Should we go see Siddhartha the Rock Opera?

- through Fabrice Groult

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Summoning the Indian prince and the king of Memphis (Elvis) to the same stage… As the show Siddhartha l'Opéra Rock approaches, which will be on view at the Palais des Sports in Paris from November 26 to January 5, 2020, reflection on the relevance of this ticket… winning?

Buddhism and rock'n'roll do they mix? This is the question I asked myself when I came across the poster for the show Siddhartha the Rock Opera. Of course, there is nothing to cry blasphemy about: after Moses et Jesuswithout forgetting Siddhartha the musical, on the bill for the Folies Bergère in 2015, the musical producers seem to have found a good vein, sometimes enlightenment, in the spiritual thing, even if I suspect that they are more interested in rounding up and bringing back a few enthusiastic disciples to fill the gauges of concert halls than to raise awareness in an altruistic way. Looking for my earplugs for the first, I remain skeptical: the gap between these two communities seems insurmountable, especially around a common notion: ego. Some sublimate it, others detach themselves from it.

However, with a little faith, we could find points of convergence between Buddhism and rock, whose followers aim, roughly speaking, for the same goal: to reach Nirvana (1). Admittedly, the paths diverge – the first arrive there through Awakening, the second via artificial paradises – but all of them have their eye on a certain form of impermanence. Even immortality among rockers entangled in the illusion of this famous Club of 27 (2) which would definitely make them a legend by breaking their pipe before their thirties.

Another common point: samsara. Dharma disciples know that if man cannot avoid suffering, he can liberate himself by carefully avoiding the Three Poisons (3), those "defilements of the mind" which are the origin of suffering. The apostles of the "music of the devil" (nickname of rock'n'roll), they try to exteriorize their demons in music. Despite these small differences, Buddhists and rockers agree on the observation of a difficult, even chaotic human life (or “existence bitch” among the latter).

Mystics vs misfits

If the bridges seem to exist, it is the music that separates the two communities. Meditators listen more readily to the sarangi (Indian violin) than to electric guitars, to the jew's harp than to brass instruments, to dholaks or tablas than to drums. For Buddhists, harmony is a state of mind, not a simple construction of agreements. Moreover, in retirement, we live in silence and we go to bed at 22 p.m., the moment when the rocker emerges.

Placing the Buddha under deluges of… decibels, funny idea. Listening to the trailer for this Siddhartha the Rock Opera, which is neither opera nor rock, but rather a tangy pop-variety operetta, I wonder how the composer David Clément Bayard (he also plays the role of Devaddatta, the obscure jealous cousin of Siddhartha) has managed to blacken his scores. In addition to the big time gap (Buddhism is 2500 years old, rock only 70), I would remind you that between Dharamsala (sanctuary of Tibetan Buddhism, in northern India) and Manchester or Liverpool (strongholds of rockers), there is some 10 kilometres. In short, a clash of civilizations, which leads to its share of questions: can we reconcile the hedonistic quest of rockers and the Buddhist Way? The urgency of rock children and the impermanence of Buddha's novices? Can we walk towards enlightenment when we are a night owl?

Does the “rockisattva” exist?

Since the end of the 60s, some rockers have created bridges by multiplying the big gaps. So, Marianna Faithfull, the Doors, Leonard Cohen (see box), Sting or Rivers Cuomo, the singer of the Californian group Weezer, land on the meditation cushion to recharge their batteries between two grueling tours. Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg recorded the song "Do The Meditation Rock" (an ode to Samatha-Chiné and Vipassana-Lhagtong), written by the prophet of American counterculture after a particularly intensive meditation session with his master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Shambhala lineage. But, like the two stars, the “rockisattvas” generally confuse transcendence and psychedelia, the Way of Dharma and the doors of perception. It's not easy to decipher sutras when you only read tablatures.

“To be a Buddhist in the XNUMXst century is first of all to be a rebel. » Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

In Asia, Buddhists have also attempted this rapprochement, such as the Zen monk and Japanese DJ Gyosen Asakura, who intends to "bring Buddhism up to date" by organizing sermons against a backdrop of rock, electronic music and games. of light in his temple of Cho-onji, in Fukui. His compatriot, the monk and rock guitarist Yoshinobu Fujioka, supporter of Pure Land Buddhism, is a fan of Bob Dylan and rock of the 60s. Between two "gigs" (concerts in musical jargon), the monk spends behind the counter of his own bistro, The Vowz Bar, in Tokyo, to sing the praises of Buddhism in a rock version.

More sober, the famous Tibetan master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, also a rock fan, recalled in the magazine The Point in 2012, “that being a Buddhist in the XNUMXst century means first and foremost being a rebel. This implies taking the risk of getting to know each other better, of dropping the social masks that determine and specify us. » Drop the masks by putting away the leather: in 2010, the Japanese director Naoki Katô took the rock scene by storm with his film aburakurasu no matsuri, which tells the story of a former rocker who became a Buddhist monk. By choosing to swap the black perfecto for the saffron kesa, he will be saved by the gong. As the Japanese director seems to illustrate, you have to choose between burning the candle or incense.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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