Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby ricketybridge » Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:58 pm

Hi everyone,

I'm new here, so if I break any rules or offend anyone, apologies in advance. (Also, this is quite long, so feel free to respond on any point, even if you haven't read the whole thing.)

I'm currently experiencing a phenomenon much like the one starter posted about last week, but which has, I think, an additional complication.

So, I'm one of those wannabe screenwriters in Hollywood with a day job at a studio. Although professions of this kind aren't directly mentioned in Right Livelihood, I feel very much like the actor Buddha speaks to about why performing in theatrical shows is against the dhamma. I grew up wanting nothing but to be a writer, and feel chagrined and betrayed to find (on a visceral level) that it is not, in fact, the way to true happiness.

I'm discovering multiple layers to the problems with this field, including things which I previously not only didn't look down on, but celebrated:

1) As Buddha mentions to the actor, practically the entire purpose of theatrical shows is to engender desire in the audience. This takes its most obvious form in beautiful actors, visuals, music, etc., but it's more than that: the very core of a story is desire. That's like the first thing they teach you in Writing 101: the main character must have an objective--the stronger, the better. It's no accident that there are no movies (as far as I know) with a Buddhist monk as a main character (lol). So because of my dhamma exploration, I'm finding it harder and harder to relate to characters' problems and how seriously they take them, and am finding it a bit difficult to enjoy the entertainments I once worshiped. And I'm not talking dumb action movies--I've never been into those anyway--but even the highest examples of cinema and theater of all time. I'm just experiencing far too much equanimity to get into these things.

2) Because of the above, I'm finding it harder to be "inspired" these days. If I can't buy into people's desires (even my own), then how can I possibly (or why would I) fabricate new ones for imaginary people? Most of my inspiration (and that of others, I'm sure) has come from my agita over own life's problems. Well, eliminate one's agita, and what's left to write about? The dhamma, I guess, but as I mentioned, that does not make for good drama. I suppose I could write about characters finding enlightenment or whatever, but I would still have to be immersed in the desire and struggle on the way there. And writing isn't just an intellectual engagement; as with an actor, if you're going to write anything half-way decent, your emotions have to be in high gear: you feel with and through your characters. This is, needless to say, not conducive to a peaceful mentality. I'm realizing that it's no accident that so many writers are alcoholics or drug addicts or kill themselves.

3) Even at my boring day job at the studio, my mind is constantly bombarded with the greed, lust and pride so inherent to this business. I know that I can work at being aware of it and its effect on me, and I have been, but I'm just saying that this yet one more facet of the atmosphere I've immersed myself in.

4) Worst of all, I'm finding my ambition dwindling--which is death in this highly competitive field. This is basically what starter talked about, but I doubt that the answer is that I'm just being lazy and should really apply myself harder at this business of desire. I'm not really even sure what I'm asking here. For permission to quit, I guess. Actually, I'm getting towards the end of taking my stab at it, and if my career doesn't take off in a year or so, then I will quit. But until then, I've seriously considered purposefully forgetting about Buddhism and immersing myself back in desire and ambition, even if that means (and it probably will) being as horrifically unhappy as I was prior to thinking along these lines (which started about a year ago, when I wasn't studying Buddhism per se, but other stuff that had a similar effect). Effectively, I'm saying that I value my pride over my happiness--which, I know, is ludicrous and destructive. I'm like that guy in the Matrix who regrets having left the Matrix and wants to return; he actually wishes he still lived in delusion. (Of course I would reference a movie to explain this.)

But of course I won't do that. I just can't make myself miserable on purpose. But I feel like continuing to learn and apply myself to the dhamma will inevitably result in my writing grinding down to a halt. Have any of you guys experienced anything like this? Help?? Like one of retro's posts said, how is it possible to live in both worlds like this? Is it?

Thanks, everyone.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby Jhana4 » Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:13 pm

FYI, FWIW,

There are 5 professions that the Buddha thought so little of that he bothered to mention them specifically as things to stay away from. I'm guessing that in regards to other professions we have to rely on our judgmental, with the assumption that we share the Buddhist goal of reducing dukha ( suffering ):

Vanijja Sutta: Business (Wrong Livelihood)

"Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

"These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in."


