Interview with ACI-LA Senior Teacher, Lindsay Crouse – Part 2
by Jason Rosenfield
Jason Rosenfield: One of the things that Buddhism talks about - it’s almost a contradiction to ask the question this way - is experience. That this is an experiential path. No one’s being asked to take something on faith because it’s in a book or…I mean yes, there are certain things we learn, for instance Buddhist logic says that at a certain point your valid perception are based on an authority that you trust saying, “this is,” such as the direct perception of emptiness, and all you can have is a conceptual idea, until you have the experience yourself. But what you just described, whatever that principle was that Lama Marut gave you at that time, which meant you jumping off a cliff with something that was obviously very critical to you, it would seem that at that moment you had [already] had your own experience that told you that this was correct; that this was something you could trust. Is that true?
LC: Yes, that’s absolutely true. But I think that those experiences came incrementally. When we were studying with Lama Marut, you know, he was Professor Brian Smith because he wasn’t in robes, you know, we weren’t bowing before him, et cetera. You know, he was just Professor Brian Smith and we gave him a run for his money, we sure did. And it was a bright group of people and we’d go, “Wait a minute Brian, what are you…what?!… that's not true!” you know just like that. (Laughs) I think of it now, I think, “I hope my students never treat me that way. I’d be terrified.” But we did, we challenged him, we wrestled with him, we wrestled with the ideas he was teaching us. And it was very useful, we were very fortunate to go through that with him because we were never required to take something on faith. It wasn’t dogma…it wasn’t dogma. Shakyamuni Buddha said, you know, don’t come around like that. I don’t want groupies. Think, you know, try this out. See if it works. Think. Think for yourselves. Don’t repress, you know, don’t suppress. That was my problem with forgiveness. I needed to say to somebody, “What are you talking about, forgive? What is that? Tell me, okay. Well I tried this, it didn’t work. Why didn’t that work?” You know, I needed to just grapple with somebody who was going to take it seriously. And I think that all those little moments added up all those small experiences of what was probably the truth…and then as I did try it out, it’s not so much that life began to just suddenly unfold as this wonderful place, there were plenty of challenges and some of them were bigger and bigger, but I felt confident that I had a way to go; I had something to hold onto. You know, they say that the, you know, that when you take refuge in the dharma, the dharma is, you know, is something that holds. It’s something that you can stand up on, that’s firm under your feet. And that, I think that’s what I’m describing as that kind of confidence. I felt there was something firm. There was a lot in common with Christianity…a lot in common. So a lot of the ideas were things that I had certainly heard of before. But Tibetan Buddhism allowed me to know how to put it into play, how to get it out of the bible and into my life as a workable thing …as a workable thing.
JR: You’ve used the phrase Tibetan Buddhism a few times, as opposed to Buddhism. How would you differentiate? I mean is there a way that you could in a nutshell say, “this is what’s different?”
LC: Right. Well, for instance, my study has been Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelupka lineage, the Madhyamaka Prasangika School, okay? So that embodies certain ideas. There are other schools of Buddhism that have other ideas. They don’t disagree in the central ideas, but there are different levels of Buddhist study. I don’t know Chinese Buddhism, I don’t know Zen Buddhism, so this is what I know and I don’t know what the differences really are in terms of those other forms of Buddhism.
JR: Do you think the Bodhisattva Path that Je Tsongkapa put so much emphasis on, The Step On The Path to Buddhahood, is unique to Tibetan Buddhism? The idea that you can’t really become fully enlightened unless you are doing it for the sake of others?
LC: No. I mean, this is what Christ said…this is what Christ said. And I don’t know enough about Islam and I don’t know enough about Hinduism, et cetera, to be able to speak for them…
JR: Or Judaism.
