Monday, April 30, 2012

What is Interbeing? An Overview

     Interbeing is the principle coined by Thich Nhat Hanh that links the principles of impermanence and the nonself, revealing the inter-connected-ness of all things (Order).  We are all connected through our actions, feelings, thoughts, and basically everything else.  This website will connect the concept of interbeing with three ways one can view interbeing through connectedness with nature, through people, and through events.  The film Avatar (2009) will relate the concept of interbeing through how we interact with nature.  The film Elephant (2003) will portray the concept of connectedness through relationships with people.  The 1991 film, My Girl (Howard Zieff) will relate the concept of interbeing through events.
     Tich Nhat Hanh said:
          "Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without
          trees, we cannot make paper.  The cloud is essential for the paper to exist.  If the cloud is
          not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either"(Thich Nhat Hanh 55).
His idea of interbeing mostly involves nature.  However, I have related this concept to interrelatedness between people and their actions (events) as well.  I could have taken a stop motion film about a rose growing and dying, but instead have evolved the idea to people living with nature, people living with other people, and people's actions and how those changes the future.  Our actions, according to this concept of interbeing, are so important that they can affect people in huge ways.  In My Girl (1991), Thomas J and Vada's action of tearing down the beehive meant Thomas J's eventual death.  In Elephant (2003), a bully's action of throwing a ball of paper at someone led Alex to start a school shooting.  In Avatar (2009), the military's decision to destroy Pandora resulted in the entire civilization defending themselves and the entire ecosystem they live in to be completely destroyed.
     Thich Nhat Hanh also relates a beautiful rose to garbage when he writes:
          "A beautiful rose we have just cut and placed in our vase is immaculate.  It smells so good,
          so pure, so fresh.  It supports the idea of immaculateness...If you look more deeply you will
          see that in just five or six days, the rose will become part of the garbage...And if you look
          into the garbage can, you can see that in a few months its contents can be transformed into
          lovely vegetables, and even a rose" (Thich Nhat Hanh 56).
      In this example of a rose being compared to garbage, Thich Nhat Hanh describes a cycle where something can be so ugly and yet turn into something beautiful or what used to be beautiful becoming so ugly and back again.  How can permanence or the sense of a definite self even exist when everything is always changing and we are all interconnected?  In my experience, even though Thich Nhat Hanh mostly refers to the concept of interbeing with examples from nature, I have experienced interbeing within other things as well.
     For example, relating to people, I have friends who know with my other friends.  Sometimes, these friends know my other friends from very far away.  I met someone at Hendrix College, in fact, who knows a bunch of girls from my high school.  It was amazing to talk to him in a place so far away from my home about people that used to be so close to me.  In this very sense, people are very connected.  We are also connected in the way that we all have emotions.  We can relate to people very easily because we all react to events in similar ways.
"Oh my gosh!  You know Tara and Lizzie?  No way!"
     Events and other actions people do affect other people and other events.  If I had not gone to the same high school I did, I probably wouldn't have met those people that my new friend at Hendrix knows and we wouldn't have had the same connection.  If I didn't go to Hendrix, I wouldn't have experienced the same feeling of amazement when I found out that this new Hendrix friend knew a bunch of my friends from home.  This example is nothing compared to the example portrayed in My Girl.
Hanh, Thich Nhat, and Robert Ellsberg. Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis,
     2001. Print.
(Note:  I did not include URLs for embedded video clips since it is possible to trace the origin through the clips themselves)
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Monday, April 16, 2012

My Girl (1991) by Laurice Elehwany and Howard Zieff and Interbeing Through Events

My Girl (1991)
Director: Howard Zieff
Writer: Laurice Elehwany
Stars: Anna Chlumsky, Macaulay Culkin, Dan Akyroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis

     My Girl (1991) is a movie about a girl named Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and her best friend (Macaulay Culkin) who just happens to be a boy.  She's an only child raised by her father after her mother passed away.  Her crush on her middle school teacher, Mr. Bixler (Griffin Dunne) leaves her upset when she finds out that he has a fiancé.  Not only that, but ehr father has a new girlfriend.  The movie is a coming-of-age film where Vada has to deal with many events and problems in her life without much help from her father, who is constantly busy with his work or a mother, since she had passed away.
     Vada turns to her best friend, Thomas J, and they spend the summer together.
Watch this video from 2:20 to 3:32.

