Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yin Yang Nature: The Interview

You may remember a couple weeks ago I did a post on a site called Yin Yang Nature. It's a site about Taosim that's run by an Australian gent named Bobba who has also put a number of "Kung Fu" clips up on the related YouTube channel. I got a chance to catch up with and interview Bobba, whose writings on Taoism from his own perspective are insightful.

* * *

Charlie: Bobba, thanks for speaking to me at I Am Caine. Tell us what got you interested in Taoism. I know that's a very personal question for you and that you have written about it at length at Yin Yang Nature.

Bobba: My interest in Taoism evolved over a ten year period, but was mainly a result of my wife being diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was at a loss to understand why this terrible thing was happening to this wonderful woman. In a desperate bid to be released from our suffering, I started a search for the answers to why Nature was sometimes so cruel.

After a search of about 8 months I found the answers I was seeking in this ancient Chinese philosophy. It was a huge relief to finally find something that spoke of reality in the terms I intuitively felt. It was like rediscovering something very precious that had been lost somewhere on the road between childhood and becoming a man.

Charlie: Thank you. What was your experience with the TV show "Kung Fu?"

Bobba: I remember watching "Kung Fu" every Friday night with my mother and father. That was about 1974, I was about 12 and we watched it on a black and white television. I can even remember when "Kung Fu" bubble gum cards were the hottest thing in the play ground. But this was a period before Star Wars and merchandising was far simpler.

When "Kung Fu" was released on DVD, I hesitatingly hired it out from the local video store. I hadn’t seen an episode of Kung Fu for over 33 years and I was a little skeptical about it standing up to the test of time. Yet, I found it just as captivating at 45 as I did as a 12 year old boy. What surprised me the most is that I could even recall some of the scenes I hadn’t seen since I was a preteen!

These days I often watch "Kung Fu" with my daughters and their friends who are in their early 20s. "Kung Fu" seems able to span the generations and is timeless in it’s appeal. I also haven’t found anyone over the age of 40 that doesn’t remember "Kung Fu" with a great deal of affection. I believe this makes "Kung Fu" exceptional and unmatched by any other TV series of it’s era.

Charlie: I know what you mean. I myself am 35 so I was just a pup when it came out, but I remember this with great fondness from my childhood, when it was in reruns. Like you, I wanted to reconnect with the show when it came out on DVD and, like you, I have become a renewed fan of it the second time around.

Next question: you have great respect for the way taoism is portrayed in the show. From what I've read about the creators of the show, they really had a sense of the philosophy of the Shaolin, which would have been, I think, a blend of Ch'an Buddhism, Chinese Taoism, martial arts, and their own early-1970s, kind of Age of Aquarius ideals. Most of the literature around the show doesn't go into detail about what these writers and producers were like in their thinking but they really seemed to have created something special. What do you think the show "gets right" about the philosophy?

Bobba: The developers and producers of "Kung Fu" made a couple of very important decisions that ultimately made it the incredible success that it is. Firstly, they based "Kung Fu" in the Wild West rather than in China as they originally intended. Setting "Kung Fu" in the 1880s gave the writers plenty of scope to apply the Shaolin philosophy in the atmosphere of aggression, greed and fear we usually associate with this period. Each episode showed how Caine was able to overcome all the Wild West could throw at him, with little more than compassion, moderation, humility and a little Shoalin magic.

Secondly, the developers and producers had the foresight to involve the local Chinese community. It was a major condition of the Chinese/American cast that the series have technical and kung fu advisors (David Chow and Kam Yuen). This ensured the philosophy of the Shaolin (a union of Taoism and Buddhism called Ch’an or Zen) was thoroughly researched and inserted into each episode. It was this philosophical content that made Kung Fu appealing to an audience who wouldn’t normally have an interest in martial arts. Couple this with the engaging dialogue of Carradine, Pera, Luke and Ahn; and we have the profound and near ageless TV series we love today.

Charlie: According to Herbie Pilato's episode guide-book on the show, there is some documentation of what the producers, writers and research department were looking at in terms of their historical references. I'd love to see it – I mean, they didn't have the internet in '72 so it wasn't as easy!

What I think interests me most about the show besides the innovative writing – the fact that Caine isn't even the main character in many of the episodes, the fact that he undermines and turns inside out the western formula – is that the character of Caine moves through these plots and responds almost perfectly to every situation. He sees someone in trouble, he helps; he enters a dispute, he mediates; he sees someone in need of a lesson to be learned, he teaches. And he emerges from each encounter stronger, basically unstained even though he has this blood on his hands, an enlightened person becoming more complete, always moving forward, but also happy to be where he is. Do you think this exemplifies the tao?

Bobba: Wow. I think it’s a bit harsh to say Caine has “blood on his hands." In the few scenes where Caine has been left with no choice but to use deadly force, it is only to protect his own life or the life of someone else. For the majority of the series, Caine is preventing death and preserving life. A Shoalin priest believes that all life is a direct manifestation of the Tao and therefore extremely sacred.

Someone following the path of Tao understands the only time that truly exists is “now." Although we are able to think about the past and the future, this thinking can only be done in the present moment. Therefore the present moment is really all that ever exists.

Knowing that the present moment is the only place one can ever be, an enlightened person chooses not to dwell in the past or worry about the future. This is why Caine always appears so relaxed and untroubled. He simply flows with the “eternal now” and is unfettered by either yesterday or tomorrow.

Charlie: So what exactly is the tao?

Bobba: The first thing that anyone should understand about the Tao, is it is not an alternative word for God or any other deity. The Tao doesn’t find an equivalent in the Judeo-christian tradition, since the Tao is neither personal or a law maker. The Tao is the indescribable pattern of intelligence that is always followed by Nature and the Universe.

Cosmologists currently believe there are 6 values that are absolutely critical for the Universe to exist. These 6 numbers are the key properties of this Universe and govern the shape, size, and texture of everything. If any of these parameters were to be just slightly different, the Universe would not exist.

It is my personal opinion that the Tao is these 6 vital parameters that were set at the birth of the Universe. This put in motion a self perpetuating organic unity, that today allows us to be the aperture in which the Tao is experiencing itself.

Charlie: Thanks for joining us, Bobba. To read more of what Bobba is laying down, please visit him at Yin Yang Nature.

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Blogger Greg said...

Doh! Wish I'd read this post before I submitted my comment to the post below.

So Bobba thinks David Chow and Kam Yuen provided the Buddhist philosophy for the show? He may well be right. I assumed Chow provided only technical fighting advice.

Still, without the connection that Ed personally had with kung fu, it might not have been displayed so sympathetically in the show. At the time, for an American tv show to be so 'inclusive' does seem very progressive.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Charlie Kondek said...

I agree. I am very curious about where and how they were getting their information and their ideas. I mean, as I said, they couldn't just Google it in those days! And they do mention in some of the literature around this show that they had a research department. But you're right, someone, maybe several someones, specifically Spielman and probably Carradine and some of the other writers and producers, were really getting into this stuff. And did a hell of a job, especially considering the times!

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

The Tao that we can learn about has existed for over 2500 years, but only in the sense of man...for the Tao is eternal...that is with no beginning and has no end. All these men had to do was tap what we all viscerally know.

5:21 PM  

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