nonviolence into art

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non-violence into art

daya dissanayake

"Any beings who are not devoid of passion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of passion, focus with even more passion on things inspiring passion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of delusion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of delusion, focus with even more delusion on things inspiring delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. " (S.N. Talaputa Sutra, Thanissaro Bhikku translation)

Thus Buddha answered Talaputa, the head of an acting troupe.

In simpler language it means an actor will increase the defilements in those already defiled. In the same manner, it could also defile the young and the innocent. In the time of the Buddha, the role of the actor was very limited. It was during festivals, sometimes once a year, and not everyone had an opportunity to see them. The effect the actors had on the society could have been very limited.

As stage drama developed and became more popular, there was greater opportunity for people to see them. Today the actors are on the digital screen on television, computer and telephone, thus readily available for anyone, anywhere, for the elderly, the youth and even children. Talaputa was worried about his fate after death, with a fear of ending up in hell. Today more than the actors, it is the audience who would end up in hell, while some actors and producers enjoy heaven on earth with the ill-gotten gains. This applies not only to actors, but to writers too. Some of the creative artists today are more concerned about benefits they could gain in their present life.

Many writers and actors play on man's inherent weaknesses, of greed, envy and lust, and the desire for violence. There are still those who love humour and when they make us laugh we can forget our worries, frustrations and reduce our anger. Unfortunately we like to laugh at others discomfort, their pain or their misfortune. Yet there is hardly any demand for comedy today, because the greater demand is for violence, because we can even laugh at violence. We love to watch the bad people getting killed, and even to see the hero getting beaten up or tortured.

Even the greatest of all, William Shakespeare used violence, greed and lust to entertain his audience, as did the other greats in the past, Sophocles, Euripides and Valmiki.

The Ramayana was made into a play Ramlila, by Megha Bhagat, a disciple of Tulsidas, based on the Ramacharithamanas. It really got the entire community involved in the Ramayana since the 16th century. People all over North India are reminded of the Ramayana every year, with the enactment of Ramlila, which keeps the violence in the minds of the actors and the audience alive. The crowds love to attack the effigy of Ravana and then to set fire to it. When men, women and children watch the murder and then the burning of Ravana, it only reminds us that man is the only animal on earth who displays violent behavior. It is his so-called intelligence and creative powers which enable them to device such forms of cruelty.

This play was based on the Ramayana by Valmiki. An epic which describes how a Shudra person is beheaded by Rama for reciting the Veda, how the nose and ears of a beautiful maiden were cut off for expressing her love, how thousands of human beings were killed to satisfy the honour of one man. Most of us who read the Ramayana, watch it on the stage or on the screen, do not think for a moment about what made Ravana kidnap Sita. Even according to Valmiki, there was a good opportunity to avoid this unnecessary war, if Sita had accepted Hanuman's offer to carry her to India on his back. But Valmiki had to maintain the ideal wife concept and make Sita refuse to touch another man, not even to save her life, unless she too wanted Rama to wage war and destroy the Yaksha race.

Violence has often been directed against women. Rama wants Sita to prove her purity by jumping into the fire, though he knew very well that Sita did not elope with Ravana willingly, and she was banished again, when she was expecting Rama's own children.

Violence is what we find in most of the literary works and in historical chronicles, even in some religious stories. Sometimes men kill each other even because of their religious beliefs, and such men are glorified in epics, legends, paintings and films.

When writers and producers took to providing cheap entertainment to their readers and their audience, to cater to their sexual desires, producing erotica, the next inevitable step was sexual violence. Reading about sexual deviations, sadomasochism and watching them on screen creates temptation which could be one of the reasons for the increase in such forms of violence in our society today. The mass media who report such incidents in graphic detail could also be contributing to such an increase in sexual violence. Violent computer games played by children could make them immune to violence. All this has increased the threshold of tolerance for violence and would continue to increase if we do not control ourselves.

When we talk of our social responsibilities, it is time to think of our responsibilities as artists and writers towards the society, to get our children back into a life of peace and harmony, away from violence and hatred.

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