     Vada and Thomas J knock over a beehive and Vada loses her ring.  Since Thomas J is deathly allergic to bees, he and Vada literally "run for their lives" and jump into the lake.
Vada and Thomas J jumping into the lake to avoid the bees

This scene shows how Thomas J and Vada interact as best friends and their first kiss, experimenting the "adult, real world side" of growing up.
Thomas J and Vada experiencing their first kiss
     In this coming-of-age film, Vada experiences adult experiences such as her first kiss and her first period.  Every person must go through this transition from childhood to adulthood, putting extra stress on people, especially Vada.  Each thing that happens to Vada is a result of another one, including her experience with puberty.  Her kissing Thomas J affects his decision to talk to her about marriage.  Her reaction helps him decide to go back to the woods to get her ring for her.

     In this scene, Thomas J goes back into the woods in order to look for Vada's mood ring.  Unfortunately, as he looks through the remnants of the beehive, he disturbs the bees and they attack him.  Thomas J dies because of this incident.  If Vada and Thomas J had not knocked down the beehive, they wouldn't have jumped into the lake nor would they have experienced their first kiss together.  However, since they did knock down the beehive, Thomas J and Vada ended up soaked in the lake and they talked about the future and if maybe in the future, they could be married.
Vada after Thomas J asks her to marry him in the future
     However, unfortunately, Thomas J getting the ring for Vada meant that he would have to die.  This entire situation shows the Buddhist concept of interbeing in that each and every action these kids had partaken in led to another event or other occurrence.  These events in themselves are connected as well as the relationships of different people and human relationships to nature.

     Vada becomes more upset about her best friend's death than the average 11-year-old due to her obsession (and ultimate fear) of death, which is consequential to her father's career as an undertaker.  Not to mention she's still getting over her mother's death, finding out that her teacher/crush is getting married, getting used to her father's new girlfriend Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), and losing her one and only best friend.  It makes perfect sense that these sequential events would ultimately lead to Vada's breakdown in this scene.
Vada's breakdown over Thomas J's death
     The movie My Girl is just a reminder that every action we do affects someone else.  We never truly know everything someone is going through and clearly, Vada's pile-up of unfortunate events threw her over the edge.  We are interconnected through what we do and how what we do affects other people.


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Elephant (2003) by Gus Van Sant and Interbeing in Interactions with People

Elephant (2003)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, and John Robinson

     Here is a trailer from the movie Elephant by Gus Van Sant (the French subtitles are due to the fact that this clip was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France).  The trailer provides clips from a few important scenes and general background from the movie.  The movie is about a high school shooting in Portland, Oregon and the camera tracks each character's entire day, including their interactions with other main characters.  What's unique about this film is that it follows each character separately rather than as sequential events in the character's day.  In this way, Elephant gives the audience a chance to walk in each character's shoes in order to have an emotional connection with each character and notice in an extreme way how everyone in the school is, indeed, connected through their everyday interactions or even just in walking by a group of people.  One particular short clip in the trailer is of a student throwing a piece of paper at Alex (Alex Frost), one of the main characters and one of the shooters in the movie.  This exact action pushes Alex over the edge and solidifies his decision to bring a gun to school.
John having his picture taken from his point of view
     What I have noticed, after studying this particular film and its connection to the principle of interbeing, is how the characters don't really have names.  Each character, even the main ones, were given the same names as the actors who played them.  The only character given a last name is John McFarland (John Robinson) since his father also plays a part in the film (Mr. McFarland) and he is the most important character, since he is the only one who knows about the shooting before it happens and is the only character who tries to stop it from happening by telling others.  The way John tries to stop the incident (he tells everyone he possibly can not to enter the school) proves that each person's individual experience is important, yet we are still all interconnected regardless.  Even though only one person knew about the shooting besides the shooters, he could still save many lives by connecting with people and making others aware of the situation.  It's almost like a domino effect where one person knows one thing and tells three people, then they tell three people, etc.

     This scene portrays Nathan (Nathan Tyson) walking through the halls of his high school before the shooting.  This scene displays his interactions with the characters throughout the school as he walks from the field to his girlfriend.  He walks past runners, frisbee players, a guitarist, and others on his way into the school.  In the school, he passes random high schoolers at their locker or walking through the halls as well. He walks by a group of three girls, who notice him and gossip about how "cute" he is.  This group of gossipy girls are later followed around the school just as Nathan is in this scene.  The scene shows them watching Nathan from their point of view, proving that everything a person says or does - even just being present in another person's presence can have an impact on other people.

