“Loving the Silent Tears” - Vincent Paterson (2012)


Loving the Silent Tears (2012) was a Broadway-style musical stage show with a theme of compassion, nonviolence, and spiritual awakening.   It was based on the poetry of Supreme Master Ching Hai, a spiritual teacher and advocate of vegetarianism [1]. There were several unique and interesting things about this musical which I will outline below, but the first thing to mention is that this extravagant production was a one-time only stage performance that was presented at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium on 27 October 2012 before a capacity crowd of 6,300 people and at the same time filmed. 

The released film, which is available on a 4-disc DVD set [2], includes, besides the show, coverage of the production background and events associated with the performance.  So we can consider it to be both a fiction narrative and a documentary film offering.

Although Supreme Master (aka Suma) Ching Hai only wrote the poetry and was not involved in the actual stage or film production, it is worth first briefly discussing her, because her spirit very much affected everything that followed.  Over the past thirty years Supreme Master Ching Hai (SMCH) has attracted a large international following of disciples who adhere to her precepts and the teachings of her “light and sound meditation”.  A principal theme of this teaching, as it is with a number of other spiritual movements derived from India (such as, for example, other Surat Shabd Yoga groups, the Brahma Kumaris, Sadhguru, et al.), is that spiritual enlightenment comes from within – each person has the potential to become godly by finding and evoking the already-resident “inner master” that is also the one, eternal Master.  And like the other similar groups, her movement is not a religion, and they accept people from all faiths. 

She is reported to have been born Hue Dang Trinh in Vietnam in 1950 and only later took on the title of “Suma Ching Hai” [3]. Exposed to both the Roman Catholicism of her parents and the Buddhism of other family elders, the young woman left home to pursue a path in search of spiritual enlightenment. She traveled to Germany, where she married a German physician; but after a couple of years, they separated amicably, because she wanted to continue her spiritual quest [4].  Thereafter in India she became a disciple of Sant Mat spiritual leader Thakar Singh, from whom she learned the Surat Shabd Yoga spiritual practice and which was presumably the inspiration for her own Quan Yin Method.  It was during this time in the 1980s that she wrote the poetry in English that was only much later published in her book, Silent Tears (2007) [1], and it was also during this time that she, herself, began to be recognized as a spiritual master.  Over the years her organization has also become known for its charitable work [5].

SMCH’s poetry from this period expresses her longing and sometimes frustrated attempts to find true spiritual enlightenment, but it is infused with a conviction that there is a path to the inner master. Oscar-winning songwriter Al Kasha was so inspired by this poetry that he decided to use it as the basis for a new musical play.  Eventually an all-star lineup of creative personnel – most of them winners of Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Emmy awards – was assembled to put together the full production of Loving the Silent Tears

The musical composers for Loving the Silent Tears, all of whom besides SMCH are past academy award winners, were
  • Jorge Calandrelli
  • Al Kasha
  • Doug Katsaros
  • Henry Krieger
  • Don Pippin
  • Nan Schwartz
  • David Shire
  • Supreme Master Ching Hai
They composed twenty-one songs based on SMCH’s published poetry (three poems were drawn from other SMCH works besides Silent Tears), which were arranged in a sequence that could suggest a narrative progression.  The overlying narrative structure of the play was configured as a magical mystical train ride led by a train conductor and carrying two separate faithless and self-seeking passengers.  These principal actors, who are also highly skilled and well-established, were
  • Patti Cohenour, who plays Joy, a middle-aged woman with past regrets and lost hope,
  • Luke Eberl, who plays Pete, a jubilantly arrogant and self-seeking young hedonist, and
  • Junior Case, the jovial train conductor and reticently sly guide through the spiritual wilderness.
They are all magically transported on the mysterious train to countries across six continents, and at each stop they are exposed to emotive and colorful song-and-dance numbers that embody SMCH’s poems.  Each of the songs in the show is sung by an internationally famous recording artist from a different part of the world and often in a multilingual format.  These singers are listed here, with the associated countries they represent shown in parentheses:

  • Jon Secada (Cuba)
  • Jody Watley (USA, Africa)
  • Black Uhuru (Jamaica)
  • Debbie Gravitte (USA)
  • Kiril Kulish (Ukraine, Russia)
  • Liz Callaway (Australia)
  • Flo Ankah (France)
  • Camellia Abou-Odah (Lebanon)
  • Ho Quynh Huong (Vietnam)
  • Mark Janicello (Italy)
  • Liel Kolet (Israel)
  • Katie McMahon (Ireland)
  • Brian Joo (South Korea)
  • Heather Park (South Korea)
  • Fabiana Passoni (Brazil)
  • Siavash Shams (Iran)
  • Kay Tse (China)
Each of the songs is accompanied by a spectacular ensemble dance number that is reflective of a different culture, and it is observable that a number of those lead singers are very good dancers, too (notably Kiril Kulish).  The overall effect is to convey the idea that these spiritual longings and quests are common to all cultures.  We are all one.

My favorite songs in the show were:

(All the track recordings are available at http://suprememastertv.com/lst/.  All references to 'Master' in these songs are to the "inner master", not to SMCH.)

