Reflections on Video Art, Media, and a Life of Zen:
An Interview with Michael Goldberg
Michael Goldberg, a native of Montreal, Canada now living in Tokyo, Japan, has been active in video art and video production for over 40 years. Educated at McGill University and Ecole des beaux arts and involved in a wide range of art movements over the years, he moved to Japan in 1982 and has since founded International Videoworks, a Tokyo-based video production company established in 1990, of which he is the director.
Most recent among the production work of International Videoworks is a documentary entitled "A ZEN LIFE - D.T. Suzuki" about the legendary author and translator Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, who is widely credited as having introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.
We spoke with Michael Goldberg about his path from Canada to Japan, about recent changes in media and art movements, the significance and limitations of copyright laws, and about his recent movie and perceptions of its subject, D.T. Suzuki, within Japan and in the West.
Interview with Michael Goldberg
shioyama (sy): You write [in your tongue-and-cheek CV] that you "dropped out of Canada in 1982". What first brought you to Japan?
Michael Goldberg (MG): I came for the first time in 1971, looking for video artists. I had started a listing of non-profit groups and artists around the world called the "Video Exchange Directory." That was before cassettes; back then it was reel-to-reel black-and-white video. What I wanted to do -- what I was hoping to do -- was promote video as a communication tool, instead of television's one-way kind of thing. I had sent postcards around the world asking people what they were doing in video, their address -- usually their mom's, because everybody moved a lot -- what equipment they had, and what their interests were. Then I published a list and sent it to everybody, trying to encourage them to exchange tapes. It was published 7 or 8 times after that.
No-one answered from Japan. I had gotten a "Junior Artist" grant, and asked the Canada Council if they would let me travel to Japan as an add-on to that, to look for video artists here. In those days it was easier to get grants. That's how I first got here.
sy: So did you find video artists when you got to Japan?
MG: No, there weren't any! Actually there were two -- one in Osaka and one in Fukui -- who were kind of doing things on their own. But there was no concerted effort.
There was a movement at the time, which I was part of in Montreal, called E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology). I had met Fujiko Nakaya in New York at an exhibition. She had organised EAT in Japan and did a lot of activity here. So she and some artists older than me -- I was about 26 or so, they were 36 or 40, and kind of established -- interested in trying video, working with video. They grabbed me and pulled me over to Sony and said: "There's this worldwide movement, and Japan's not involved. You've got to support this!" Sort of "gai-atsu" (external pressure). Sony had just finished the Sony building in Ginza, which is a display space to promote equipment. They actually came up with a budget, and the Japanese in that group organized the first ever video art exhibition in Japan. I'm credited with being the "father of Japanese video art," but I only helped a bit.
sy: Can you talk a bit about Intermedia and your experience with that group?
MG: Intermedia was an artists' group in Vancouver, Canada, active from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. It was organized by people from all kinds of disciplines -- poets, filmmakers, dancers, sculptors -- a really eclectic group of people who organised exhibitions, workshops and events without promoting themselves. They worked anonymously, which for me was really interesting. Plus they worked collaboratively.
I had just come from Montreal. On the "east coast," it's competitive. There's the whole career thing, making a name for yourself, and all that. I left that scene and arrived in Vancouver, where people were collaborating, doing things non-profit, and doing things without using their names. It was very appropriate to the mood of the time, and to what personally interested me.
They had grants which allowed them to rent a church that was no longer used. There was a huge hall that could be used for dance classes, rehearsals and performances, plus other workshops and presentations. They put a printing press in the basement for poets and writers. Bought a video camera. All these people, doing all sorts of things together -- it was such a "scene" that when something was happening, everybody would go. It was fascinating. But it got to the point there were so many things going on you couldn't attend them all, so it kind of outgrew itself. But when it was happening, it was -- well, the '60s, the anti-war movement, a lot of American draft-dodgers, intelligent people came up to Canada from the States, brought with them information and know-how from down there. People were really dedicated in a non-profit way to what they were doing.
sy: What happened to the group? Did it just dissolve?
