Thursday, February 02, 2012

Drama and Dharma: Interview on Sweeping Zen

Sweeping Zen is an internet database and news site about Zen Buddhism in the west that was established in 2009. One of their ongoing features are interviews with teachers or practice leaders or other people of interest.

This week it was apparently my turn. A lengthy interview with me went up on Thursday. A lot of our discussion was about decoding some of the titles and explaining the leadership structure of the Kwan Um School of Zen, but we covered a lot of other topics as well.

Personally, my favorite parts had to do with acting practice and Zen practice, so I'll share an excerpt from that part of the interview.

SZ: ...I want to ask you about something you mentioned earlier: acting. I notice you have been involved in various films and live theater and wanted you to talk to us a bit about that.

AD: I’ve been acting since I was nine years old. It was one of those peculiar things which people will sometimes attribute to karma; at the age of nine, an event took place and I knew that was my direction. I had actually tried to quit acting but it always comes back (laughs) – I can’t escape it. I did my professional training at Trinity Rep Conservatory in Rhode Island while I was living at Providence Zen Center. I would get up at 4:30 in the morning for bows and would be in studio until sometimes 11 o’clock at night. I’d come home, sleep for four hours, get up and do it all over again. That was my life.

The two processes penetrated each other completely. Acting, in a sense, is about being able to understand your true self and play truthfully in imaginary circumstances. A play is very much an imaginary circumstance. So, how do you play truthfully? Because, of course, the best theater is telling us all truths about the human condition. So, acting took on this kind of sacred component for me. In other words, it became my practice. It was, along with formal Zen practice, a way of looking at this question, “What am I?” It was also a way to practice for all other beings.

When I was in my 20s I made a living as a stage actor and teaching; after that I lived in Zen centers and worked office jobs to survive. I almost became a monk in the early 2000′s when in Los Angeles, but I didn’t ordain because I had financial obligations. That’s how close I got. I met my wife and became a father, so that situation is clear. Recently, over the past three years, I had a job teaching theater in public school, which went away. So, while seeking employment, somehow I started getting offered acting roles again – some commercials, a film here and a film there, teaching a workshop. I’ve been patching together a living. I seem to be back to acting, teaching workshops, giving a Dharma talk, organizing a retreat, going and sitting a retreat – that’s the kind of life I’ve come back to. Drama and Dharma (laughs).

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