Killer Karma

In the first of our Oscar series, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg talks about 'Chicago'

For the third year, Beliefnet is celebrating Oscar season by interviewing five thinkers on the Best Picture nominees. We begin the series, which runs through Sunday, with Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, author of last year's bestseller (and Beliefnet Book of the Year finalist) "Faith." Salzberg trained in India, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet before co-founder of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachussets. She also co-founded the Insight Meditation Society, and conducts retreats worldwide.

"Chicago" is the movie version of the long-running revival of the Broadway musical. A vehicle for the choreography of Bob Fosse and starring Rene Zellwegger, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, it tells the story of two women who kill the men who done them wrong. We weren't aware that it's also a vehicle for Buddhist insights, but Salzberg and Mary Talbot showed us that "Chicago" isn't just razzle-dazzle


How did you like "Chicago"?

I had a lot of fun with it. It wasn't especially spiritual, but I loved John C. Reilly's character, Amos Hart, and the song he sings, "Mr. Cellophane." It's about the issue of being so unseen that we don't exist. The whole movie is a take-off on celebrity and the lengths people will go to get it. He was the only one who addressed what it means to have no inner comprehension of who we are. All the others are conniving and calculating and manipulating. They're deliciously fun to watch but it's hard to have much sympathy for them.

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It occurred to me that all of the characters in the movie are the personification of the Buddhist kleshas or obstacles to insight--greed, anger and delusion.

They're

all

so greedy. Richard Gere's character, the defense lawyer, in particular, was a send-up of greed--he had to have his $5,000, and he had to win his case, at whatever cost. Catherine Zeta-Jones' character was jealous and enraged to the point where she committed murder. And Roxie, Renee Zellweger's character, murdered her lover because of thwarted desire--delusion about who she was and how she wanted the world to see her.

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