How all these different songs and dances featuring contrasting rhythms and styles were effectively put together and rehearsed in the short span of six weeks is amazing to me, and great credit must be given to the director, Vincent Paterson, and the choreographer, Bonnie Story.  In the latter regard I should comment that I am not normally a fan of group stage dancing, but the dances in this show are all perfectly executed grand showpieces, each having a distinctive and flamboyant style.

So in the end, does the train and its passengers reach the right destination?  Let us just say that at the close of the show, it appears to be headed in a promising direction.

Overall, I found it worthwhile (and I recommend to you) watching the entire 7-hour-plus DVD set, which included:
  • A “red carpet” show, which is a traditional promotional event on a show’s opening day that has the major artists walking down a red carpet in front of the theater so that onlookers can get a closer look at them.
     
  • The musical show itself, as well as coverage of associated events, such as some spectacular aerial acrobatics from Cirque du Soleil performers, a post-performance vegetarian dinner, and the presentation of individual $100,000 gifts to three separate animal and human charities.
     
  • A backstage look at the people and techniques behind how the show was put together and rehearsed.
     
  • Coverage of the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association’s charitable work in disaster relief.
The entire collection is well presented and has high production values.  As I mentioned, the dance numbers are very well performed and superbly staged.  But in addition to that, the camera work and editing deserve special praise, particularly since they were filming a live, one-time-only performance in a packed auditorium.  This is not a static camera view of a stage performance, but a smoothly and kinetically edited presentation from multiple camera angles that flows with the music perfectly.

Although the outer, enveloping narrative is a little thin and primarily serves as a vehicle to link the songs together, I thought it still held one’s interest.  And the acting performances on the part of the three principals were all excellent.

The most compelling aspect of the show for me, however, was the evident sincerity and commitment on the part of all the participants to work for a more compassionate and loving world. From the red carpet show and across all the pre- and post-production interviews, one can see that these people are committed to the idea that we should not participate or support the taking of lives of others. And that means not contributing in any way to the killing of any sentient beings, such as animals raised for meat.  As one show participant reminds us, citing Tolstoy, “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields”.  And many took to heart the simple SMCH slogan: "Be Vegan, Make Peace".

As I have commented in connection with my reviews of documentary films on meat-eating (Eating, 3rd Edition, 2009; Forks Over Knives, 2011), there are "four main spheres of increasingly more personal interactive compass that underlie why you should be vegetarian [7]:
  1. World. It takes more than ten times both the land acreage and energy from fossil fuels to produce a calorie from animal food than from plant-based food.  We are currently facing a worldwide food crisis due to the use of land and water resources devoted to animal farming. The world’s cattle alone eat enough grain to feed 8.7 billion people. If humans consumed a plant-based diet, there would be no such crisis. In addition, animal farming contributes significantly to global-warming gas production . . . .
  2. Community. Every year roughly 50 billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption. Yet animals are sentient beings like us that feel pain. They are existentially our brothers and sisters and do not deserve to be killed for our pleasure.
  3. Body. . . . a diet with more than a tiny amount of animal-based food (meat and dairy) is harmful to human health.
  4. Soul. Most small children are instinctively alarmed when they first learn that they are eating flesh from dead animals, but adults persuade them to accept it. That initial alarm that you felt back then was the voice of your inner soul – the essential core being who you really are. When you resolve to give up eating animal-based food, you are responding to that inner voice and following the path of your true, compassionate nature. You are becoming the complete person that you have always wanted to be."
I believe that these ideas are in accord with those of Supreme Master Ching Hai and also of all the people who enthusiastically took part in making Loving the Silent Tears.  Regrettably, however, because of SMCH’s advocacy of vegetarianism and veganism (the SMCH International Association operates an international chain of more than a hundred vegetarian Loving Hut restaurants), her organization has sometimes been falsely attacked by meat-and-dairy industry-funded lobbyists [8] as a cult. I don’t believe it. Although no organization is flawless, my own personal experiences with people from that organization and from watching this film lead me to believe that all these people are agents of love and compassion and are sincerely working for a better and happier world.  That is what moved me and really stood out about Loving the Silent Tears.
★★★½

Notes:
  1. The Supreme Master Ching Hai, Silent Tears, (2007), The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, http://www.smchbooks.com/new-eng/book-e/e-silent_tears.htm.
  2. Loving the Silent Tears is available here:
    • http://silenttearsmusical.com/
    • http://suprememastertv.com/lst/
  3. Gordon Young, “God Inc.”, SF Weekly, (22 May 1996).
  4. “A Brief Biography of The Supreme Master Ching Hai”, God's Direct Contact, The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association. 
  5. Indeed the date set for the Loving the Silent Tears performance was intended to commemorate the 19th anniversary of Supreme Master Ching Hai Day, which was declared to be 25 October 1993 by Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi in honor of SMCH's charitable efforts.
  6. There is also available a version of "Talking to a Stone Buddha" that was sung by Supreme Master Ching Hai and recorded in 2007 that can be found here.
  7. The Film Sufi, “Forks Over Knives”, The Film Sufi, (16 November 2012).
  8. For example, Humanewatch.org.

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