MG: No. A lot of other groups formed out of it which became more specialized. Like the group I was with, which became known as the Video In; we dedicated ourselves to video activity with artists and the community. There was another place called the Western Front, which concentrated on dance and performance and conceptual art, things like that. The modern dancers coalesced around several groups, which involved theatre people and music people doing things together. It kind of naturally ran its course.
THOUGHTS ON MEDIA
sy: I'm wondering how you see what it happening now in media, the parallel with today's world? A lot of activities nowadays occur through the Net, and it's very decentralized. There isn't a sense of localness -- a lot of it is spread all over the globe. When you look at the world right now, do you see any parallels?
MG: There is a lot of positive in it, and some negative, obviously (in everything I guess). Linux came out of that mentality. And the Web itself, for that matter. But I don't believe -- I don't know if I ever did -- at least at the moment I don't believe that changes in the media, per se, lead to changes in society. When I started the Video Exchange Directory, listing artists and non-profit groups around the world, I really wanted to break away from the mold of one-way television, and use video as a communication medium.
That certainly happened. But that doesn't mean it became really deep. Everybody can do video now, and they can do it better than we could in the early days. They don't have to struggle -- maybe that's part of the problem.
sy: What do you think about copyright? There is a lot of discussion right now about copyright of content on the web.
MG: In 1971, we organized an international gathering of video people (movement people, artists) in Vancouver, called Matrix. Someone came up with the concept of "copywrong". There is morality involved in copying, and there is not a lot of incentive to originality. When you talk about fighting commercialism, that's one thing. But when you imply that all information -- not just your information, but all information -- should be free and accessible, and that there should be no control over any information, no paying for it, no cost involved, then in the name of freedom you're actually being destructive.
I've spent the past four years of my life doing a feature documentary about Zen philosopher D.T. Suzuki. Loads of volunteers helped. People gave me mileage points so I could fly to the United States and England to interview people. I made promises to the people I interviewed. I have commitments -- moral commitments, if you will -- to what I can do and not do with the interviews I did of them. Not everything I recorded should be made available to everybody to use in whatever way they want. There is a limitation to the movement of information that has to be respected at some point.
sy: Right, absolutely. But do you think this limitation is something that should be set down by the government, or should it be a moral thing that the community agrees upon?
Never mind the government -- what are the laws for? What are they trying to control? I had one interesting experience with government officials who enforce regulations.
When I was promoting the free exchange of small-format video recordings across borders, which I did with the Video Exchange Directory, I got called by the Canadian Customs authorities. They informed me that we had to pay X amount of tax per foot of videotape, based on 2-inch colour videotape -- we were working with half-inch black and white tape -- because they were trying to protect Canadian broadcasting from the American television production industry. The US has so much more money, energy, and population, so Canada would have been swamped. Canada decided to protect itself from American programming, to a certain extent. "Canadian Content" laws were also enacted as a result of this concern.
So we had to pay a whole lot of money for every videotape that you sent to Canada from overseas. Then we had to fill out a form and maybe several months later we'd get our money back. We couldn't afford that!
It turns out that in Canada Customs then -- probably still now, I'm guessing -- there were two groups. One was called "Enforcement" -- the border guards. They're the "cops." Another department was called "Interpretation," the nice guys -- more liberal. They're constantly fighting each other. The Interpretation guy said: " Write me a letter." So I wrote explaining our situation, and he had the ruling changed. Small-format video tapes became like 8mm films and audio cassettes: when they were for personal use and communication, they were free of duty. We had to go through that, in terms of what's allowable, what's not, and what controls there are. You can see there are a lot of interests involved. Because of the stance I had taken regarding communication media, I fought that fight.
But going back to whether all information should be freely available and not controlled, we have to think about society in a similar way. Does freedom mean there's no control on anything? If we had a Utopian society that is totally anarchistic, we assume people would all work for the best of humanity. That would be wonderful; but it's not true. Every society has laws, and there are enforcement mechanisms for dealing with them. They are misused, and they are used well, sometimes. I don't believe that by destroying the current structure, society will automatically become better. I don't believe that to be inherently true. We all live within limitations of some sort. Still, we should strive to change things for the better.
sy: How did you first become interested in D.T. Suzuki?
MG: I get asked that question all the time, and I give the same non-standard answer every time.
