Buddhist aspects of 'Waiting for Godot' by S. Beckett

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Buddhist aspects of 'Waiting for Godot' by S. Beckett

Postby gavesako » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:05 pm

Quite a lot has been written about the Buddhist aspects of Samuel Beckett's absurd play 'Waiting for Godot'. Particularly his way of presenting the repeated meaningless patterns of existence in samsara has been compared to the First Noble Truth in Buddhism.

Here is an interesting Korean film which seems to be a re-telling of the same theme in a monastic context:
"A Little Monk" could be considered a modern retelling of Samuel Beckett's 'Theatre of the Absurd' masterpiece "Waiting for Godot".
The story revolves around a nine-year old monk named Do-nyeom (Kim Tae-jin) who has lived most of his lonely life in a quiet mountain monastery headed by an aged Temple Master (Oh Young-soo). Though the Master has put Do-nyeom on a strict regimen of Buddhist teachings, meditation, and chores, the child's mind cannot help but wander to thoughts of his mother, whom he cannot remember but misses dearly and hopes to be reunited with one day. He also wishes that he could be like the other children who live in a nearby village, joining in with their games and attending their school. Other than the Master, Do-nyeom's only other companion is an older monk named Jung-sim (Kim Min-kyo), who is also straying from the path of enlightenment as a result of his constant carnal thoughts. The little monk also has occasional contact with the temple's groundskeeper (Jeong Mu-song), who keeps Do-nyeom's hopes up by reassuring him that his mother will indeed come back someday. But when several seasons go by without his mother's return, Do-nyeom pegs his hopes on being adopted by the monastery's benefactor, a wealthy widow (Kim Ye-ryeong of "Bus Stop") who drops by the temple every year to mourn her dead son.

It may be easy to dismiss "A Little Monk" as mere melodrama with Buddhist overtones, as writer/director Joo Kyung-jung injects sentimentality and pathos into the proceedings at every turn. Indeed, "Variety" magazine dismisses the film as such in its brief two-paragraph review. Unlike what is hinted at in the seemingly cheerful trailer, "A Little Monk" is actually a melancholy film, and it is not difficult to be moved by the heartbreak and anguish experienced by Do-nyeom, who winds up being abandoned by everyone and everything he believes in. And while the tug of war between faith and flesh figures heavily in the interactions between the Master and his understudies, the most fascinating aspect of "A Little Monk" is how it can be seen as a recontextualization of the literary classic "Waiting for Godot".

A contemporary of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, Nobel Prize-winning Samuel Beckett became the first playwright to find international fame in the 'Theatre of the Absurd', an art form that eschewed traditional concepts of storytelling, drama, logical language, recognizable settings, and themes. His most famous work was "Waiting for Godot", which was described as 'a strange little play where nothing happens'. This description was not too far from the truth, as it was a pessimistic and cynical rumination on the agony of existence. The play revolved around two homeless men, Vladimir and Estragon, who are awaiting the arrival of Godot, a person who will presumably save them. Unfortunately, by the end of the second act, which essentially is a repeat of the first act with a few differences, Godot still has not arrived, and the two men have little choice but to continue waiting. Not surprisingly, the play has been interpreted as allegorical commentary on religion (most notably as an attack on the Catholic Church) and politics.

There are a number of interesting parallels between "A Little Monk" and "Waiting for Godot". Like Vladimir and Estragon, the two young monks are both waiting for salvation. For Do-nyeom, he waits year-after-year for his mother to return and take him away, while Jung-sim hopes to exorcise his sexual urges once and for all. Unfortunately, like the characters in the Beckett play, salvation never comes to them. Even more troubling is that they are both paralyzed by its prospect. But unlike Vladimir and Estragon, Do-nyeom and Jung-sim eventually realize that they must take matters into their own hands to effect change, as witnessed by the film's poignant closing scene. Indeed, part of the appeal of "A Little Monk" is the universality of Do-nyeom's condition, which will certainly be appreciated by anyone who has waited in vain for a new job, love, or anything else of importance.

Another aspect of "Waiting for Godot" was the constant struggle of the characters to pass the time. In the play, Vladimir and Estragon spend an inordinate amount of effort devising little games to keep their boredom from waiting at bay, such as asking each other questions, debating whether or not they should part separate ways, or insulting each other, which is not unlike the repetitive monotony endured by the two monks at the monastery.

