There’s a Buddha in My Sitcom!

Via Ann Nichols
on Jan 9, 2014
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TV Buddha

What gets me, grabs me and snaps me fully awake is finding a diamond of spirituality amidst the predictable, materialistic, stereotype-driven dross of mainstream television.

So last night I’m watching TV. It wasn’t PBS, or a documentary about the effect of CFCs or a quirky and charming HBO comedy. It was a mainstream sitcom on ABC.

And there was The Buddha.

Right there, in the middle of “The Middle,” a comedy about the most ordinary of Midwestern families, a character was quoting Mark Epstein on impermanence. Not only that, but the setup was as good as any I have ever read, or heard in a Dharma talk.

Brick, the youngest child in the family, is an intelligent and eccentric middle school student who reads voraciously and requires coaching in order to make social connections. In last night’s episode he was increasingly terrified and fearful because of news stories about crime and tragedy. As his new iPad “dinged” continuously with incoming news stories, he grew progressively clingier, eventually sleeping in the kitchen under a table because he was convinced that a robber might climb in through his bedroom window. His parents can’t seem to relieve his anxiety, nor can a therapist.

Towards the end of the show, Brick explained to his parents that he is okay because he’s found a new way to look at things. He read them a version of this:

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

~ Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker

It gave me goose bumps, and made me think of Linus taking center stage to explain the true meaning of Christmas in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

My personal beliefs are more Epstein than New Testament, but that’s not the important thing. What gets me, grabs me and snaps me fully awake is finding a diamond of spirituality amidst the predictable, materialistic, stereotype-driven dross of mainstream TV. Both Linus and Brick speak briefly and quietly about the deepest things we know, and both give us a way to look at life, and to overcome fear and failure with a peaceful and joyful heart.

Brick’s parents recoiled a little, and suggested that the “broken glass” parable was pretty depressing.

Unphased, the boy explained that he found it comforting. “It means,” he said, “that you shouldn’t worry about losing something because you never really had it.”

And there, in the middle of “The Middle” was The Middle Way.

I pumped my fist in the air and smiled, a silent salute to a serendipitous reminder to cherish the glass, the moment, and this fragile, beautiful life.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: John Kannenberg, Flickr


About Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols has been everything from a cellist to a lawyer, and is currently a Buddhist who gets paid to cook at a Protestant church. She lives in a 100-year old house in Michigan with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals. You can hang out with her by joining the Facebook group “Metta-Morphosis.”


4 Responses to “There’s a Buddha in My Sitcom!”

  1. Rose says:

    Wasn't that just fabulous? I almost did a fist pump, too. 🙂

  2. Jenn says:

    We saw it too – and you're right…the middle way in the middle…

  3. GabbyAbby_Jax says:

    Every now and then I catch one of those mystical moments too, like the speech James Spader gave to Ressler in a recent 'The Blacklist' episode. I rewound it several times, and finally got most of it written down. A diamond!

  4. Candace says:

    Oh gosh I caught that, too! I don’t watch the show but for whatever reason, I stopped at it right as the parents were walking into the room. What a great lesson I learned!