Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The great Dharma teachings of High School Musical 2 - Sharpay teaches us about dukkha

Tonight's Interdependence Project class was on the Four Noble Truths, so there was a lot of talk about dukkha, which is often translated as "suffering," "unease," or "stress." It was a great class and I felt like I gained some new understanding of several concepts.

On the scooter ride home, I couldn't get a particularly irritating song out of my head. Take a look at this video:

I confess that it's not the first time I've watched it. But for some reason it kept going through my head tonight, and so rather than forcing it out of my skull, I took a look at what it was about for me. And here's what I came up with:

This song is a great Dharma lesson.

Seriously. I've heard Lama Marut say that we can look at anything as an opportunity to receive a teaching. I can't find the quote, but I'm positive he's said something like "how do you know the irritating person in your life isn't a Buddha here to teach you something?" I hope I didn't get that wrong but I am pretty sure it's right in spirit.

So if a person, why not a Disney song?

Here's Thich Nhat Hanh on suffering:
"...If we use our intelligence, we can see that craving can be a cause of pain, but other afflictions such as anger, ignorance, suspicion, arrogance, and wrong views can also cause pain and suffering. Ignorance, which gives rise to wrong perception, is responsible for much of our pain."
So here's the lovely Ashley Tisdale, singing to us about all the things she wants. In the video, she has servants tending to her every need, but boy does she seem unsatisfied:
"It's out with the old and in with the new,
Goodbye clouds of grey, hello skies of blue
A dip in the pool, a trip to the spa
Endless days in my chaise
The whole world according to moi

Iced tea imported from England,
Lifeguards imported from Spain,
Towels imported from Turkey,
Turkey imported from Maine...

...I want fabulous,
That is my simple request,
All things fabulous,
Bigger and better and best,
I need something inspiring to help me get along,
I need a little fabulous is that so wrong?

Fetch me my Jimmy Choo flip flops,
Where is my pink Prada tote?
I need my Tiffany hair band,
And then I can go for a float."
If you haven't watched the video, go back and take a look. Sharpay really doesn't seem satisfied. I detect... dukkha. What makes it a lesson, to me anyway, is that Sharpay represents all of us. Whoa! That's a stretch, Jon. Seriously, though. We are all under the impression that we can be satisfied by material things, and we are deeply unsatisfied when our expectations are not met.

Sharpay is suffering because she wants things to be other than the way they actually are. This is a form of ignorance, I suspect––to want something to be that is not. She even complains when the wrong key gets hit on the piano!

Another example might be to expect something to be permanent that is inherently impermanent, to think that one's good health and youth will last forever, or to think that one's belongings will remain intact forever. On top of this, we're only concerned with our own well-being, and can easily ignore the suffering of others. Think about how upset we feel when our new car gets a scratch, but to see another person's car with a scratch on it doesn't bother us in the least.

The Dalai Lama said, "I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction." As she says, "the whole world according to moi." Sharpay mistakenly believes that she will be happy when she gets what she wants, but she doesn't realize that she can never be satisfied, that even if she gets the items on her list, she'll just... as the song says, "want more." She doesn't know that when she gets those Jimmy Choo flip flops, impermanence teaches us that they'll soon be old, and she'll want new ones.

Though I can't be sure, I have to believe this lesson is intentional; Sharpay is portrayed as a caricature in the film. And, she's named after a dog. So thank you to the creators of High School Musical 2, for this awesome Dharma lesson! *

1 comment:

  1. This is so true!
    I've never thought of that character that way