I did another feature documentary, about pre-war foreign wives of Japanese. One of the principle characters is a women from Tonga, half-Scottish/Irish and half-Tongan aristocracy. She is a fervent Christian -- a missionary, and a wonderful person. The women in that video got through numerous difficulties -- much greater in their time than in ours -- through various ways of thinking and believing and acting. There's no one role model. Jesse Banno's belief in the love of Christ carried her through those difficult times.
D.T. Suzuki's wife (Beatrice Erskine Lane) was American. She died in 1939. A fervent Buddhist, she was especially interested in Shingon philosophy. And I thought: I would love to have a Western woman who is really into Buddhism, just to balance it out a little. I would have loved to have Suzuki's wife in it. So one of our researchers approached someone close to the Suzuki legacy, and was turned away. That's where I first learned about Daisetz Suzuki.
I'm not supposed to say that. I should perhaps simply say -- the truth -- that D.T. Suzuki made a strong impression on me once I started reading him. But I had no image, no prejudice if you will, about him, any more than I had an image of Japan before I came in 1971. I didn't have any fantasies, or illusions. I had no idea about Japanese culture or religion. I was just looking for video artists.
So my first interest in Daisetz Suzuki was related to his international marriage. It's a great story, though it's not in my video!
anju (aj): What I thought was interesting was that, to a Japanese person like me, the person named Suzuki Daisetsu, and the person named "D.T. Suzuki", as seen from a Western perspective, as in your film -- they are the same person, but he is perceived in different ways. I personally find that interesting.
MG: [Yes that's true.] That connects to criticisms of Suzuki's supposed "Inverse Orientalism," in a way. Orientalism was a fad in the 1800s where Westerners would look at Japan and China and say "it's so exotic!" Of course their initial understanding of the Orient was very superficial.
Well, Suzuki goes to America, and he talks about Zen in Christian terms. He talks about it in psychoanalytic terms. He uses Western concepts and terminology in order to try and explain Buddhism, to cross the cultural barrier and get people to appreciate and understand, to a better extent, what Zen is about, what Buddhism is about.
But there are some purists today who caution that you have to be extremely careful about how you cross cultural barriers, and claim that Suzuki went too far. Because he's Japanese, he's accused of "Inverse Orientalism."
If you take that argument to the extreme, you can't translate anything, because there are always some terms that don't have an equivalent. Take the notion of the "ego". This is one of the concepts in the West and in the East that are very, very different -- the concept of "the self." Suzuki first went to the U.S. in 1897, for 10 years or so. Then after the Second World War he went back and taught at Columbia, open lectures, and had an incredible influence at that time. There was a "Zen boom" in the 1950's and 60's, largely attributed to Dr. Suzuki.
By chance, at the same time, psychoanalysis was having a boom. Psychoanalysis also deals with the self, though in a very different way. There were a lot of psychoanalysts, and some leading humanist psychologists, who were very interested in Suzuki's interpretation of the self.
So he uses the word "ego." What's wrong with that? I mean, the "ego," the Freudian concept of the ego hasn't existed for centuries; it is a recent addition to Western understanding of the mind. Suzuki latched onto that word, as Westerners used it, in order to draw parallels with the Buddhist concept of the self, or to make people look at the universal phenomenon of individual consciousness within society or within one's own lifetime, and to think about things that can be learned from both points-of-view.
There wasn't a word for "religion" in Japanese until Western missionaries introduced it. There wasn't a word for "philosophy." The terms were created in response to Western culture suddenly coming to Japan after it was closed to the outside world for several centuries, in order to communicate our concepts of religion and philosophy to them.
I think what you say is true, that he is perceived differently in the West and in Japan. But I wouldn't say there is a different Suzuki. One of the points I have perceived in following D.T. Suzuki these four years, listening to a lot of his recordings and reading things that have never been published, is he's saying the same thing over and over! In my opinion, when he's talking about Zen Buddhism in philosophical terms, or in psychoanalytical terms, when he's talking about it in Christian terms, comparing aspects of it to Catholicism, he's not changing what he's saying, he's just saying it differently.
