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Asian Theatre Journal 18.1 (2001) 116-117

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Buddhism As/In Performance: Analysis of Meditation and Theatrical Practice. By David E. R. George. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1999. 225 pp. $25.00

Citing performance theory and Buddhism as "intellectual growth industries," David George contends in Buddhism as/in Performance that contemporary performance theory's epistemological framework, particularly the subjective experience of the performer, could be expanded through an understanding of Buddhist practice. George's project is thus an extension of the work of other Asian specialists, such as Phillip Zarrilli and Kathy Foley, who have discussed the embodied nature of Indian and Indonesian performance forms. George's argument is divided into two sections: "The Theory: Buddhism as Performance" and "The Case Studies: Buddhism in Performance." The first outlines the field of performance theory and the performative aspects of Buddhism; the second presents case studies of three separate Buddhist traditions in Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Japan.

Alluding to the history of "performance" as a theoretical framework, George delineates the current use of the term "as a criterion of evaluation, as a category of contemporary research and post-modern 'theatre,' and, even more profoundly, as a discourse, an emerging paradigm" (p. 5). He also points out the lack of cohesion in a paradigm that in its inclusiveness embraces Richard Schechner's conceptualization of performance based on a broad definition of the stage space, the cross-cultural work of theatre directors like Jerzy Grotowski and Eugenio Barba, and both text-based theatre and performance art. Ultimately he asserts that performance theory has not devised an epistemology adequate to explore the potential of experiential terrain suggested by the theory's assertion of the constructed nature of daily and aesthetic performance. He suggests a mapping that includes eight epistemological theses: temporality, singularity, particularity, doubling, liminality, otherings, speculation, and experience. Within these categories he continually makes a distinction between the modernist enterprise's emphasis on the past as represented in a written text and the postmodern concern with the present, process, and flux.

The second chapter, "Buddhist Epistemology," shifts from performance theory to a discussion of Buddhist practice. George argues the historical primacy of Buddhism's questioning of text-based culture: "a philosophical system which, early on, exposed the distorting mediation of language and argued for reestablishment of the primacy of experience--the personal, direct, immediate act of knowing" (p. 37). Meditation is a praxis that--through its embodiment of Buddhist conceptions of temporality, insubstantiality, other modes of being, and the space between objective and subjective self--challenges language-based philosophy. Contemplation is in George's conception an active, not passive, state. Meditation is thus within the domain of performance. It is a method of focusing consciousness to turn "ideas into truths, knowledge into experience and experiences into forms of action" (p. 57). Ontologically, meditation cultivates the act of contemplation by creating a subject/object position in which an individual becomes both performer and spectator. Through observation of the "theatre of the mind," the subject [End Page 116] becomes aware of the constructed nature of experience and its relationship to the action of performance. In the meditative state, therefore, subjectivity as a unitary experience is replaced by a realization of not one self but many.

Having delineated both the primary theses of performance theory and Buddhism, George devotes the second section of the book to case studies of performance forms that in practice or in their aesthetic include a meditative stance. They represent three separate Buddhist traditions: Hinayana, Vajrayana, and Mahayana. In each study he summarizes the major conceptual themes associated with the tradition and describes the relationship between core ideas and the structure of performance. His discussion of Japanese Zen, for instance, combines references to Zen metaphysics and Zeami's translation of these precepts into nö. He also compares the traditions by acknowledging the performative aspects of Hinayana that emphasize karma, the elements of Vajrayana that focus on compassion, and the affiliated precepts of Mahayana that evolve into emptiness. He includes in this comparison references to the impact of the indigenous...


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