     Just to further address the film's emphasis on the concept of interbeing, I've included this additional short clip of one of the shooters, Alex (Alex Frost) playing piano in his room before Alex and Eric (Eric Deulen) go out on their shooting spree.  Notice the music Alex plays (Beethoven's "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, No. 2 Moonlight - Adagio Sostenuto") matches the music played in the previous clip, showing that even though Nathan and Alex are in two completely different locations and are not a part of each other's lives, they can still impact one another, and ultimately do when Alex kills Nathan and his girlfriend.
Alex and Eric on their unfortunate mission
     Our interactions with other people create a sense of interconnectedness between people no matter how much one knows another person or the proximity between strangers.  The simple act of throwing paper at another student in class pushed the student to start a school shooting.  John's warning to others about entering the school created a trust between strangers.  These people could choose to trust John, a stranger, and stay out of the school, or choose to ignore him.  Our connections with people are so important that it could mean someone's life or death.  The film Elephant portrays the impact we have on other people's lives no matter how close they are to us.

Elephant (2003) - Gus Van Sant

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Avatar (2009) by James Cameron and Interbeing Through Nature

Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver

Official Trailer for James Cameron's Avatar
It is only necessary to watch the first 3 or 4 scenes and scene at 4:35 through 4:46.  However, please watch the rest of them.

     The movie Avatar (2009) reeks of the concept of Interbeing.  Avatar in general gives the audience a new, but similar world with which we have no previous opinions or morals attached, in order to give the audience an unbiased view of a very important and controversial issue in our world today, which is that we don't appreciate our connectedness with the world.This montage of clips alone show many examples.
     In the first clip, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) playfully interact in their avatar bodies.  As Jake's first time in the body, Grace throws him a fruit native to the Pandora World.  He catches it with delight and savors the juices happily, as if experiencing eating for the first time.  In this way, Jake is also experiencing the Buddhist teaching of mindfulness, which is complete attention and focus in the present moment.
Neytiri teaching Jake about the Seeds of the Sacred Tree

     In the second clip, Jake and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) have a conversation on the tree.  The Seeds of the Sacred Tree start falling towards them and Jake's first reaction is to swat them away.  Neytiri scolds him for doing so and he lets the seeds gently fall on him.  The seeds are peaceful as they fall and they interact with him in a natural way, as do butterflies and other insects in nature.  Neytiri says that the seeds are very pure spirits.  This scene shows that nature in our world is very important and we should not destroy it.  Plants and animals are alive, just like we are.  We are connected to nature, as Jake shows when the seeds land on him and when he touches the plants when he follows Neytiri.  When Jake touches the plants, they light up, showing that we have an impact on everything we touch and therefore are connected to them as well.
Jake and Neytiri in Pandora

     It is easily understood that Pandora is a beautiful place.  The plants light up and things land on you and fly away.  This world is a metaphor for the world we live in, which, if looked at hard enough, is just as beautiful if not more beautiful.  James Cameron uses this necessary metaphor in order to send the message that our own world is beautiful and we are just as much connected to it and a part of it as the plants and animals that live there.  This message, when reaching enough people, can change the way people view nature and environmentally-unfriendly habits, which I believe was James Cameron's message.

Jake fighting for the Pandora people while riding an ikran

     The third clip portrays Neytiri teaching Jake about "tsaheylu" with the "ikran." Tsaheylu is the connection the Pandora people make with the ikran.  They connect with the ikran through the end of their braid, which must be attached to the rest of their body.  Although people cannot physically connect with animals in this way in real life, in Pandora, this connection is essential.  This connection symbolizes the need we have for nature and its connection to us.
Neytiri drinking water from a flower
     The last clip (starts at 4:35) shows Neytiri drinking water from a flower as Jake voices over saying that he realizes the people have a connection with nature and their Pandora world.  He tried to understand it for himself.  It doesn't mention this in the clips, but this movie takes place in a time where our earth is no longer a place where people can actually live freely.  It is a place where the plants have all died and one can't really live on the planet anymore without being indoors.  Jake cannot understand the connection with nature because he does not know of nature and that type of connection on his own planet.  Again, this is a metaphor to show what can happen if we don't appreciate the nature we have now before we destroy it and it is all gone.
     Even though the movie Avatar portrays a connection with nature in a world unlike our own, it's definitely a metaphor to how we also connect with nature in our own way.  This movie portrays a very physical, in-your-face connection with the world around us, but we must understand that we have a connection with nature, too.  Although it is not Buddhist, Catholics put ashes on people's foreheads on Ash Wednesday to symbolize that we come from the Earth.  Although this ritual comes from a story in the Bible where Adam is physically made from the dirt, this story and ritual can also relate to the Buddhist idea of interbeing.  We come from the dirt because when we die, our bodies mesh with the ground.  The moisture from us rises to the clouds and becomes rain.  Our decaying bodies can become food for plants and we can become plants.  We do come from our earth in many ways and Avatar demonstrates that we connect with nature more than most people realize.

Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver. 2009. DVD.
"Order of Interbeing." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Sept. 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2012

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