The Buddha: In His Own Words

img_0393This last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Evan Brenner, the man behind The Buddha: In His Own Words. Evan describes his show as “The extraordinary life of the Buddha assembled from the original texts and performed as a one-man play.” And yeah, that about sums it up. What you can’t really gather, though, from the website, and even from the coverage of Evan’s show in the media, is the total passion and sincerity with which Evan’s performance embodies.

I, along with my wife Ali, were lucky enough to attend his Saturday night img_0443performance at the Boston Center for the Arts. I was supposed to photograph it but unfortunately because of the intimate setting of the venue the shutter and mirror sounds from my Canon EOS were just too loud for comfort. So, for a nice change, I was able to enjoy the show as a spectator and not just as a photog. But I still had to take the photos – so Evan was kind enough to invite me back during the week for a private performance. This way, I could be as curious with my camera as I desire and wander around the stage, which is exactly what I did last night.

Evan actually performed the entire second act of his one-man show for me, with lighting effects and all. Yet, because of time considerations, and probably because of the pure passion he has for what he’s immersed himself in for who-knows-how-long – he did this performance for me, in costume, and in hyperspeed! It was The Buddha: In His Own Words, Act II, on fast forward. It was very challenging! Evan was moving around the stage as fast as you’d expect a performer to move when doing their performance in double-time. He was zigging and zagging across the stage, taking his various positions. He was contorting his body in ways only a performer or yoga student would, as if to wake his body from a day’s long slumber to ready for the evening’s show. His hands more expressive than I remember them being at Saturday’s show. His facial expressions, eye movements, even his mouth, all exagerated for the sake of waking himself and, I think, giving me some some color to work with in my compositions.

img_0550So, that’s what I ended up with – Evan Brenner, as The Buddha, fully animated and, best of all, sincere and full of passion. You can’t help but get a sense from Evan that he’s not just a student of Buddhism, but also a bit of a teacher. The books on his stage most likely all read by him over the past twenty years. As a spectator viewing with my own eyes, and as a photographer viewing through the viewfinder, I believe Evan. I imagine that’s all that he, and any stage performer, can ask for.

You can see all the photographs here, on Flickr. Please open to full screen mode, using the button at the bottom left.

life is suffering, so is this hell?

Most, if not all, monotheistic religions believe in a moral dualism. That is, a Good and an Evil. Some of these religions also tend to personify these forces, and give these personifications their own domains – heaven and hell.

Wikipedia’s entry for hell says it pretty succinctly:

In many religious traditions, Hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife…

In Buddhism, and other eastern religions, dualism can best be explained by Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that together create the whole. One cannot exist without the other. There is no “heaven” or “hell” in Buddhism or other eastern systems.

Yet in Buddhism there also exists the four noble truths, of which the first is called Dukkha. Dukkha is loosely translated to English as suffering. This first noble truth states, basically, that life is suffering. Period. Simply put. Life is suffering.

My question is this, and its the same question asked by countless philosophers, theologians, and religious scholars for centuries:

Is this hell?

According to Dante Alighieri there are 9 circles to hell. Maybe we’re stuck in one of thbraccio_lucasignorelli_paradisesanbrizio_clr_full_1499-1502_itallyese circles of hell. Perhaps the demons that are torturing us are not of physical form. Perhaps these demons are inside each of us, torturing us, relative to our own deserved level of hell.

Yet if this is hell, it would imply that there also exists a heaven, and a place of eternal bliss and happiness. Why isn’t this that place, heaven? Because we are, in fact, all suffering.

For those who don’t believe in heaven, according to the world’s most popular and time-tested belief systems, it’s hard to argue that this is hell. You must have one to have the other. Likewise, if someone doesn’t believe in God, this can’t be hell either.

So, I ask you, is this hell? Defend yourself. Speak intelligently.

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