Zen in the American Gangster

Who would think that watching the film, American Gangster, would inspire me to consider Zen and the path we choose?

I was in Dallas, Texas, visiting for the holidays and like many folks went for a movie to cap off all the turkey. Now, living in Philly, you could say I am exposed to more gangster culture now than growing up in Texas. I can see more inner-city culture and I like to mix things up, although the real grit of street life is not one I can identify with readily. But, I was so moved by the plight of this gangster, the struggle to make a name for yourself, to choose your path and walk whatever line you drew for yourself.

Zen is school of Mahayana Buddhism notable for its emphasis on practice and experiential wisdom-particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen-in the attainment of awakening. As such, it de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct individual experience of one’s own true nature.*

Fred Lucas was the main character of this flick. He lived a humble life and an extravagant life. It occurred to me he still kept his center in the midst of either side of the coin. I think he knew his calling and followed it no matter what his fate. He trusted his spirit and did his best at every moment. He lived life to its fullest and kept learning along the way. His dignity was extraordinary.

I was intensely drawn to the bad man’s heart and spirit. Why would my heart bleed for the gangster? How could I be so sympathetic for a man who provided deadly drugs to people who became addicted or died from the very drugs this man supplied to them?

His style, method, confidence, intelligence was of great magnitude. His execution was gruesome. His heart could be cold and cruel, in fact, lethal. Underneath, I saw a tender soul just like mine. He tried to remain balanced and in control at all times. If not the circumstance he was born into; what might his destiny of been?

Somewhere in there was a man who lost faith in society, did what he was taught and when experience showed him there was a better way made his correction. In my opinion, he followed the thought of Zen that everything is changing and that not to suffer you must rid yourself of attachments, even to the idea of self or “I”.

In general, I think it reminded me that it is not our goal to be perfect; but, to be open to the experience we call life. The journey has many teachers and lessons. It is each person’s opportunity to be open and available enough to recognize the information. Using everyday examples of important messages can help keep you on your path, no matter what it may be.


*Wikipedia Encyclopedia Reference.


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