Here is the introduction to the book. Please comment and tell your friends.
Life is a journey and we are all on different paths. Just how do we all get to our own destination? It is very difficult normally, but it is downright impossible if we follow someone else’s trail. How can we accomplish anything that we can call our own if we are living another’s life? So I propose a startling concept – never follow! If someone tells you that he/she has the answer, smile and walk away. That is not your answer.
Lin-Chi, the Zen Master, said the same thing hundreds of years ago. “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” Strange words. Why would you want to kill someone who holds so much knowledge and is so wise? The truth of the matter is that Buddha’s truth cannot possibly be your truth. You don’t get truth in a can, from a TV show, or from a book. You have to go out and find your own. Now I am not saying to put this book back on the shelf without reading another word. Cans, TV shows, and books can all serve as good starting points.
So this book is about your search to become a true artist of the theatre. Once you become that artist you will see value in everything, in everyone. In other words, you will have become enlightened. What can be more Zen?
A book about Zen and Acting. Gee whiz, Zen Acting? What kind of crap is that? What do we do – just sit around on stage and meditate? How exciting is that? I can see where there might be a problem. But using Zen to deepen one’s art should not be considered new. When I was in college, back in the seventies, we studied a book in Acting class entitled Zen and the Art of Archery. A great book. It taught me how to focus. It taught me how to concentrate and center myself. It taught me how to lose myself while holding on to myself. Grotowski, Artaud, Andre Gregory, and many others have worked with actors in heightened states of consciousness.
Riding the Ox Home is a way not only to great, connected, focused, intense acting but also maybe, to enlightenment. In the frenetic profession of acting sometimes we lose our way. This book not only addresses our technique but our existence.
Every chapter begins with a part of the Ox herding poem. The original poem was written by Kaku-an Shi’en (1100-1200), a Zen master of the Sung Dynasty. The poem is a metaphor of attaining enlightenment. It tells the story of a boy trying to bring his lost ox home. The boy has some troubles along the way but eventually resolves the situations that he confronts. Within each chapter, each page starts off with a well known Zen quote which is related to an acting technique or issue. What you do with those ideas is up to you.
You will not be a great actor when you finish reading this book. No one can make you a great actor but yourself. What this book talks about is a path, not “The Path”. It is a method, not “The Method”. Whether you want to travel down this path is your personnel choice. Only you can decide. It is not intended for everyone. And there is a reason for that.
We already know that once a method becomes accepted and formalized and taught in colleges and universities everywhere, it has already died. It has become useless to everyone except academics. If you don’t believe me, just think of how many bad Shakespearean productions there are out there. How can we do Shakespeare poorly? We know everything about him, or think we do. How many bad Brechtian shows pretending to alienate the audience have you seen? I’ve seen a few. Don’t we have volumes on Brecht also? The truth is that the only one who could do justice to a show by Brecht was Brecht. That is because he didn’t have a manual. He followed his own path to his own truth. The same goes for Shakespeare, and Meyerhold, and Artaud. They were not trying to define a style. They were trying to make great, fun, interesting theatre their own way. So should you. Does that mean we should never do Shakespeare or Brecht again or burn all the masterpieces as Artuad propounds? I don’t think so. We should listen to what those great artists are saying to us and then move on.
I hope this book isn’t taught everywhere by stuffy professors. Let me tell you right now, the guy standing in front of you “explaining” it all to you has misspoken. He doesn’t know what this means for anyone but himself. My only hope is that it gives you the courage to find your own way. Because your way is the only way you can go if you want to become an artist.