Mingwei Lee

Conceptual rituals that help others see ritual in a new light

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Many years ago, in a mountaintop Buddhist monastery outside Taipei, a student announced to his master that he was leaving for America to start a new life. 'Before you go,' the master replied, 'I have a gift for you.' He left the 14-year-old boy in a small wooden room. In the room was a beautiful box. In the box was a dead bird atop a pile of dirt. The boy meditated, seeking to understand what his master was trying to teach him. After seven days, he noticed a foul odor coming from the box. He opened it and discovered hundreds of maggots wriggling in and out of the bird. He snapped the box shut.

The boy continued to meditate. One day he heard a strange noise coming from the box. He opened it and hundreds of tiny flies escaped into the room. As they flew up from the box, the boy lifted his eyes and saw his master standing in front of him. 'Good luck,' the master said, smiling. 'You can go down the mountain now.'

That boy was Mingwei Lee, now a 33-year-old conceptual artist whose powerful, healing work blurs all boundaries between East and West, the spiritual and the earthly, art and life. 'Whenever I'm stressed out or depressed, I remember my master's gift to me,' says Lee. 'It was about transformation of energy, of material, of life, from a dead bird -- which used to fly -- to hundreds of these flies. And it