American Beauty And Buddhism

  • Category: Music & Movies
  • Words: 1039
  • Grade: 100
The Truth in Beauty
Imagine waking up in the morning and feeling emotionally dead. In the movie "American Beauty," Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a middle aged family man who has no passion, motivation or reason in his life. "American Beauty" won the most coveted award given to movies. "American Beauty" won several Oscars including movie of the year, and best lead actor for the portrayal of Lester Burnham. This movie revolves around the insignificant material possessions we consider beauty and how we do not appreciate our lives. "American Beauty" had several references to Buddhism. The moral of the movie is to appreciate life and what we have. The only true possession we have in this materialistic world is our "˜self.' In watching this movie I could clearly relate to the Buddhist notion of the "˜Perfect Wisdom,' and the meditation quality of "˜suffusing joy.'
        The movie is based on how American society truly is. Lester Burhman has a boring corporate job and lives in the suburbs. He has a wife who ignores his existence and a rebellious teenager who won't listen to him. The movie reveals how materialistic and image conscious we truly are as Americans. Lester realizes he has been unhappy in his life for nearly a decade. He wakes up to his boring life one morning and realizes he has no reason, or desire to live. He has a job he hates, a body he doesn't like and a wife and daughter who want nothing to do with him. Ever since he gave up his identity in order to be fit societies definition of a family man he gave up being alive. The movie revolves around Lester awakening to his own reality, and realizing he is not alive because he is emotionally and spiritually dead.
        The Buddhism theme of "˜emptiness' as related to the Perfect Wisdom describes the ultimate truth of the way things are. The concept behind "˜emptiness' relates to Lester's life. Lester was surrounded by people who were so image conscious and caught up in looking good and being accepted that they had forgotten the true core of who they were. Lester realizes he has forgotten his identity because he has been caught up in a lie, trying to fit the ideals of what America thinks a husband and father should be. Lester realizes he is in control of his own life. Realizing his life is falsely empty, yet emotionally filled with anger, rage and unhappiness for living a lie. He decides to alter his life so he is living a truthful life. Lester puts aside what other people think about him and starts to be who is really is. He changes he job, his eating habits and buys a car that represents him and his style. Lester's life changes dramatically when he practices a truthful lifestyle. The people around him are hiding how they are because they are caught up with looking good in front of other people therefore are emotionally and spiritually dead. Lester's wife, neighbors and daughter are so involved in looking good in the game of life that they are scared to admit they are filling their lives with false impressions of happiness. Lester figuratively throws out all the superficial meaning and habits in order to live a truthful and empty life. "Emptiness is the ultimate truth of reality and of Nirvana (Gethin p.239.)" "American Beauty" has many characteristics and similarities with the Buddhist lifestyle. Another great impression this movie left on me was at the end of the movie when Lester, a man in his late forties dies right at a point in his life when he has discovered the true meaning and importance in life. At the point of death I saw another correlation between the movie and Buddhism.
        Unlike the Hollywood version of death being violent and painful this movie made death touching and beautiful. Lester is shot from behind and dies while he is gazing into a picture of his family and realizing how fortunate he is. When Lester is shot from behind he instantly dies, his death is shown as a therapeutic experience. I can best relate his death to the Buddhist meditation quality of "˜suffusing joy (Gethin p.183.)' The meditation quality of suffusing joy is described as "Suffusing joy . . .pervades the whole body touching every part and is likened to water flooding into a rock cave (Gethin p.183.)" When Lester dies the description of what he is feeling is very much like suffusing joy. He starts off by describing how calm he feels, then he realizes how valuable his short and insignificant life was. He then describes how overwhelmed he feels by being blessed to have seen the beauty this world has to offer and what a true gift life is. "My heart blows up and slowly releases like a balloon . . .this feeling of rain trickling within me from my head down to my toes becomes overwhelming and rushes through me like a released river . . .and I realize how much beauty is in this world." As Lester is explaining his state of being, the movie shows a collage of all the beautiful images Lester encountered while living. Lester realizes how fortunate he was to have appreciated the little things in life like "˜Sitting beneath an oak tree in boy scouts and starring up into the sky . . .And how his grandmothers hands were delicate and crinkled like paper.' "American Beauty" got me to realize true beauty comes from truth. The house you live in and the expensive hair stylist you have are not the true things, which make you happy. The basis of Buddhism is dharma, the truth. Dharma relates to everything from the truth about who and what we are to finding the truth in all things. After seeing "American Beauty" and taking Buddhism, I came to appreciate and see my life and myself in a different manner.
In a society that runs on being selfish and greedy, Lester's character shows the beauty experienced when you become a true "˜self-less' person. Since the aim of Buddhism is to realize selflessness and to become a self-less person metaphysically and ethically I believe "American Beauty" encompasses they main point of Buddhism.
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