Thursday, 12 February 2015

Bop with the Buddha the Way Buddha Bops--by Reb MacRath

There are so many faces of the Buddha that it's more than a bit silly when somebody gets in your face about one: the beaming, Christ-like pacifist. And when critics condemn works of art that are false to the face they prefer...things grow worse.


For the Buddha has so many faces. Second only to the PPS (Perfectly Passive Saint) is the PPA (Playful Party Animal).




There are also images of the Angry Buddha, reminding us that Christ himself flew into a rage at one temple:




Even the Buddha acknowledged the humanity of anger:




And it should be obvious that not all Buddhists are Perfectly Passive, as this image attests:




And these:







Recently, though, I was taken to task for a short but graphic passage in my first piece of flash fiction. My antihero had learned just enough martial arts to deal with a thug on the street--ultimately learning that he knew a lot more than he thought. The short-short was character-driven, with an inevitable path to the end. Yet a dear friend, while praising the writing, chastised the violence. A devout Buddhist, he'd studied Tai Chi for a while. And his teacher would never have done such a thing. Never mind that I hadn't written of Tai Chi...or that I'd studied martial arts for fifteen years, under masters who taught fierce survival techniques--including the use of sharp pencils. I respect my friend's opinion, but he read outside the tale this time.

As a matter of fact, Keanu Reeves had made a brutal Tai Chi film that starred his own instructor:




The Buddha has many faces, proved again in the following link::

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-12-09/buddhist-packing-bond-pistol-shows-american-warm-embrace-of-guns

But on to the heart of this essay: the belief in certain quarters that writers whose books feature violence are: 1) not really Serious Writers; or 2) borderline psychotics.

 



Let's address each of those charges in turn:

1) Can books or films with violence be taken seriously? Homer's two epics are still read and studied round the world though the violence--especially in The Iliad--is extreme and unrelenting. The Odyssey concludes with a slaughter that's hard to justify today. But nobody objects. If cinema had been around, Shakespeare's offstage violence would have drenched the screen in red. Are we wrong to savor masterpieces by Peckinpah and Tarantino? Are we wrong to love grim books by great stylists like James Lee Burke and Richard Monaco (a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee)? I don't think so. Let's be smart. Books containing violence are no more Bad by definition than is commercial fiction. (Shakespeare wrote for money. And Byron rivaled G B Shaw in his fights for his share of the profits.)
2) Is an author mad or spiritually skewed if his or her work contains violence? Some of the writers best known to the world for their violent or horrific tales are known to be gentle, considerate souls:

Image result for stephen king images
Stephen King                                        Peter Straub

 Image result for john farris
David (Rambo) Morrell                     John (The Fury) Farris

I knew John Farris personally and got to chat with both Straub and Morrell. Of all three men, I can say I felt I had bopped with the Buddha, touched by their warmth and decency.

I sign off with the hope that we all grow less quick to praise only the one face of Buddha we love...or to judge art by standards other than the artist had in mind.

I thank you all for coming as I amble off to bop.

13 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

As someone whose reviews have included one which speculated about my psyche and another which said the fact that I also write children's books was creepy, I'm naturally entirely in agreement, Reb. On the other hand, when I revisit a violent passage I've written, i sometimes do wonder where it came from.

Reb MacRath said...

Don't worry, Bill. You're revered for excellent reasons and are known as a Great Bopper.

David North-Martino said...

I totally agree, Reb. I think many people forget about the fighting Buddhist monks of Shaolin, and many don’t know of the formidable fighting techniques hidden in the harmonious movements of Tai Chi. I don’t think many religions would require an adherent to refrain from an act of self-defense, or to relinquish the tools required to defend the self and others. The view that Buddhism is a completely pacifist religion is an idealized one, and patently na├»ve.

Then there’s the idea that all violence is bad, but how can you have creation without destruction? Of course, hurting innocent and good people is bad. But doesn’t that also allow for the opposite—that hurting bad people is good?

