Smiling Not Smiling

A Buddhist screenwriter talks about the Beats, the bodhisattva ideal, and his award-winning screenplay of Neal Cassady.Noah Buschel

Article Preview

To access this entire article and all other member-supported
content, join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

Following high school in New York City, Noah Buschel went to Los Angeles where he began writing “Neal Cassady,” which later won Square Magazine’s Screenplay of the Year Award 2000. He now lives in Greenwich Village with two friends and a dog named Cassady, and is working on another bio-screenplay, “Soshin,” on the life of the American Zen student Maura O’Halloran. The following narrative was compiled from a conversation with Tricycle last February.

Included is an excerpt from Noah Buschel's screenplay "Cassady."

© Marin BuschelMy first experience of Buddhism was when my aunt took me and my brother to Plum Village [Thich Nhat Hanh’s community] in 1994 when we were sixteen, two disgruntled youths. I hated Plum Village. I skipped meditations and read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing the whole time—my way of saying, Fuck all this. I hated people being nice, and I hated feeling just how brooding I was. I couldn’t even just smile at someone. I was a New York teenager, and that had nothing to do with me, being kind. I think that I still have that problem, which is why I practice Zen. I go to Tibetan places and still I feel very brooding, very New York. With Zen, you can be any way, and it’s all appropriate—smiling, not smiling.

I saw Thich Nhat Hanh as some kind of freak. I believed he was enlightened, but I didn’t know what that meant yet. It was like going to the movies—watching him, the way he moved. It was just a big show.

And also they just took away my intelligence the second I got there. Being smart didn’t count. I remember talking to a nun—she had just become a nun—and I said, “So you can’t read anything here, like, besides Buddhist texts?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “So you did a lot of reading before you came here, right, like you’ve read everything you want to read?” and she said, “Yeah, I guess,” and I said, “Did you read Catcher in the Rye?” and she said, “No, I haven’t read that.” I couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t be able to read for twenty years. So there was nothing to talk about there. Nothing.

After Plum Village I went back to high school. I had Thich Nhat Hanh’s books around, and a pocket Shambhala Buddha book, the essential poetry. Tricycle was always around the house. Somehow, from then on I considered myself a Buddhist, even though at that point I really just used Buddhism as a way to further my suffering: It was a way to judge people even more harshly. I would remember those monks and nuns at Plum Village, and I would take the idea of them and compare them to my Dad when my Dad was watching TV and say: This guy, look at this guy, he just doesn’t know. He just does not know. It was a way to deny all the wisdom around me.

The year after high school I was in Los Angeles writing, pretty much alone, reading Frost and Ginsberg, and I had all these audio tapes. I would go to Dodger Stadium when they weren’t playing, ’cause it was the winter, and I’d sit there in the stands and listen to Frost. It was great; that was the only thing I enjoyed. The isolation, and writing poetry, getting into that nonintellectual space—meditation was right around the corner. And then, of course, there was L.A., which is like hell right before your eyes.

For me at that point, writing was about suffering, about selfishness, about self-indulgence. It was about holding onto suffering and trying to make it into something beautiful. It’s a distortion—you can’t overcome your problems so you just dwell in them, turning them into beautiful sadness. But then somewhere I got the idea that no, I don’t have to do that. It was a big relief.

The idea then was to get out of America and not come back, to disown everything, to renounce everything: what a relief. And then I got to Nepal, and it wasn’t a relief. It was pretty much impossible, because my family was on my mind. But while I was there I kept reading about Zen. And I remembered Plum Village, and wanted to go back . . .

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.

Become a Supporting Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Supporting Member

Become a Sustaining Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Sustaining Member