I personally believe, knowing what I do about D.T. Suzuki, he wasn't two-faced at all. He wasn't saying anything different in Japanese. But he could express himself with so much more sophistication and depth -- not that everybody could follow what he was saying, quite the contrary. Suzuki was very, very sophisticated, yet he could simplify really well for Westerners. I think the Japanese perception of him is different. Yet he is the same Suzuki Daisetsu, I am convinced of that. He was such a stickler for the truth, for accuracy. The man was incredible; his mind was sharp until the day he died, a little before his 96th birthday.
ZEN, AS SEEN FROM JAPANESE AND WESTERN PERSPECTIVES
aj: Once, when I was living in Vancouver, during a discussion with some Canadian friends, one said: "Oh that's so Zen!" I was really confused. What is so Zen about what I was talking about? And then I started thinking: what does it mean when a person says "Zen." I got very confused. Because I'm Japanese, people assumed that I know these things; but I didn't know anything about Zen. I realised that in places like Vancouver, people are into Zen. People do read a lot about Zen and things like that. So I started thinking about the relationship people in the West have with Zen.
MG: When they said what you said was "so Zen," you're talking about Japanese Zen, of course. Japanese society does have an undercurrent of tradition that comes from China, going further back to India, and it's part of the culture. Suzuki said it took 650 years to develop original Japanese Buddhism. I don't think it's going to happen right away in the West.
A lot of the Zen that people are reading originates from D.T. Suzuki -- although he's gone now. There is also Tibetan Buddhism, and Korean Buddhists, and a lot of other Buddhism available for people to read since he first published his works. I don't think he's depassé, frankly. There's certainly a lot more information available now in the West about Buddhism, and different perspectives. Still, I think that if they thought what you were saying was "so Zen," they're perceiving it as Japanese Zen.
It's like the chicken and egg, or cart and a horse. When Suzuki says, as he does, that there is Japanese Buddhism, it's true. Over the centuries, some movements which grew around very original Buddhist thinkers in Japan are now established churches. There were similar people in China, over the centuries. It's very rare indeed that you get someone of the stature of Jesus Christ or of Nelson Mandela, or of -- in my opinion -- Daisetz Suzuki. There are very few people who have such a huge, lasting effect -- who promulgate thought based on their way of living, that resonates somehow with people, and grows.
Does Japanese Zen Buddhism come out of Japanese culture, or was Japanese consciousness affected by Zen Buddhism? It's like -- does art reflect life, or life reflect art? You don't have to have been taught Zen during your upbringing to have some awareness of things that are described in Suzuki's books. They're part of your Japanese consciousness... or lack of consciousness -- of the ego, for example. You don't have to be taught Zen to be very sensitive about what other people around you are into. As a Japanese, it's second nature for you!
On the other hand, if you want to talk about the promulgation of Zen meditation, and the Sangha (Buddhist community) in the West... there's a big difference in the way it has promulgated here. It's a laic community in the West. In Japan, Zen Buddhism is still a priest thing. In the West people study and practice Zen, but they do it their daily life. And that is a very big difference. Like the sense of community in Jodo-Shin (Pure Land Buddhism). You live your life, but you also have to follow certain precepts. You're on a path; you're a student of that way of thinking. And so in the West, Zen is basically a laic movement. It's very different from the way it is in Japan.
Going back to the ego, in the West our egos get in the way all the time. Gary Snyder says that Zen practice makes the ego get in your way, and you learn to get it out of the way. Whereas in Japan, they don't start with quite the same problem. There are other problems. In Japan it's almost the opposite. People don't have a strong sense of individualism, of originality and critical approach. Westerners have that tuned to the extreme. So you find Japanese who go overseas, particularly young women -- when they return to Japan they don't want to fit back into the mold. They've grown, and had people pay attention to them for the beautiful parts of their individuality. They don't want to come back to Japan and erase their "self."
VIEWS ON SUZUKI
sy: Many well-known figures appear in the movie [A ZEN LIFE]. I was just wondering. Had you met them before you made this movie? For example Gary Snyder, Donald Richie, all these people, was this your first experience meeting them?
