Monday, October 26, 2009

Are Scary Movies Evil??

I was having a discussion with the physical therapist's assistant today, and it led me to thinking of my Buddhist teacher Caitrionia. I love these guys at the KORT PT where I get my knees attended. I want to call them "kids," because they are only a bit older than my sons, but they are actually young men. They banter all the time I am there, about sports, travel, music, places and people, and they love to include the clients in the conversation. It makes the time pass quickly and makes you forget that they are pressing down on your newly replaced knee just a bit farther than it wants to go!

But the assistant, whose name is Shane, loves history, and so we talk a lot about that. He also seems very interested in religion, grew up Methodist, and now attends Southland Christian. I am pretty sure that he thinks that since I am a minister, we are somewhere in the same camp. And, maybe we are! Today we got onto the topic of movies. He told me that he likes horror movies, not gruesome ones, but just scary enough. Some people at his church told him he shouldn't go to horror movies (he's thirty years old). So, he asked his pastor. The pastor thought it was OK if it didn't have a negative effect on him.

Driving to work after PT, I thought about what it means that a church would dictate what kinds of movies one ought to see. But then it occurred to me that my own spiritual practice of Buddhism has precepts which state almost exactly the same thing. Refraining from ingesting things, whether food, media, or literature that are unhealthy and inhumane is ultimately destructive to the spirit.

Here is the precept as I first accepted it, as articulated by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicants, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain T.V. programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation, and for the transformation of society.

This sounds pretty rigid to most of us in Western culture. Here is the same precept articulated by Caitrionia and Manzanita Village:

Aware of the contamination and desecration of the world
and of my responsibility for life as it manifests through me
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate
discernment and care in what I take into my body and mind.

Consciente de la contaminación y la profonación del mundo,
y de mi responsabilidad por la vida, así como se manifiesta a través de mí
me paro ante la presencia de los ancestros, la Tierra,
y futuras generaciones,
y me comprometo a cultivar discernimiento
y cuidado en lo que introduzco en mi cuerpo y en mi mente.

I think the big difference is that Shane was looking to an outside source to affirm or disapprove of his choice of films. The measure of judgment was whether these films were somehow "evil," a dualistic concept. Turning inward and learning to intuit what is wholesome for body, mind and psyche is the gift of Buddhist practice.