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 Nhat 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.
This is an excerpt from Chapter One of The Angry Buddhist. Purchase the book here.
Jimmy glances to where Hard Marvin is standing, behind the candidate. Sees the man looking at Mary Swain with the combination of awe and lust that seems to be the effect she has on males predisposed to her philosophy of a muscular military and no taxes. Notices Hard is fiddling with his wedding ring like he wants to take it off. Imagines the Chief is going tantric on Mary Swain in his head as he stands at attention behind her and the thought nearly makes him laugh.
Jimmy believes himself to be immune to the candidate’s charms. Mary Swain reminds him of the popular girls back in high school, batting eyelashes and sweet poison tongues. It’s not that he dislikes her actively, other than in the way he dislikes all politicians, the hurly-burly of government not something to which he pays much attention. Whenever he bothers to listen to a politician, it all runs together. America’s Future, God, My Opponent is against what you love. And Mary Swain seems a little angry, which is something to which Jimmy does not respond well. He notices the crowd today has become angry, too, and Mary Swain feeds off them as she launches into her closing, draws herself up to her full height—five foot nine in heels—and exhorts them to take back the government from the socialists and atheists and all the un-patriotic operators who have betrayed their sacred trust because our best days are in front of us and if they vote for her it will be morning in America again and our nation will reclaim it’s destiny as a beacon in a darkening world.
God bless you, God bless our troops, and God bless the U.S.A!
Jimmy remains in his position near the riser as the rally breaks up. He has nowhere to go, figures he’ll see if Hard spots him and whether Hard will say anything if he does. Mary Swain shaking hands with the sweaty crowd, people taking her picture, shouting encouragement. Jimmy watching Hard at her side, the sun glinting off his shiny head, shaking hands, too, smiling, backslapping; working it like someone with something to prove, someone who wants to matter. A few minutes go by, Jimmy standing his ground, Mary and Hard still pumping hands. Most of the throng has drifted back to their cars, but there’s still a scrum of diehards near the front who need their personal hit of the magic.
Jimmy’s waited long enough, pushes in, elbows through. Hard spots him and his smile freezes in a rictus of alarm. The Chief’s right hand drops to his sidearm, a Glock 9, Jimmy realizing the man thinks I might be a shooter. And he’s a little disappointed, his feelings hurt, because Hard, who knows him for godsakes, believes the slightest possibility exists that he could go Lee Harvey Oswald on Mary Swain. Jimmy wondering if Hard is actually going to make a move toward him but the big Chief holds his position. Mary Swain gripping the hand of a retiree in a Hawaiian shirt and a tan baseball cap with gold stitching that reads U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, the man trembling with excitement and gratitude. Then Jimmy thrusts his right hand out and the candidate takes it in hers.
“Good luck, Mary,” Jimmy says, holding his left hand away from his body where his ex- boss can see there’s no weapon in it.
“I hope I have your vote,” she says, her white teeth blinding.
“Oh, sure,” Jimmy says. He notices the slim hand with the French manicure, smells her cocoanut sunscreen. Up close, the visceral Mary Swain Experience ignites. Jimmy lets go and just breathes her in for a brief moment, the hair, the perfect skin, and that infinite smile.
Then blink she moves down the line, and Jimmy snaps out of it instantly. Now he and Hard are face to face for a moment full to bursting and he thinks, yes, people these days are gun-toxicated and ready to rock and he knows Hard knows it, sees him twitch, the man already wound tight as a blasting cap, ready to explode, and Jimmy, with the inborn mischief of a guy who doesn’t know how to stay out of trouble, can’t help himself. So he winks. In that moment he senses the other man’s discomfort and revels in his own enjoyment at having caused it. Jimmy cares how Hard reacts. Wishes he didn’t but, yes, he cares. He is still a prisoner of the idea that any of this matters. He understands this kind of delusion is not the way of the dharma. By his reaction to Hard Marvin, Jimmy knows that freedom from suffering is not imminent. Yet he yearns for freedom. And what is more American than that?
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