you finally accept to welcome it and that it frees you from it. Meditation gives me a finer, more advanced perception of what existence is, of how information is processed, coded by the brain. It's much more complete and less tiring than the various experiences I had when I was younger testing certain psychedelic drugs.

As an editor and designer, you have created a corrosive work, around the themes of sex and cannabis in particular, a thousand leagues from Buddhist wisdom. Why this spiritual shift?

What I find interesting in Zen is the freedom despite an often severe and rigid form. I found in Zen an answer to my illusions, my addictions, and a lot of compassion... What interests me in this practice which illuminates my gray areas, is to transform myself, to better accompany me and realize myself beyond my fears. I haven't given up on my old life, I still have a fat baby side that sucks (laugh), but I walk on and I don't forget that in the precepts that you integrate when you become a bodhisattva, there is that of not becoming intoxicated.

You regularly lead conferences on Zen, in particular on the theme « Laughter and Meditation, Humor and Spirituality ». Can we laugh at everything in Buddhism?

I believe it deeply and not only in Buddhism, in everything! There are many examples of great masters who use humor in their teachings, the closest to us being Master Deshimaru, reputed to be very strong and very funny. For example, in my latest book, Zen Tweets (3), I pay somewhat irreverent homage to the great wisdom of Zen and also to Sengai, a great Japanese monk famous for his haikus and cartoons, by featuring Shakyamini Booba, a suburban Zen master who translates the Dharma in city slang. While specifying that I do not make drawings to shock, but to amuse the readers and transmit my vision of Buddhism through humor. With my guides for Zen cats, I'm on a cuter register, it's nicely offbeat, while with Shakyamini Booba, I allow myself more digressions and transgressions. Humor, even vulgar and slang, allows you to distance yourself, which is in line with the message of Buddhism.

What has Buddhism changed in your life?

Buddhism allowed me to understand some of my obsessions and addictions. I live in a more serene way all the glitches that fall on me and I take life as it comes. I have a much more fluid, harmonious sensation of life, of passing time, of this time which is so small and these mountains so large, in short, I am more in touch with my sensitivity and reality, which valuable help in my work and my life. Zen taught me to taste impermanence, I no longer deny myself the right to succeed and fail, because Buddhism helped me to accept myself and I was able to bring out my markers and my brushes.

"A school that starts with a smile, that's what I really like!" »

More prosaically, the karma generated by my fun practice, in particular with the Butsu Zen Zone, allowed me to meet remarkable men and women, to become friends with the Zen masters of our time, to develop a taste for giving conferences on Zen and even to win a stay in Japan to make the Buddhist pilgrimage Henro de Shikoku in VIP mode during a blogger contest at Japan Expo! You could say that practicing Zen helps keep me on the right side of the gutter. (laugh)

Today, you apply a drawing teaching method known as the « right brain ", that you allows, you say, to disregard your a priori on your representations of reality. What does it consist of?

It's a technique I discovered in the book Drawing with the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards, which was essential to my graphic revival. One of the chapters is entitled “The Zen of drawing”. The idea: every human being has the ability to draw in a very realistic and powerful way, but from the end of childhood, he tinkers with a kind of stylistic alphabet that shields his original abilities. This alphabet is created by our left brain, that of logic, speech, etc. This method aims to let go of this dominant hemisphere by doing exercises that it will not support. For example: draw the outline of his hand, that is to say the emptiness that surrounds it, without looking at his sheet and by penciling every millimeter according to the path of the eye on the hand. The left brain hates it because it gets bored quickly! As soon as it lets go, the right hemisphere, which is more holistic, more creative, takes over and develops its power. It is truly an immediate awakening to drawing and I have been leading weekends or immediate learning courses in realistic drawing with this method for 25 years. In my eyes, this mental state associated with the right brain is not unrelated to the state of deep consciousness of zazen, which is called “Hishiryo”. Both zazen and drawing are practices that reveal a lot about our mind and allow us to transform it

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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