Friday, March 22, 2013

Parsifal - a Buddhist hero?

Mara Schaeffer, Wisdom Quarterly
"Parsifal," Tom Fox, Richard Hubert Smith (Boulezian)
"Parsifal" (
François Girard, Director of the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of “Parsifal,” says he has emphasized such Buddhist themes as renunciation, reincarnation, and enlightenment through compassion.

The performance was broadcast around the world to local theaters on March 2, 2013 and repeated March 20th.
  • As Wiki explains: Wagner first read von Eschenbach's poem Parzival while taking the waters at Marienbad in 1845. After encountering Arthur Schopenhauer's writings in 1854, Wagner became interested in oriental philosophies, especially Buddhism. He was particularly inspired by reading Eugène Burnouf's Introduction à l'histoire du buddhisme indien in 1855/56. Out of this interest came Die Sieger ("The Victors," 1856) a sketch Wagner wrote for an opera based on a story from the life of Buddha. The themes which were later explored in Parsifal of self-renouncing, reincarnation, compassion, and even exclusive social groups (castes in Die Sieger, the Knights of the Grail in Parsifal) were first introduced in Die Sieger. According to his own account, recorded in his autobiography Mein Leben, Wagner conceived Parsifal on Good Friday morning, April 1857, in the Asyl ("Asylum"), the small cottage on Otto Wesendonck's estate in Zürich... More
It opens with the audience being mirrored by a reflective curtain, which Girard explains thus: “Ladies and gentlemen, this piece is about you.... It’s about our own search for spirituality and the fundamental principles of compassion and temptation.”
Richard Wagner adapted “Parsifal” from Die Sieger (“The Victors”), an earlier sketch for an unfinished opera he wrote based on an incident in the life of the Buddha. Wagner began writing Die Sieger when he was going through a period of fascination with India.
He was especially interested in the teachings and legends of the Buddha, which were just beginning to be translated from the original Pali language manuscripts into German. Later in life, Wagner converted from atheism to Christianity, which essentially provides the same message as Mahayana Buddhism, but used Die Sieger as a basis for his opera.
“Parsifal” is the story of a holy fool in search of the Holy Grail and redemption.
Wagner's "Parsifal" (
Many Buddhist elements remain from the original work. Girard envisions the Knights of the Grail, sitting in a perfect circle in Act One, as the Buddhist Wheel of Rebirth and Suffering (Dharmachakra). 
Each knight wants to break out but can not. Parsifal shoots a swan in the same act, an incident identical to the Buddhist Birth Tale (Jataka) of “The Wounded Swan,” when Devadatta (the Buddhist Judas figure) shoots a swan, and compassionate young Siddhartha (the future Buddha) heals it.
"Parsifal" (
The swan’s bleeding wound, injured by a lack of compassion, is echoed in the bleeding wound of the Grail King Amfortas. In Girard’s vision it is a symbolic wound, which Parsifal must enter into through the depths of the psyche’s shadow in Act Two. There Parsifal moves through a pool of blood the size of the stage to resist the wiles of the blood-drenched anima-mother-seductress. In so doing, he finds redemption for himself and for the Grail King. 
Jonas Kaufmann, who sings “Parsifal,” says: “Every time I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of this music. The music that describes all these miracles and all this passion is just incredibly gorgeous and tempting. It really pulls [one] into this world. Even people who are not religious become religious while hearing this music.”

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