August 01, 2012
An Interview with Author Seth Greenland
Seth Greenland is the author of The Angry Buddhist, a recently published novel set in the Californian desert that explores corruption, deception, murder, politics, and...Buddhism. Jimmy Duke, one of the book's (many) main characters, is an ex-cop whose struggle with anger issues leads him to study Buddhism with an Internet teacher called "DharmaGirl." The dramedy met with such success in France and the United States (read the New York Times' review here) that it was picked up by Showtime to turn into a TV series, which is currently in development. Though Greenland's Buddhist background, in his words, "is neither wide nor deep," his wife is Susan Kaiser Greenland, a children's meditation teacher and author of The Mindful Child. Read Tricycle's interview with Greenland below, and click to the next page to read an excerpt from The Angry Buddhist.
What's your Buddhist background? My Buddhist background, such as it is, is neither wide nor deep. I briefly studied Zen at the New York Zen Center when I was diagnosed with cancer in 1993. Roughly a decade later, my wife, Susan Kaiser Greenland, introduced me to Vipassana practice, which is what I do now. I sit on the cushion from time to time but use the techniques every day.
Most of the characters in The Angry Buddhist have their issues—corrupt politicians, criminals, cheating husbands and wives—but it seems like the title character, Jimmy Duke the angry Buddhist, undergoes a kind of transformation. Are you suggesting that Buddhism or Buddhist practice might have something to offer troubled people? While the novel does not formally advocate for Buddhism, I am absolutely certain Buddhist practices offer a valuable means for people beset by troubles to help themselves become more equanimous. The novel asks this question: Can a person find a new way of being in the world that will help them live life in a less destructive manner? The title character, Jimmy Duke, has various challenges, and his use of meditation techniques that he learns from a Buddhist teacher begin to help him to deal with them healthily. I can't say that he is entirely successful, but I try to be realistic about it. We all continue to struggle, don't we?
It sounds like a Showtime show might be in the works. How did the studio executives respond when you pitched a show about a Buddhist? The executives at Showtime were intrigued by a show that would explore Buddhism. To be clear, the show is also meant to be about things like politics, crime, and family. But the Buddhist angle was something they liked. And they seemed to particularly respond to the title.
Be honest, have you found that Buddhists have a good sense of humor? (I ask only because I find many of them to be so earnest.) Like any group, it's impossible to generalize. But since you have asked me to, I will. Do Buddhists have good senses of humor? In my limited experience, Buddhist teachers, while not laugh riots, often have gentle, almost impish, senses of humor. One sees this in teachers like Thich Naht Hanh, Mingyur Rinpoche and, of course, the Dalai Lama, all of whom, while not exactly the Marx Brothers, are capable of finding quietly funny things in various aspects of life. Their Western adherents, on the other hand, can be (although are not always!) a little humor-challenged. All of that quietude and reflection seems not to be conducive to comedy in the Western mind. Perhaps Western practitioners don't need to take the "all of life is suffering" dictum quite so literally.
—Sam Mowe, former Tricycle editor
Next: An excerpt from The Angry Buddhist.