Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brad Warner - "You can have compassion for anybody. You should!"

Brad Warner, Zen priest, former punk rocker, and the amazingly talented writer of Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up, and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, was kind enough to take the time to speak with me on his point of view on compassion and its role in the arts.

What's always struck me about Brad's writing is that it's completely reality-based. There's very little theory involved, even when he's describing difficult Buddhist concepts, he takes great pains to connect them to reality. Which is why I thought it'd be great to hear what he had to say about compassion.

When I first asked Brad about how he thought compassion relates to the way an artist takes on a project, he responded, "My teacher likes to say 'Buddhism is just realism.' So in order to portray a killer realistically, you have to play him as a real person. You can have compassion for anybody. You should!"

When we spoke later on, Brad explained why it was important for an actor to be compassionate towards a character when taking on a role:
"Anybody who does something well has to have a kind of compassion to do it well. Trying to do a performance that's meaningful, it's a kind of a key thing, especially for actors to have, and I think it's a natural thing, if you're good at it, you need that to do it.... to a certain extent society rewards that because they want to see it, they want to see people be compassionate."
Brad went on to explain that when we understand the suffering of others, we understand our interconnectedness with them, our shared humanity.
"Everybody needs some kind of help. There's nobody in the world who's got everything together and doesn't need any help. Interdependence is the reason you're compassionate. You recognize the interdependence and interconnectedness of things. You suffer if you're not compassionate. We think it's kind of arbitrary or 'it's a good thing' to be compassionate, but it's also an intelligent thing to be compassionate. It's the smartest move you can make, to act in a compassionate way. We normally think we want to get what we can for ourselves, and screw the other guy, and that's seen to be a way to make yourself richer or more powerful, and it works to a limited extent, but I don't think it works ultimately. The reason it's intelligent to act with compassion, because that's ultimately how you are going to feel better. So there's tremendous incentive to act that way. It's not just something you're doing for somebody else, it's something you're doing for yourself."
Thich Nhat Hanh, who I seem to be quoting in every entry, said:

“My right hand has written all the poems that I have composed. My left hand has not written a single poem. But my right hand does not think, ‘Left Hand, you are good for nothing.’ My right hand does not have a superiority complex. That is why it is very happy. My left hand does not have any complex at all. In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom called the wisdom of nondiscrimination. One day I was hammering a nail and my right hand was not very accurate and instead of pounding on the nail it pounded on my finger. It put the hammer down and took care of my left hand in a very tender way, as if it were taking care of itself. It did not say, ‘Left Hand, you have to remember that I have taken good care of you and you have to pay me back in the future.’ There was no such thinking. And my left hand did not say, “Right Hand, you have done me a lot of harm — give me that hammer, I want justice.’ My two hands know that they are members of one body; they are in each other.”
What Brad's saying is much the same, that we don't exist separately, we exist interdependently, and when that's portrayed by an actor, or shown by a director, a human audience is instinctively drawn to it. And how important it is to portray that honestly and powerfully:
"It's important work, because so many people are looking at it, and consuming it, it has such a huge influence, so it's not trivial work. Even though it might seem to be on some level. 'It's just acting, it's just a play, just a movie.' But so many people are looking at that and learning how to live from watching these films. You have to be careful."
Thanks, Brad, for the interview, and for the amazing books. Check out Brad's blog, Hardcore Zen, for more amazing insights! *

1 comment:

  1. I love the image of the two hands caring for one another! I'm sometimes guilty of being a lone-hand... I will work to improve my ambidextrousness.