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Lions Roar : May 2016
ment. Recently watching the film again, I thought about the resurgence of racial conflict and hatred in this society. I was fascinated by a black-and-white image of a white woman standing in front of a house with a large sign declaring JAPS KEEP MOVING: THIS IS A WHITE MAN’S NEIGHBORHOOD. Given the current public celebration of Buddhist Asian teachers (Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and so many more) it is easy to forget the fierce anti-Asian, anti- Japanese climate that was for so long a crucial aspect of U.S. ethnic politics and racial relationships. Then viewers shift from the external chaos to see and sit with the quietly calm D.T. Suzuki. He is impressively the same in whatever culture he is teaching and learning. Always assuming a humble demeanor, he jokes, he laughs, he affirms the joy of community. An aura of gentleness and tenderness surrounds Suzuki. That tender heart is revealed in his thoughtful consideration of the eighteen-year-old girl Mihoko Okamura who comes to him seeking spiritual sanctuary, a way to see life as meaningful. Throughout the film, we witness the role women play in his life, almost always in the background yet always working to help create a sus- tainable environment for Suzuki to live and work. It is impossible to watch this film and not want to know more about Mihoko Okamura. Though she is interviewed, she is never asked about her intentions, her motivations, and her lifelong service to Suzuki, and he is never asked about the significance to him of her service. A Zen Life is on many levels a testa- ment to contemplative life lived with devotion as its heartbeat. In the film, Gary Snyder comments, “To be devo- tional is to take great faith in life as it is.” D.T. Suzuki declares, “Real freedom is to see things as they are.” BELL HOOKS is a renowned feminist theor- ist, author, and cultural critic. Peter Coyote Opening Night directed by John Cassavetes (1977) There is a wonderful American film called Opening Night, by the great director John Cassavetes, that on the surface makes no reference to anything remotely Buddhist. It is the story of a grand and courageous woman played by Cassavetes’ wife, Gena Roland, an actress of great reputation and talent, currently felled by alcoholism of a savagery that has reduced her on occasion to crawling onstage on her hands and knees. She is working with a younger actor (Cassavetes), a temperamental and equally talented star who is infuriated by her unprofessionalism, the problems she causes, and the diffi- culties she makes for him during pro- duction. He is heartless, self-absorbed, and very cruel to this woman who is suffering as if she were on fire. At the film’s end, Gena is onstage, too drunk to remember her lines. She begins improvising when suddenly Cassavetes is struck by compassion for her, and in a moment that never fails to reduce to me to tears, begins impro- vising with her, offering her himself, his talent and skill, to show her off in the best possible light. He recognizes her, which she sees and understands, uplifted by his expression of love and respect. It is one of the greatest exam- ples of compassion that I have ever seen on film, and expresses perfectly the central core of Buddhism, echoing His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s famous remark, “My religion is kindness.” PETER COYOTE is an actor, award-winning writer, and ordained priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. ©MOVIESTORECOLLECTIONLTD/ALAMYSTOCKPHOTO The climax is compassion: Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, and John Cassavetes star in Opening Night. PHOTOBYFRANCISHAAR LION’S ROAR | MAY 2016 47