Every week I make a recommendation to my $5 and above subscribers at Patreon. Sometimes it’s a movie, a book, a concept. I write in depth about it. This week I’m recommending a Buddhist monk who covers pop songs, and I’ve decided to share it with everybody. If you like this, please consider becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.
Last night I had this terrible nightmare. There’s been some stressful financial stuff happening around here (sound familiar?), and it surfaced in this dream where I was being attacked by a smelly old drunk (future me? I’ll leave that up to the dream analysts in the audience). We were rolling around on the floor, I stuck my fingers in his eyes, he was trying to put his thumb up my nose. I grabbed his thumb and began wrestling it, and he started screeching.
That woke me up. It was my dog screeching. I was squeezing his little paw; he wasn’t hurt, he was doing a “Why are you waking me up and squeezing me? Stop!” screech. But I was shaken. I went back to bed, and I awoke still shaken. I did an online recovery meeting – still shaken.
This is getting to the video above, I swear. And it’s really positive.
I just couldn’t shake all of the dread and the intensity of that dream, and of the unpleasant emotions that had fueled it. So I was putzing around and looking at Facebook and my dad had shared a video: a Buddhist monk covering The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
Five seconds into the video the dread lifted off my shoulders. A smile bloomed on my face. I felt lighter, freer. I felt okay. I felt joy.
In the pandemic we have a lot of entertainment options, and a lot of it is mindless. I play a few phone games that are unbelievably mindless, that exist to just kind of deaden me for a few minutes at a time. A lot of streaming content is mindless, letting you zone out on the couch as the hours while away, giving you just enough of an endorphin rush that you keep watching but not so much that you get off the couch and do something.
And that’s fine. There’s a time and a place for that. But there’s a higher calling for entertainment – not to just divert us, not just to pass the time, not just to mollify our minds for a moment – and that higher calling is to give us joy. Real joy. Big, have to smile and feel good joy.
That’s what this video did for me.
The monk who is singing (Teenage Lobotomy above, Yellow Submarine below) practices in the zen tradition. His story is this: he is Japanese, and he came to New York as a young monk. He didn’t have any money, so all he did was practice his sanshin (think Okinawan banjo), and sometimes he practiced it in Central Park. One day someone dropped a dollar for him – not something he was expecting, but something that inspired him.
He goes by the name Kossan, and he loves playing music. There’s something that seems jarring about seeing a monk play the Ramones, but I think it’s absolutely beautiful – we in the West have this idea of a spiritual life as a dour one, a serious one. But there’s nothing less serious than a spiritual life – the more spiritual you are, the more you realize how funny and lovely everything around you is.
We also have this idea that there is sacred music, but that’s wrong. All music is sacred. Kossan blurs lines by playing secular music on traditional Japanese instruments and in front of an altar, but that only underlines how all music – all singing and all human noise – is a joyful way of celebrating life. Even Teenage Lobotomy. Music is worship. Of what? That’s up to you.
The joy I got watching Kossan play, hearing his renditions of these songs, was the exact healing I needed today. Maybe it’s the healing you need to – a moment of unexpected joyous silliness that fills you with a love of life and makes you want to get off the couch and do something.
By the way, I read up on Kossan, and I found an interview he did with My Eyes Tokyo, and he said something I loved. He was doing takuhatsu, an alms practice where Zen monks chant sutras in public for the benefit of people and they give money. He was doing it in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and had even gotten a write up in the New York Times about it.
Anyway, he would happily take pictures with people, but he didn’t like when folks took pictures without asking. And he felt it was only right if they took a picture they should donate, but many folks did not do that. He was annoyed by them, and by other behaviors he found to be rude. But one day he decided to try something different. He told the website:
If people take photos of me without asking, I hold a good pose! They take photos of me anyway so it’s better for both them and I to pose for cameras. That’s enjoyable for me. If people stare at me, I say hello to them. They stare at me anyway, but I want to feel comfortable.
When I’m involved in takuhatsu activity, I should keep still and ignore those kinds of people. But I would rather “enjoy” this activity than observe rules… I realized that and takuhatsu became truly my enjoyable activity. Then I got more income as a result. People haven’t changed at all. I have changed.
I’m talking about things I don’t like in New York, but those would become my favorite things due to my attitude. I’m enjoying counting the numbers of things I don’t like because all of them would change into my favorite things.
What an incredible attitude.