Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Zen of Charles Chaplin

In the last scene of the Chaplin cinema masterpiece
The Great Dictator,
(Released in 1940 before the United States' entry into WWII)
The hero, a simple barber who is mistaken for a European fascist dictator,
Is led to the podium to speak to his adoring nation.

He is introduced as the next World Emperor!

His background audience of bootlickers 
And Nazi-style military men lean in,
Eagerly expecting to hear 
The usual bigoted warmongering nonsense.

We the audience know 
That he is not Hynkel, the fascist dictator,
But is in fact a Jewish peasant barber
Who happens to resemble the so-called great dictator.

Zen and circumstance have put the barber where he is.

Onscreen we see, 
Through Chaplin’s masterful acting,
The barber experience a zen moment. 
(And so, even decades later as I write this,
We who view it are able
To experience a zen moment.)
You can see enlightenment 
Come to the barber as he thinks;
Eons of karma, 
Trillions of years of human DNA,
The entire universe
Rushing outward into infinity!
Everything that ever was
Or ever will be,
All that has ever gone before…
Has led to this moment!

He is at one with the moment.
(Both as participant and as observer,
As we should endeavor to be.)
He knows it is time.

Time to speak truth to the mighty!
And attempt to inform
The uninformed
(Without being a jerk about it).
To offer hope to the doubting and downtrodden,
And to speak out against tyranny and evil,
By speaking to the human goodness 
Within us all.

An almost unimaginable opportunity for zen!

Standing in front of the microphones,
He is nervous but determined.

This is what he speaks.
(The Great Dictator © Roy Export SAS. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone - if possible - Jew, Gentile - black man - white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost…. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men - cries out for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say - do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. .....
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes - men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” - not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then - in the name of democracy - let us use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world - to do away with national barriers - to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Charles Chaplin was an artistic genius!
On that we can all agree.
He changed cinema forever
With his inventive storytelling
And appealing characterizations.
He was world famous in the 1920s
In a way that is impossible to conceive of today.
His beloved character,
Known simply as The Little Tramp,
Did not utter a single word onscreen,
Yet enchanted millions upon millions of moviegoers.

Ah, but when he finally did speak
It was a whopper!
Wasn’t it?

Thank you Charlie!
I couldn’t begin to count
All the laughs, 
The thrills and spills and pathos,
As good as the best Greek tragedy
Or Shakespearian comedy,
That you so gracefully handed,
Possibly while wearing roller-skates
And twirling a cane,
Me and my zen.

And thank you Charlie,
For that incredible speech!

I hope to meet you,
Cosmically speaking,
Very soon.

If you'd care to see it, here is a link.

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