MG: Yes. When I first wrote Gary Snyder to request an interview, he declined. I wrote him back and I said: "Ok, I understand. There's some outspoken criticism of Suzuki now, and I just wanted to try and contribute somehow to that discussion." To my surprise he wrote back. "Ah yes, all this criticism. Could you send me some of that?" So I copied and pasted a bunch of things that I'd gotten over the Internet and sent it to him, and he responded: "I want to be interviewed." He really respects Suzuki, though he'd met him only twice. But early on Gary read almost everything Suzuki had written that he could lay his hands on.
I'm very grateful to him for having accepted. We correspond from time to time, even now. He's bombarded by all sorts of people who just want to latch onto him. Yet he was very, very welcoming and open. The others too, wonderful people who knew Daisetz Suzuki in person, right away said: "This is great! When do you want to come?" I learned so much from them. Most of the interviews couldn't fit in the video. The shooting-to-edit ratio was really high.
sy: So why did it take so long for a movie like this? Was there any other movies about him before this?
MG: Never. There was an NBC program, two long interviews on NHK, and some programs about him where they use two or three photos -- because there are extensive copyright permissions and costs to deal with -- with a couple of commentators talking about him. I think part of it was that he was such a deep thinker and a big figure -- in the sense of hard to grasp -- a huge influence in his time. An in-depth documentary about Daisetz Suzuki was unthinkable. If I hadn't started interviewing when I did, it would probably have been too late to get personal reminiscences from those still alive who knew D.T. Suzuki in person and were strongly influenced by him.
sy: That seems surprising, because he's such an important person.
MG: Well, he's self-effacing. He wouldn't write his autobiography; it doesn't fit with his egoless philosophy. He had all sorts of people around him who called themselves his "deshi" (apprentices). But he was adamant: "Washi-ni, deshi-ga oran" (I have no apprentice). When he was on his death bed, there were people in the hospital lounge waiting for his last words. His physician, Dr. Hinohara, Shigeaki, who's Christian, asked Dr. Suzuki if he wanted to see any of them, and he replied: "No, I want to be alone." Only his secretary, Mihoko Okamura was there at the end. He never gave a last word to any of them.
On the other hand, there's a quote of his which I like. In one of his lectures he said:
"This great thing, human beings have, is to have invented letters, characters by means of which we can write books. Or nowadays, not only writing books -- sounds are recorded. And we have all kinds of photographic techniques, by which what has gone on in the past can be retained, as if they were really living, and also as if we were actually experiencing those things ourselves.
"So this is a great thing that we have. We can transmit what we have acquired during our lifetime to our descendants. We can bequeath all those things to our descendants. Though it is quite a different thing that those descendants, including ourselves -- we are descendants of the past -- we don't make full use of the experiences of our forefathers."
This helped justify to myself the fact that I made this film.
One of the things that I've learnt from Daisetz Suzuki, about life -- I don't know if it's about Zen -- is that if you see one side of something, there's always another side to it. You could say that there's too much writing about Zen, and also there's not enough writing about Zen.
sy: One of the things that I felt in the movie, when he said that he couldn't get Satori... and then suddenly he had Satori -- it sounded a little bit superficial. I don't think it was the way he said it so much as just having said it. As opposed to meeting him, and experiencing that obviously he had gone through this experience. To just kind of say it like that, "oh, I had it." This somehow makes it seem superficial. That's not a criticism or anything. It just makes me feel that.
MG: No, no, no; it does sound like that. Some people assume that it was superficial. Most people don't talk about their enlightenment experience; it's taboo.
sy: Yeah, exactly. I don't think you can talk about it without being superficial.
MG: In fact there's another term in Zen Buddhism. It's called Kensho, a kind of mystic experience. And in the interviews I did, there are a number of people, Gary Snyder included, who go into the Kensho experience, and whether it is, in fact, a religious experience or whether it's a mystical experience. And I think -- I assume -- that what's important is not that you had it, but what you went through to get to that point. For most Zen practitioners, those who meditate a lot and don't talk about it, it gets deeper and deeper. Someone said it's like a window that you wipe a little bit; you see through a little, but you have to keep wiping and wiping it.