I guess being a Buddhist while being an arms dealer, slave trader, pimp, meat producer, drug dealer and polluter is specifically problematic.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby daverupa » Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:35 pm

ricketybridge wrote:I'm just experiencing far too much equanimity to get into these things.


There's a work of fiction entitled "The Brother Initiate" by Sean Russell that you might enjoy.

In theatre, one can see in Hamlet or Death of a Salesman, et al, a struggle with existential themes that have plagued humanity since consciousness arose. The Buddha also struggled with these existential themes. There is some good material out there, even if it's thin on the ground. You might make more of this sort of work, and point at the Four Noble Truths in various ways through skillful use of writing.

ricketybridge wrote:And writing isn't just an intellectual engagement; as with an actor, if you're going to write anything half-way decent, your emotions have to be in high gear: you feel with and through your characters. This is, needless to say, not conducive to a peaceful mentality. I'm realizing that it's no accident that so many writers are alcoholics or drug addicts or kill themselves.


Just as in acting, however, these emotions need not control you. If you write a gut-wrenching death scene, for example, the healthy writer is able to set the intensity aside at-will. With acting, if you cry for a scene and it takes you more than a few seconds to come out of it, you're probably doing it wrong and with harmful long-term consequences, as you mention (Method acting is implicated here). Anapanasati is guaranteed to help with all this, so continuing such a practice will be of benefit.

ricketybridge wrote:But I feel like continuing to learn and apply myself to the dhamma will inevitably result in my writing grinding down to a halt. Have any of you guys experienced anything like this?


It may, but take a step back and look at where you'd be if the writing did grind down to a halt. In my own case, I was married and heading towards a full-ride doctoral scholarship while my then-wife was attending law school. Now, quite some years later and after many trials and tribulations, I'm working a custodial job and yet happier, on account of the Dhamma. I can't imagine caring about tenure any more, where once it was central.

The equanimity you're feeling probably isn't really equanimity the way you describe it, rather it's more akin to anhedonia, which is probably rooted elsewhere than in your Dhamma practice. In my own case, a bout with major depressive disorder was the result of thinking anhedonia was somehow a virtue - in other words, playacting that I was farther along on the Path than I was. Equanimity, when developed, will cover everything in the world, and the strife and struggle will lessen and drop away, leaving peace - not the uncomfortable dissonance which you are experiencing. It's worth investigating.

Until then, perhaps there is still something conducive to wholesomeness for you in literature and the arts, as I mentioned above.

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    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby ricketybridge » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:32 pm

daverupa wrote:In theatre, one can see in Hamlet or Death of a Salesman, et al, a struggle with existential themes that have plagued humanity since consciousness arose. The Buddha also struggled with these existential themes. There is some good material out there, even if it's thin on the ground. You might make more of this sort of work, and point at the Four Noble Truths in various ways through skillful use of writing.


Good point; I'm interested in exploring that stuff...

daverupa wrote:The equanimity you're feeling probably isn't really equanimity the way you describe it, rather it's more akin to anhedonia, which is probably rooted elsewhere than in your Dhamma practice. In my own case, a bout with major depressive disorder was the result of thinking anhedonia was somehow a virtue - in other words, playacting that I was farther along on the Path than I was. Equanimity, when developed, will cover everything in the world, and the strife and struggle will lessen and drop away, leaving peace - not the uncomfortable dissonance which you are experiencing. It's worth investigating.


That's possible (and a frightening possiblity). Thanks for the warning. In full disclosure, I have been diagnosed with depression, but I'm on medication and this has never previously been a symptom of mine either on or (especially) off medication. I think you're right that I may be experiencing anhedonia at times (like right now, although that may be because I haven't been getting enough sleep), but it's not like I don't have the capacity to experience pleasure or happiness at other times (e.g. when I'm with friends). So what's the remedy for anhedonia? (lol) I imagine it'd be the same as the one for sloth and torpor...?

But equanimity isn't a permanent condition like enlightenment, is it? Isn't it possible to feel equanimity sometimes, and anxiety (or whatever) later?

daverupa wrote:...take a step back and look at where you'd be if the writing did grind down to a halt. In my own case, I was married and heading towards a full-ride doctoral scholarship while my then-wife was attending law school. Now, quite some years later and after many trials and tribulations, I'm working a custodial job and yet happier, on account of the Dhamma. I can't imagine caring about tenure any more, where once it was central.


