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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Rape and Enlightenment: "All Victorious Ocean"

August 21, 2010

Nicholas Gilewicz        
2010 Philadelphia Life Arts Festival
August 18, 2010 

In this way, Joanna says, Yeshe became the founding mother of Tibetan
Buddhism. For the 2010 Philly Fringe, Joanna has transformed Yeshe's
story into "ALL VICTORIOUS OCEAN," and Joanna will play Yeshe on
stage at the Painted Bride.

In November 2008, on the occasion of the wedding of Mipham
Rinpoche—the head of the Shambhala Center</a>—Joanna was
asked to speak about Yeshe and the installation of the feminine principle.

"Why would I speak?" Joanna asked. "I'm an actress. Why don't I tell
her story? Why don't I <i>do</i> her story?"<br>

After the jump: coming to Buddhism, cave dwellers, and humility.

Joanna turned information about Yeshe's life into a first-person
narrative, performing the initial version of what has become "ALL
VICTORIOUS OCEAN" in Shambhala Center's shrine room. We're sitting in
a small area next to that room, where I try to keep my voice down so
as not to disrupt the meditation session that's going on. Joanna
walks across the room to get a picture, of a Buddhist nun named Tenzin Palmo.

"She lived in a cave in Tibet, solitary for over twenty years, until
her teacher told her to come out. She started a nunnery in India, for
Tibetan women refugees."

Joanna met her while Tenzin was traveling the world, teaching at
various locations in order to raise money for the nunnery. She was
invited to meet Tenzin face-to-face, and was moved to convert to
Buddhism, known as "taking refuge."

"We were in this room, sitting in those two chairs," Joanna says,
pointing across the room. "She was so open—I looked at her and
said, 'Do you do the refuge vow?' She said yes, and I asked, 'Could I
take refuge with you?'

"She said, 'If I have it on my computer.'"

When becoming a Buddhist, Joanna says, "You become a refugee. You
take the intention to give up your devotion to believing that the
world will be your refuge."

The first Buddhist show Joanna did was a Fringe show in 2001, which
may have been the last Fringe performance of that year. It wound down
about 11:00 pm on September 10, the night before the terrorist
attacks of September 11, after which the Fringe shut down that year.
The show was Prajna, updated and adapted from a text written by the
founder of the Shambhala Center.

"It was about the truth of emptiness. Emptiness means there is not a
fixed identity, that we're constantly in motion ourselves. Our
delusion is that there's a 'me' that's fixed. Prajna means wisdom --
high wisdom is the truth of emptiness."

Joanna says that when she performed Prajna, her consciousness was
pushing her to unite her spiritual and artistic paths.

"In that period I worked on Endgame, which I think is an accidental
Buddhist play. I looked for sensibilities of emptiness and the truth
of suffering as the fundamental condition of being born, the ground
of anxiety that is human life. I learned to bring that to the stage.

I ask Joanna how it's possible to portray one of the holy figures of Buddhism.

"There's no way I can approach this except with humility. I do all I
can to settle my mind before I go and ask my—ask the lineage to
show up, so that somehow I can be a good vehicle."

And of course, what about sacrilege? Not all of the faithful enjoying
seeing their holiest portrayed.

"Mipham is aware of the project," Joanna says. "I asked him for his
blessing on the project and I received that, so I feel that we have
the energy to go forward with it. I feel like there's a mandala in
which we're performing, which is in favor, and everybody who's on the
project is aware of the intentions—to provide an opportunity
for people to wake up."

As if to punctuate that idea, my phone, which I failed to shut off
before our meeting, rings, ending our interview with a distracting
tug from the world outside.

"All Victorious Ocean" runs September 3, 4, and 18 at 7:30 pm, and
September 4 and 5 at 1:30 pm. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine
Street, Old City. $25.
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