Furthermore, the interactions between the Master and his two charges mirror those between two characters in "Waiting for Godot", Pozzo and his slave Lucky. In the first act of "Waiting for Godot", Lucky is kept in line by Pozzo's whip and he is also not allowed to speak his mind (he is quickly silenced when he does). This is not too dissimilar to the Master's demand for unquestioning obedience from his understudies and his penchant for corporal punishment. In the second act of "Waiting for Godot", both Pozzo and Lucky undergo a transformation, with the former becoming blind and the latter losing the ability to speak. Similarly, in the latter part of "A Little Monk", the Master has become completely oblivious to the needs and wants of Do-nyeom and Jung-sim, who in turn choose to abandon the monastery and their Master.

Finally, one of the struggles in "Waiting for Godot" was the validation of one's existence. All the characters, particularly Vladimir and Estragon, were plagued with very short memories such that they would forget what they had said only moments before, or fail to recognize one another after a period of time. Thus, Vladimir and Estragon were unable to take anything to completion as they were constantly preoccupied with the 'here and now'. Furthermore, they would easily mistake other characters for Godot, only to have their hopes dashed when the truth was revealed. Similarly, Do-nyeom cannot remember his mother and has no understanding about his past, which not only relegates him to waiting for his mother for years on end, but also leads to a devastating revelation in the film's final act that all but destroys his chances of salvation.


:reading: :?
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
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Re: Buddhist aspects of 'Waiting for Godot' by S. Beckett

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:25 pm

Waiting for Godot was always my favorite play when I was in high school, I should really read it again from a more Buddhist perspective. I definitely get the comparison.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.

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Re: Buddhist aspects of 'Waiting for Godot' by S. Beckett

Postby gavesako » Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:00 pm

This is an interesting project: an adaptation of the existential absurd drama by Samuel Beckett for a Thai Buddhist context. I have been helping the director with some aspects of Buddhism which she included in the content of the play. It deals with the endless repeating patterns of samsara, and the meaningless activities that people spend their life with. It might be a good chance to watch the live performance in Bangkok soon. She basically tried to replace all references to God and Christianity -- which apply in a Western context -- with references to certain aspects of popular Buddhism dealing with karma and merit and waiting for Maitreya as a saviour. Let us see how Thai will understand this kind of play, to be staged soon at the Buddhadasa Archives Center in Bangkok.

Waiting for Godot แบบไทยพุทธ : คอยคุณปุณ

ผศ.ชุติมา มณีวัฒนา ผู้กำกับ พูดถึงละคร "คอยคุณปุณ" ซึ่งดัดแปลงจาก ละคร Waiting for Godot มาฟังว่าละครเรื่องนี้ นำเสนอความเป็นไทยพุทธ เช่นเรื่อง ไตรลักษณ์ เรื่องทุกข์ ไว้อย่างไร (เริ่มดู นาทีที่ 15:30)
ผู้จัดทำละคร “คอยคุณปุณ” ได้ดัดแปลง Waiting for Godot ละครรางวัลโนเบล เข้าสู่บริบทสังคมไทยพุทธขึ้นเป็นครั้งแรก โดยมีวัตถุประสงค์เพื่อสื่อสารละครเรื่องนี้แก่คนดูไทยอย่างแท้จริง และเป้าหมายที่สำคัญคือการกระตุ้นความคิดของผู้ชมพุทธศาสนิกชน และนักชมละครสมัยใหม่ ให้มองละครกับพุทธศาสนาในระดับที่กว้าง และลึกซึ้งมากขึ้น

รอบแรก เสาร์ที่ 10 พฤศจิกายน 2555 เวลา 17.30 น.
รอบสอง เสาร์ที่ 22 ธันวาคม 2555 เวลา 15.00 น.
ชั้น 2 ห้องปฏิบัติธรรม หอจดหมายเหตุพุทธทาส อินทปัญโญ
แผนที่ http://www.bia.or.th/2012/map/Map-BIA.jpg

ขอเชิญชม "ละครมีธรรม" เรื่อง “คอยคุณปุณ”
http://www.bia.or.th/2012/index.php/sit ... -for-godot

http://sineenadh.files.wordpress.com/20 ... e0b893.jpg

trailer ละครเวทีเรื่อง"คอยคุณปุณ"

Interview with the director Chutima Maneewattana:
คอยปุณคุณ & เรื่องหนักหัว by ตามดี EP9
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDLHwwuV ... e&t=15m27s

Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
Dhammatalks.org - Sutta translations

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