The prospect of this is what terrifies me. I am so, so attached to my career (non-existent though it may be in more than one way). Sorry if these questions are too personal, but do you ever regret your decision, or does the dhamma pretty much just prevent regret? One thing that prevents me from quitting is the worry that in doing so I'll be wasting whatever amount of talent I may have. Was that a concern for you? Why or why not?

Thanks for your input. :)
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby Ben » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:46 pm

Speaking from experience, there is a huge gulf between anhedonia and equanimity. Anhedonia has more similarity with sloth and torpor and is underpinned by aversion to many things that were previously seen as pleasurable. Certainly during the beginning of one's practice there may be a tendency to mis-identify anhedonia as equanimity but as soon as one develops some depth of practice, one becomes acutely aware of the difference.
Real equanimity is characterised by an open and aware state of mind that neither relishes nor recoils.

Good luck with sorting out your livelihood issues.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby daverupa » Tue Apr 05, 2011 10:40 pm

ricketybridge wrote:So what's the remedy for anhedonia? (lol) I imagine it'd be the same as the one for sloth and torpor...?


Sloth and torpor are hindrances to meditation and can be dealt with in ones meditation practice; anhedonia is a specific iteration of dukkha, so a bit of a larger problem. The solution to dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Path, but modern living can make medication and/or skillful therapy very useful, especially early on when one is less centered on the Middle Way.

ricketybridge wrote:But equanimity isn't a permanent condition like enlightenment, is it? Isn't it possible to feel equanimity sometimes, and anxiety (or whatever) later?


This is true, but even so the feeling will not be of losing pleasure, but of gaining peace (or more specifically, lessening various preferences and that lessening feeling peaceful).

ricketybridge wrote:I am so, so attached to my career (non-existent though it may be in more than one way). Sorry if these questions are too personal, but do you ever regret your decision, or does the dhamma pretty much just prevent regret? One thing that prevents me from quitting is the worry that in doing so I'll be wasting whatever amount of talent I may have. Was that a concern for you? Why or why not?


Well, regret can only arise when I compare the past with the present and judge the comparison based on various volitional formations and expectations. If these sankhara aren't allowed to develop, and the mind remains in the present moment, there can be no regret. Anapanasati is recommended here.

My own talents lend themselves to Dhamma practice, so for me it was only a matter of shifting focus - there was no feeling of wasting talent; quite the contrary, instead of using my talents to pursue a doctorate I'm using my talents to strive for an ending to suffering, and no worthier goal is to be found.

You might be inspired to know that there is a whole list in the Suttas of those "disciples foremost in ____", where the blank is filled with many sorts of traits. For example, the Venerable Vangisa has a whole section in the Samyutta Nikaya; he was foremost in spontaneous verse, iirc, so here is an example of someone pursuing the Dhamma according to a talent which doesn't at first blush appear to have much relevance - yet he became one of the arahants. Perhaps your own story will be similar.

:heart:
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby ricketybridge » Tue Apr 05, 2011 10:49 pm

Thanks for the clarifications and for your perspective. :)

daverupa wrote:You might be inspired to know that there is a whole list in the Suttas of those "disciples foremost in ____", where the blank is filled with many sorts of traits. For example, the Venerable Vangisa has a whole section in the Samyutta Nikaya; he was foremost in spontaneous verse, iirc, so here is an example of someone pursuing the Dhamma according to a talent which doesn't at first blush appear to have much relevance - yet he became one of the arahants. Perhaps your own story will be similar.


Yes, that is inspiring! Looking forward to checking it out. Thanks! :D
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby chownah » Wed Apr 06, 2011 2:52 am

ricketybridge,
Seems that you might be changing professions soon.....best to start thinking or planning about what your next profession will be....seems to me that you see major down sides to your existing work but you are trying to stick with it....perhaps you are actually stuck with it for lack of other plans or skills and so you are looking for justification to continue....I'm probably wrong about this but that's how it looks from here.....

