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Charlie Chaplin and Buddhism

What does Charlie Chaplin have to do with Buddhism?


What does Charlie Chaplin have to do with Buddhism?

Chaplin’s grandson Spencer Chaplin covered this topic on his online video podcast “Chaplin Talks,” which is dedicated to the legacy of the British comedian, filmmaker and humanist.

The younger Chaplin hosts a variety of guests who discuss their life stories, current projects and how they’ve been influenced by his grandfather’s work. Episode 3, released on Sept. 15, welcomed SGI-UK General Director Robert Harrap, who talked about his Buddhist practice as an SGI member and his thoughts on why Ikeda Sensei references Chaplin in his work.

Mr. Harrap emphasized that when Sensei gives encouragement, he draws on all types of sources—literature, science, humor. The general director went on to explain that in both Chaplin’s personal life and his characters, he shows a remarkable spirit to challenge his problems and overcome them. “With great humor,” Mr. Harrap added, “Charlie Chaplin demonstrates that, even when things are tough, it’s worth challenging what appears to be impossible and transforming it into something different.”

Known for his silent films and notable cane-wielding mustached screen persona, “The Tramp,” Chaplin expressed a love for humanity through his dynamic body of work. A kaleidoscope of slapstick comedy infused with pathos, Chaplin’s films often highlighted the difficulties of the poor among other social commentary.

Chaplin’s first talking film, The Great Dictator, released in 1940, was a response to the fascist regime of dictators, such as Adolf Hitler, during World War II. The film concludes with a powerful speech by the protagonist, played by Chaplin, urging the people to bring forth their inherent power and never be at the mercy of a dictator. He calls on them to fight for a world of reason and happiness (see below).

Echoing that sentiment, Mr. Harrap explained the history of the Soka Gakkai and its first two founding presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda—both of whom were imprisoned in 1943 for their antiwar stance, which the Japanese militarist government deemed blasphemous. Having met Mr. Toda after the war, Sensei was inspired by his character and experience stand- ing up to the authorities, which spurred his own Buddhist practice and activities for peace.

General Director Harrap also introduced Sensei’s thoughts about Chaplin in his speech “Develop Into People of Wisdom”:

Encouragement that touches people’s hearts can be called the “art” of life.
In one of Chaplin’s great films Limelight, there is famous scene where an aging performer encourages a young ballerina who is facing a severe trial. Chaplin’s character urges her to fight on—for the sake of herself and her existence. He says: “Think of the power that’s in the universe—moving the earth, growing the trees. And that’s the same power within you, if you’ll only have courage—and the will to use it!”

Everything is a struggle. This is the essence of both life and art. (Jan. 31, 2003, World Tribune, p. 3)

Mr. Harrap conveyed that the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to draw out of our lives the Buddha’s qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion—that it is a celebration of the creative potential in all life.

—Written by the World Tribune staff, based on a report by the SGI Office of Public Information


You the People Have the Power

The following is an excerpt of Charlie Chaplin’s famous lines from his film The Great Dictator, a satire opposing authoritarian dictators, including Adolf Hitler. Watch the full speech.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power, let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!