In fact, Daisetz Suzuki described a deeper experience when he first lived in the United States, and didn't reveal anything more after that. He was a great man. At our level too, we realize things all the time. We have realizations that change the way we approach life or people or ourselves. It's not as if you'll have one moment of insight and then you're in Heaven. It's nothing like that.
I think his philosophy was strongly affected by his first awakening experience. When he talks about nature, he's really into nature. And the first Kensho he had was of feeling one with the trees, which is very Buddhist. Buddha had his experience with the morning star glittering in his eye. So for Suzuki, it was a very, very important and meaningful experience, and I think it tainted the way that he grew after that. For him it was a very deep experience; but when we hear it talked about, it does sound kind of simplistic.
sy: [It was] also kind of interesting, his interest in trying LSD. I thought that was kind of endearing. How old was he at the time?
MG: 85, 86?
sy: I mean it was great that people told him, maybe you shouldn't do that, at your age.
MG: You know why? It's not in the edit, but there was a Japanese Roshi (Zen master) who tried LSD and freaked out. He crouched in the foetal position through the whole trip. For him it was a really bad experience, and they thought -- Suzuki's old; we don't want to try that.
RESPONSES TO THE FILM
sy: What kinds of responses have you had from non-Japanese as well as Japanese to the movie so far?
MG: Right now, in the West especially, there are a number of really vehement critics who are defaming Zen and attacking some well-known Buddhists for what they did before and during the war. And they're right, to a large extent. But not everything they say is correct. One of them in particular, whom I interviewed, has made a personal goal of attacking Suzuki, making assumptions about the effect he had on nationalism and militarism, and how Suzuki is indirectly responsible for the atrocities because he talks about the sword -- I won't go into details, it's a long, long discussion.
I assumed that when I showed the film in Canada and the US there was going to be a lot of fomentation from the criticism. If you do Internet searches, that's the kind of stuff that pops up. And it's recent, the last 10 years or so. So you get the impression it may be the current overall mood. Some of it's very positive -- Buddhism that is socially conscious. Very critical too, in parts, and rightfully so.
I did a tour in October and November 2006, between screenings at the Vancouver and Honolulu Film festivals, showing "A ZEN LIFE - D.T. Suzuki" all across Canada and the United States. I thought -- because of vehement accusations about Suzuki and war -- unfounded, in my opinion, but it seems to be in the air right now -- there would be negative comments about Suzuki or the film from audiences. In fact, it was just the opposite. Everywhere I went, I was astounded by the positive feedback I got. I did director talks after the showings, almost everywhere, and I got fantastic insights from the audience, and a lot of respect from people who'd read Suzuki, and from people who didn't know who he was at all, who got something out of the film.
This doesn't mean we're going to be able to sell it a lot of DVDs. That is another question!
I was really pleasantly impressed with the positive reaction the film has gotten. Even the Tibetan Buddhist Center in New York held a screening, and I thought -- I've heard some Zen people put down the "Tibetan Boom" -- yet the Tibet adherents are open to Daisetz Suzuki. There are some Zen people who say " Oh, Suzuki's Satori experience is superficial!" And I think: "Who are you to say that?"
Anyway, I thought I was going to get that kind of stuff, and didn't. Just at one university on the east coast of the States, where there was a professor who is one of the critics. In Hawaii, at a Shin Buddhist temple, there had been a lecture specifically about Suzuki's alleged connection to the war -- and some of the people in Honolulu were distressed to hear such talk. They took the criticism at face value, and it does tend to be one-sided. "Oh my gosh, we didn't know that!" When shown my video, they regained confidence that Daisetz Suzuki is indeed worthy of respect.
sy: What is the connection? I thought he was against the war, or in the video it seems that way.
MG: He was definitely against World War Two, even the critics acknowledge that. But he was not critical of the Russo-Japanese War, for example, when he was young. And some latch onto that. He talks a lot about the Samurai class, their interest in Zen, and about the sword. When you're into something 100%, it's like being an artist. You're not controlling the brush (or the sword). It's a whole experience; the brush moves by itself.
It's also history. The warrior class in the Middle Ages was into Zen -- they faced death at any moment. The claim is that since Suzuki writes about this, he's not a pacifist; he's supporting the military. Or the Japanese military may have used what he says. Mihoko Okamura told me "Suzuki is not an idealist; he's a realist." And he says "freedom is to see things as they are."
