Herbert “Herbie” J. Hancock, 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, discussed how his Buddhist beliefs fueled his musical creativity during a talk at the Sanders Theater on Monday afternoon.
At the talk, titled “Buddhism and Creativity,” Hancock first shared her story of embracing Buddhism and then discussed the relationship between religious worldviews and artistic innovation. The lecture was the penultimate part of the six-part, semester-long Norton Lecture Series titled “The Ethics of Jazz” and presented by the Mahindra Humanities Center.
Hancock said he was introduced to Buddhism by Buster Williams, a member of his band, at a concert in Seattle in 1972. Since then he has practiced Buddhism, which he says “affected my way to see everything”. He said he believed the practice of Buddhism has “profoundly transformed and improved [his] life, both as a human and as a musician.
Hancock described the practice of Buddhist principles as a condition of enlightenment and said that exercising these beliefs “reveals a major shift in the relationship between yourself and your external environment”.
He added that this new way of life and the Buddhist chantings he has since adopted have sparked great inspiration for his creativity.
Hancock described what he believes to be the fundamental characteristics of cultural artistic creativity: inspiration, hard work, challenge, courage, originality and innovation, ability or skill, and imagination. Yet he said the true definition of creativity transcends words, and for this reason, creativity is like magic.
Hancock then posed the question, “So, well, what drives creativity? He went on to list major motivators including fear, pain and suffering, joy, clockwork, stress, anger, desire, humor and observation.
He argued that everyone has the ability to be a creative artistic individual, especially since everyone is involved in “the art of living”.
He specifically discussed the power of Buddhism to influence creativity, saying the belief system “alters our state of being and expands our creativity”.
Hancock concluded the conference by stating that even in difficult circumstances, “a person who lives with imagination, hard work, innovation, as well as integrity, wisdom and compassion…can be a profound contributor to the creation of ‘a harmonious orchestra of life’, even if ‘the art of living is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult to master’.
Audience members, many of whom had attended Hancock’s previous lectures, said they enjoyed finding out what inspired the jazz musician.
Cambridge resident and painter Eve Perkins said she appreciated that Hancock’s teachings could be translated into other disciplines.
Bradford G. Rose ’14, drummer and manager of the Harvard Jazz Bands, said he attended the conference because he felt it was “important to know what an artist’s source of inspiration is – it adds of color”.