(notice my clever usage of "stick with it" and "stuck with it"...if you quit your job as a creative writer could you recommend me as your replacement?)
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby alan » Wed Apr 06, 2011 4:22 am

Quit your job and go travel. Find a story that moves you and write about it.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:25 am

Hi, ricketybridge,
I share your concerns about Hollywood movies. Most of them are technically impressive but morally, ethically and intellectually trashy. That's okay for me as a consumer - I can just stay away - but not so good if you're in the business of making them.
Going back to your OP: #2 and #4 make perfect sense in terms of #1 so what you think is bothering you may well be exactly what's bothering you. If so, equanimity is only a partial solution - if you're feeling bad because a man-eating crocodile is about to eat you, the *best* solution is to run like hell; saying 'Oh well, at least the crocodile will be happy,' is not so good. :tongue:
Alan's advice is good - write about what inspires you. Ditto about looking for projects with good values. That may mean moving away from a total commitment to Hollywood. Indie movies? Maybe. But also be aware that all sorts of other groups need good communicators - groups like Avaaz, Kiva, dhamma groups, environmental action groups - so there are lots of opportunities to contribute meaningfully through your writing skills. It's just a bit sad that the more support they deserve, the less money they usually have; you can end up making it your dana (as I do) and having to earn your bread with less worthwhile jobs.
[We break for this community announcement: Freelance editor/writer seeks gainful employment. PM Kim O'Hara with project outline. No, I'm not entirely serious - but I wouldn't mind a bit more paid work. :tongue: ]
Getting back to movies and your comment about lack of them featuring Buddhist monks - I can think of two good ones and one bad one. The two good ones are Kundun and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. The bad one is about a young Tibetan monk who disrobes because he is tormented by lust and then tempted by a village woman; I can't even remember its name but that's okay - you shouldn't go looking for it anyway. :tongue:
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby chownah » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:53 am

Kim O'Hara,
What do you think of the American TV series "Kung Fu"...you know the one starring David Carridine (don't know how to spell it)...a read of his biography is interesting...especially the ending......perhaps this is a morality tale the OP should read since he's in the same profession..........

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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby cooran » Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:22 am

Hello all,

Brings to mind a previous thread:

Actors go to Hell?
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=6552

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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:15 am

chownah wrote:Kim O'Hara,
What do you think of the American TV series "Kung Fu"...you know the one starring David Carridine (don't know how to spell it)...a read of his biography is interesting...especially the ending......perhaps this is a morality tale the OP should read since he's in the same profession..........

chownah

Hi, chownah,
I can't comment because I don't know it at all. I probably watch less than one hour per day of TV, usually news plus some current affairs or nature doco's, so my ignorance of American TV and popular culture is pretty comprehensive.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby ricketybridge » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:59 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:But also be aware that all sorts of other groups need good communicators - groups like Avaaz, Kiva, dhamma groups, environmental action groups - so there are lots of opportunities to contribute meaningfully through your writing skills. It's just a bit sad that the more support they deserve, the less money they usually have; you can end up making it your dana (as I do) and having to earn your bread with less worthwhile jobs.


I was thinking of doing just that, even just as a volunteer.

Thanks for the movie recommendations! :)
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby ricketybridge » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:27 pm

cooran wrote:Hello all,

Brings to mind a previous thread:

Actors go to Hell?
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=6552


Thanks, yes, that was helpful as well.

It, too, suggests, as some have here, to essentially take the "high road" when it comes to the selection of subject matter, but the unfortunate thing is that that's very, very tricky for a writer trying to break in. Even on the indie circuit, believe it or not, it's most strategic to choose subject matter that's commercial (e.g. violent, sexy), even if it has a message at the core. It's very difficult for a new writer to break in with something like Kundun. I'm not saying I'm not up to the task (actually, the current project I'm working on right now fits the bill adequately enough), but it makes breaking in that much higher a hurdle, if not impossible. But I know, traversing the path means sometimes making sacrifices, right?
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby salmon » Mon Apr 11, 2011 9:49 am

Films can pander to defilements. Films can also spread teachings. Depends on your intention and perspective.
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Re: Working in Entertainment -- a Right Livelihood question

Postby JeffR » Sat Apr 16, 2011 2:27 am

I haven't read the entire thread but would like to point out that the cinematic sector could use a bit of dhamma influence.
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