I assumed that there would be some confrontation at the showings I'd have to deal with. I'm not a fighter by nature. There were just those two isolated incidents, and they were not rabid in any way. Reactions were overwhelmingly favourable, inquisitive, heartwarming, and insightful.
sy: Was your impression that most people didn't know much about him when they saw your movie?
MG: It's hard to do a sociological breakdown. I'll take one thing as an example. When Suzuki is asked whether, after Satori, he still has feelings, he says that when his wife died, his tears had no roots. That came up time and again after the screenings. Very interesting. I didn't get comments, for example, about the LSD part of the video. I did get people commenting on or questioning whether one feels emotions after Satori.
Very different comments, very different points of view. One, from a woman who came up to me, very disappointed, after a showing in Vancouver. Someone very close to her had died and she was hoping that if she were to experience Satori, or to do Zen meditation, it would help her deal with her grief. What did I think? And I was like -- I don't know, I haven't had Satori. I don't pretend to have had an enlightenment experience.
I mulled over my personal thoughts about the funeral process: it's not for the dead. I mean, people think it's for the dead, but it's for the living. It's for people who are left to deal with the loss. This is one of the things I've thought a lot about since reading Suzuki -- life and death, our life and our death, life and death in general. If Zen meditation helps us to come to terms with death, great. We all die, and Zen philosophy should hopefully help us to feel comfortable with our own death. I won't know how much I have learned about this until I'm faced with it myself.
At another screening someone said that she thought it was wonderful to have someone of Suzuki's stature point out he didn't lose touch with his feelings. That was really important for her.
There was a showing in Vancouver organised by the Thomas Merton Society of Canada, which is a Catholic peace-oriented group, and the Philosopher's Cafe, an open gathering for people to discuss philosophy in a relaxed setting. The average age of the audience was older than me -- I was 61. When that point got raised, a gentleman who I think may be from India, from his accent, talked about how life is in constant flux and flow, so there's nowhere to put down roots. He totally understood Suzuki's comment.
Then at one of the Canadian Embassy showings, Mihoko Okamura, who was Suzuki's secretary for almost 15 years, said: "It's because Suzuki had no ego."
All are very different ways of understanding one point that comes up, something that Suzuki said. He has the ability to come up with words or concepts that people can grab onto somehow, for whatever reason, and it is meaningful for different people in different ways.
sy: Did you get any reactions from Japanese people who saw the film?
MG: I've shown it twice with vertical Japanese side-titles at the Canadian Embassy. The first night the audience was maybe 40% to 50% Japanese. The second time perhaps 60%, or 65% were Japanese. Both nights somebody pointed out that there was a mistake in the kanji (Chinese character) for "Satori."
Despite Daisetz Suzuki and others in the documentary saying: "You can't understand it," one of the comments in Japanese, that went on and on and on -- and I'm translating -- I turn to the audience and I say: "I think he's asking if I understood." Japanese were really curious about how much I personally got out of doing the project. The answer is, in a way, in the film. After one of his Japanese students asks Suzuki whether Westerners can understand Buddhism, he replies: "Do you think you understand Buddhism?" I hope I've learned something.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
sy: Do you have any plans for the future?
MG: My plan now is to get out of debt.
sy: How will you do that?
MG: We're discussing with a DVD distributor - - apparently you don't make a lot of money from DVD sales, and some showings, and hopefully eventually get it on NHK.
sy: Do you have any plans for other movies?
MG: I used to do a big project every year. I was always on the go. At Matrix, the conference in Vancouver, I went into the Loo to take a rest, and sat down. There was a graffiti on the wall: "Michael Goldberg is alive!" I was running around the whole time! I can't do that any more. Now every 7 years or so I take on a big project, which takes me 3 or 4 years to do. Then I need to cover debt and build up energy. I'll think of something in a while.
I personally feel that Suzuki is relevant to our time, that he's not outmoded. Reading his books had a profound effect on me personally - started me thinking about a lot of things in myself and my life that needed to be thought about, and I still have to deal with. The people I interviewed also taught me so much. I feel blessed to have done this project.
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