Shakespeare, Art and Dhamma | Ajahn Dhammasiha | Dhammagiri
Today, one of the visitors is a professor who is an expert on Shakespeare. He and Ajahn Dhammasiha engage in an interesting discussion about art, beauty and it's relationship to Dhamma practice as a Buddhist monk.
- Can a Buddhist monk still enjoy beauty, or would that conflict with the aim of abandoning all attachments?
- Does art always celebrates beauty, and present the world as something good and enjoyable?
Ajahn shares that his favourite works of art have always been those that induce a sense of 'nibbidā' (disenchantment) and 'semvega' (spiritual shock/urgency). Art that is not just celebrating life, but instead points us to the fundamental truths of impermanence, disappointment and suffering inherent in all conditioned phenomena.
Ajahn recites one of his favourite quotes of Shakespeare to illustrate this point:
"Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head
How begot, how nourished?
"It is engender’d in the eyes,
With gazing fed;
and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies. -
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it:
Ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell."
The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2, Lines #65-74
If we take 'fancy' in the sense of 'craving', 'desire', Shakespeare uses the same approach as the Buddha. He's asking for the origin, the cause of craving. Where does craving come from, and how does it grow?
And just like the Buddha in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, this little ditty points to the 'eye' and the act of 'gazing' as the source of suffering.
"Cakkhu loke piyarūpam sātarūpam, etth'esā tanhā uppajjamāma uppajjati..."
"The eye is dear and pleasurable in this world, and it is there where this craving arises..."
And then Shakespeare even suggets to ring the 'death-knell' for fancy/craving, i.e. to kill/abandon craving.
Where did Shakespeare get that from?
Was he perhaps a Buddhist in a past life?
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