I also think that, when it comes to writing, readers have a hard time separating the art from the artist. What comes out on the page is only a reflection of the truth of human existence. There is violence in the world, and a world without violence will only be found within the workings of a utopia mind. Our fiction must reflect the hard truths of life for us to move anyone with our words. And when it comes down to it, better the violence remains on the page, locked up tight in the pages of a book.

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, David. When all the emphasis is placed on physical violence, it's easy to lose sight of another kind that's just as brutal in its way: spiritual or psychological violence--I mean deliberately causing others grief or pain. Children can turn on a parent after a divorce, shunning that parent for decades. Lives can be wounded through silence without anyone so much as raising a hand. But, despite the violent films he's made, Keanu Reeves still comes across as a gentle, compassionate person.

David North-Martino said...

Very true, Reb. Great point!

Reb MacRath said...

Two other graphic horror writers, both gentle gents and perfect pros, are David Schow and Clive Barker. And I still can't forget the article about Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, halting an interview so that he walk a trapped insect outside. Quite a contrast with a horror-hating coworker who, the other night, jumped screaming onto a beetle.

Lydia Bennet said...

Interesting post Reb. I've a horror of sadism yet I like violent films especially if it's over the top and they can all dish it out and take it, and if it stays just one side of a line - Tarantino usually takes me right to the line but he's a big softie really - I like violent films like Sin City as well. But I can't bear 'horror' films which are really more sad - I can't watch the old Hammer Frankenstein, or King Kong, as they make me cry buckets for the 'monsters'. Anything where an animal or helpless person suffers cruelty I can't bear to watch. or read. Black Beauty is a good example of this!

Leverett Butts said...

Very insightful post and applicable to many religious and poilitcal figures. It reminds me very much of Wilton Barnhardt's novel GOSPEL, in which he makes the case that all prophets fall short of perfection and have many faces publicly and privately. Moreimportantly, these things don't make one face wrong or the other right, nor do they imply hypocrisy, just humanity.

Also, I'm fairly partial to the pirate face of Buddha:

http://etsyitemoftheday.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/pirate-buddha-notecard.jpg

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, Lydia. I agree about the line, which is hard to define. Breaking Bad was beloved by many fans who sincerely abhor violence--though was it was loaded with blood and gore. My guess it that the line of consists of a magical blend of attitude and artistry. I don't care for films that think violence is cool, where bullets and fists fly with no physical effect. Violence also turns me off in the standard teen splatter film where the characters are cut-outs sequentially set up to kill in cool ways.

Lev, thank you. I'll take a look at GOSPEL. Important point about the varied faces not being wrong or hypocritical. The wrongness, I think, comes about when one imposes itself on another.

Richard Monaco said...

If I punch you in the face, that's violence. If I say you were punched in the face, words. Many of my books have to do with war and crime. It's a matter of style whether you use vivid images or just say it happened. By definition, a book can't be violent, in itself, unless you throw it at someone. As I never tire of saying: don't confuse the author with his subjects.

Richard Monaco - not a robot.

Reb MacRath said...

Well said, Richard. Good thing Nabokov had a strong constitution and a wicked sense of humor--or he'd have been driven mad by assumptions that he was Humbert Humbert in his masterpiece Lolita.

Nick Mercurio said...

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! That's right, it's me, Little Nickie again. Let me try to get this straight: The Buddha, The Buddha's many other faces, Keanu Reeves, Clint Eastwood, Stephen King, David Morrell, John Farris, Clive Barker, David Schow, Richard Monaco, Vladimir Friggin' Nabokov, Lolita and we're talkin WILD BILL KIRTON and blonde goddess LYDIA BENNETT--all in one blog and blog comments? If I wasn't so damned short, I'd finish my novel and join you. But what the heck am I to do, go to a publishing party and sit on some editor's lap? My lot is more than little bit sad...but, that said, I enjoyed all this more than a little bit lot.

Reb MacRath said...

Good to see you again, Nick. I must confess to feeling a little hurt that you didn't show my name, too, in capital letters. Then again, Wild Bill and Lydia do tend to have that effect. Now, get back to your novel and forget about your height, lad. No one who matters minds a man who's shorter than he wishes--but all of us are right to shun men shorter than they think.