This conversation with Roshi Egyoku took place during my six weeks (Jan-Feb 2007) as an artist in residence at the Zen center of Los Angeles. A few times a week, we would sit down for a half hour chat to examine the relationship of Clowning and Zen.
What happens when a moment in Clown Performance is striking the audience as particularly funny? If the context allows for it, one tends to play with the moment, exaggerating the situation (amplify), improvising (expand) around the theme, to take the funny further. One could say that :
Moshe: you expand and amplify it.
Egyoku: Exactly. It is a wonderful thing. That is right in line with meditation, because that is what happens when a person meditates in a way.
M: You amplify and expand?
E: Yeah they do, actually they do without realizing it. Life becomes the moment. It is an exquisite thing. And then you connect with that.. That is what you do, you take this little moment. And it grows like that, and that ties right in with Zen because that is the experience of meditation, that is actually what happens: being able to rest in this moment, and to be able to taste it and appreciate it. To just be there with the moment, and that is what the clown does, you have to really be there. You are staying connected and at the same time you are communicating.
E: The other thing I think is interesting, we have this expression, we talk about it with anger but I think that it applies here too: I roll all negative experience into my practice, and we can also say: I roll all positive experience into my practice.
M: So in meditation you call up this anger?
E: You don’t call it up, you just sit with it. You just take it as part of the whole as opposed to ‘this is not supposed to be there.’ This is what I think the clown is doing, I see this, everything is just taken in, it becomes a clown moment. There is nothing that is not supposed to be there.
M: Right anything can be clowned.
M: So would you call these parallels to Zen.
E: I would call these parallels to a meditator’s experience. Zen is really about meditation, it is about sitting, we don’t call it meditation, we call it zazen, or just sitting. Vipassana also has this sitting. Some of the Buddhist practices don’t have a lot of sitting. I think it is this quiet meditative experience that allows us to touch the deepest places of life, of one’s self in life, because that is what you got to do.
M: There are many levels that you can touch, the clowning can also remain relatively superficial.
E: It is the same with sitting.
M: Sometimes they stay in their mind thoughts. As a teacher, can you tell that?
E: yes. One of the ways it comes up is what people bring up to share. You can see that this is so STRONG, they haven’t yet got that we are going to leave all that aside.
M: After months, years…
E: Sometimes it is years. Sometimes it is just different levels of it. It is hard to let go of what is going on up here ( gesture to the head) because that has been real for us. That is what is real! (Laughter).