LC: Or Judaism. But, I mean, I sure know there’s plenty of talk about mitzvas in Buddhism. I mean, I think in every major religion there are certain common threads and one is certainly that you think of another before yourself: “Do unto others as…” sometimes it’s referred to on its flip side in Judaism, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you.” Same thing…same thing. You know, the top ten, you know, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit sexual misconduct, et cetera, et cetera, don’t kill, are very similar. Buddhism doesn’t posit, it’s not a theistic religion, it doesn’t posit a God in the way that Christianity and Judaism do, but it posits mind as God…mind as God. So you could debate someone as to whether it is a philosophy or a religion.
Wouldn’t any religion be a philosophy? Yeah, sure, but not every philosophy is a religion I think you could say. I have never…I’ve never felt, in taking Buddhist vows, that I had reneged on being a Christian. I never had any problem with that. I felt, you know, when Buddhism says: look, if there is an enlightened being, why wouldn’t the enlightened being be intelligent enough to show up as many things, you know? To serve all people’s needs? Then Christ becomes a great Bodhisattva, you know? And I find that sophisticated in itself. I think a religion ought to be ecumenical. I can’t understand why, worshipping an enlightened being, you would be prejudiced against other people’s beliefs, I don’t understand how you would come to that, you know.
JR: Okay, let’s just go back to this idea of the theater as a ministry. Because that was another question I was interested in. I’ve heard you teach both dharma as drama and drama as dharma. I suppose that’s one way to put it…one set of teachings to dharma students and one set of teachings to your drama students. Clearly one has informed the other for a long time. Can you elaborate on that?
LC: Yeah. In my own experience in teaching, what I began to see more and more is that acting is a giving profession. I mean I witnessed in my own life and in many actors lives, I don’t think there are many professions where people work for nothing happily, gladly, again and again throughout their lives, no matter what kind of stature they gain; they’re again and again working for nothing. They’re showing up in little hole-in-the-wall theaters and giving performances and working with small groups and et cetera…I began to realize there was a kind of communion that an actor gets paid in. And that really what an actor is doing, an actor is not just a storyteller, an actor is creating an event in the heart of another person; they’re raising someone’s consciousness. They’re literally kind of operating, razor-like, on an audience; delivering certain ideas in the form of a myth. And a myth strikes at the heart, it’s not an intellectual affair. Something where you stand up and you go, “Never again am I…” or, “Right now, from this moment on, I am going to be…” or, “I am going to do…” Anyone who has been in the presence of a great actor or seen great theater or has been part of making great theater knows that when people walk out the door they are not the same. They are not the same. And everyone, when it happens, knows it. People will often speak of a performance in very sacred terms, and it’s always been my understanding if I ask someone about a performance and they can describe the actor and all his skills, it’s not a great performance, and if they don’t know what to say, it is. You know, this is…this is a similar idea that in certain religions you cannot pronounce the name of God, that there are no words for it. It’s that kind of experience that happens in the theater. And I’ve felt that in our generation, you know, it’s a workaholic world, people may not be able to get to church on Sunday, but they’re going to the movies and they’re turning on the TV and they’re going to the theater, and that there would be a better chance to communicate to more people in more forms with more sacred messages by working in the theater.
JR: Is there anything else that you, personally, would like to say that, perhaps, you think we should include?
LC: Well, I guess the more that I am involved in a spiritual path, the more I would say to anyone that it’s a good idea…that it’s a really good idea. The world is a very, very complicated place now. It’s not that it hasn’t been complicated before, but a lot more of it is coming at us at a much faster and harder rate…that it’s hard for us to get out from under things that the world teaches you, which is, like, to look out for number one. It’s harder for us to get out from under that. We don’t have reflective time. We don’t. We’re not allowed it. So to find a teacher and to be able to get some help so that you can get a hold of your life, so that at the end of your life, God willing, if your conscious, you can die happy…you can die happy saying, “ I did my best. I did the important things. I made other people happy. I’m glad I lived. This was worth it…this was worthwhile.” Yeah, that’s what I would recommend.
This is the second half of the interview. See the July newsletter for part 1 or go to /mi-ft_crouse.html on the ACI-LA website to read the entire interview