In a nutshell the play concerns the western encounter with Buddhism. As westerners begin to practice the Buddhist path they open up new avenues of self-understanding and personal growth. Inevitably there are challenges along the way, as people seek to take up the Buddha’s teachings in a way that feels authentic. The result is a process of ever-deepening self-knowledge, which is what the Buddhist path is all about. The play examines this process as experienced by a young spiritual seeker during his time at an international monastery. It presents Buddhist teachings to western audiences.
2. Why did you choose to make the play as a musical rock opera comedy?
Buddhist teachings have always undergone artistic transformation as they migrated, historically, from one country and culture to the next. That doesn’t mean that the spirit of the Buddha’s dharma changes, but simply that the outer form or expression adapts itself to new contexts. In this way the Buddha’s message is received in culturally appropriate forms that people can understand. In North America, if one had to identify just one distinctive artistic form that people know and appreciate, I would say musical comedy would be a good candidate. That and rock ‘n roll!
3. As a professor of Buddhist studies, what have you learned about Buddhism that has helped you in your life and spiritual growth?
Where to begin? Be true to yourself and honest with others. Keep an open mind and heart. Share. Be kind. Be patient… The list goes on. The interesting thing is that so many of the things I’ve learned from Buddhism can be found in other wisdom traditions. They are not exclusive to Buddhism. They represent the best human qualities–and you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice them! What makes Buddhism special to me is its extraordinarily well-developed traditions of practice and training designed to aid one in one’s ongoing development. My favored articulation of this is the Buddha’s eightfold path consisting of morality, meditation and wisdom.
4. How can Buddhism help people achieve Enlightenment?
Buddhism presents a graduated path. One needs to take the first step of investigating the historical Buddha’s teachings. You can do this on your own, but it’s good to find a teacher early on. A teacher can help you avoid certain false turns and misunderstandings, which is very helpful. If one finds that the Buddha’s teachings seem to resonate with one’s own intuitions, then I recommend taking up a meditation practice, again with a teacher near at hand. Meditation retreats of at least a few days’ duration can also be really helpful to make the meaning of the teachings more self-evident. It is also very helpful to find a sangha or community of fellow practitioners early on to share experiences with and provide mutual support.
5. The songs in What the Buddha Never Taught address karma and western materialism, alienation and enlightenment — and finding one’s own path…How do related or apply these principles of Buddhism to the conflicts in the world today, such as COVID-19, political division, or the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
Really good question. It may seem that Buddhism is a very introspective tradition and hence wouldn’t have much to offer in this regard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peace in the world depends, in part, on peace within. So many problems stem from confusion and automatic knee-jerk responses. Buddhism provides powerful techniques of self-transformation, empowering people to be less reactive, more proactive agents of positive change in the world. It is guided by the recognition that we are all human beings and that divisions based on nationality, ethnicity, and religion are superficial in comparison to what unites us.
6. Did you experience any serendipity or synchronicity as you made this musical?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have encountered some very talented artists in theatre and music along the way. They have helped me enormously in making this production a reality. And continue to do so. Whether we call it serendipity or synchronicity, the truth is, I put my wish out there, worked really hard to make it happen (no getting around that!), and then things began to happen..
7. Anything else?
Yes. Please visit our Kickstarter crowdfunding website (below) and buy a ticket to the stream of the play. Or just make a donation. The show cannot go on unless we reach our fundraising goal. Here is the link to the KS site, our play’s website, and a few other social media links to share as widely as possible. I would be deeply grateful if people could do this…
We need your help to bring our show “What the Buddha Never Taught: A Rock Opera” to the stage (Jericho Arts Centre, Vancouver: June 30-July 10, 2022). Please donate, buy a ticket to the stream, and support our production:
2500 years in the making… What the Buddha Never Taught is a musical comedy set in an international Buddhist monastery. The play centers on the misadventures of Tim, a young Canadian on a spiritual quest. Loosely based on the book by Canadian author Tim Ward, the play celebrates the Western encounter with Buddhism through comedy and some serious rock ‘n roll. Could this be the Buddhist response to The Book of Mormon? Lights, Camera, Karma!–this show will be streamed… Get your tickets, donate, and support the production at: