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Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
After searching through the Spirituality section of my local Barnes & Noble, I finally found this book shelved under Film, keeping company with the Marilyn bios and Leonard Maltin guides. That sort of makes sense. Like Certs ("It's a breath mint AND a candy mint!"), "Cinema Nirvana" is an oddball but well-informed romp through the world of classic American film, as well as a savvy guide to meditation and spiritual growth. Sluyter writes like someone who's been around both of those blocks more than once. He excels at noticing the overlooked (the shark in "Jaws" has been terrorizing the beach, but the three heroes illogically hunt it down in deep water, out of sight of land) and squeezing epiphanies out of it (the ocean represents the deep waters of the infinite, where familiar moorings are left behind). Sluyter's brand of spirituality is mostly - but not dogmatically - Buddhist, with the plain-spoken, common-sense approach of the best Buddhist writers. His writing is extremely clear and often very funny. His wit and his skillful use of personal stories (his saga of involvement with a cultlike group in the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" chapter, or his account of the psychedelic 60's in "Easy Rider") make for top-notch entertainment. But what's most entertaining is watching him make astonishing connections - his cosmic interpretation of the lyrics of "Jailhouse Rocks" will blow your socks off.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
A lot of spiritual writing succumbs to the platitudes of new-asge mush. Not so with this book. Cinema Nirvana is extraordinarily well written, creative and insightful. Basically, Sluyter does an analysis of cinema in terms of Buddhist teaching. Each analysis made me think again about the movies I had taken at face value - I even ended up reading some of them twice. I have definitely reconsidered the way I approach popular culture as a result of Sluyter's critical technique. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Buddhist philosophy, wants to steer clear of the new age drivel, and enjoys well wrought, intellectually stimulating critical writing. Even those who don't have much knowledge of buddhist philosophy, but want fresh crticial insight into cinema should give this book a reading.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Cinema is an art form that combines still photography, motion, and sound on a grand scale. The combination of the sheer number of individual stills, the technology of light, and the magic of sound (the first element of creation in the secular model) is sheer wonder. It is no accident that this miracle of creative intelligence happens in large interior spaces, darkened, and viewed in the presence of many other souls focusing their attention to a single location at the front of such chambers. For nearly a century, such temples of light, motion, and sound have reached into the interior spaces of individual viewers not unlike the model of Self versus self found in Eastern traditions. The form has become a tool of persuasion, propaganda, and profit effectively used and replacing reality itself--"live" events are no longer complete without a simultaneous broadcast on it derivative technology--television.

So, Dean Sluyter makes explicit what has been implicit in the technology and the form. Sort of like Hero's steam engine that opened the doors to the Egyptian idol, so too does the cinema make possible the worship of our secular religious values. When we look at cinema, we must learn to see beyond the image, the motion, the sound, the thrill--we must learn to see the screen and the light--we must learn to recognize the structures of our own self and creative intelligence that connects us, the viewer, with that of the director/producer. Actors and props are the doors of the idols, but the vision of the director/producer is the Hero.

Dean takes us through this process. He ignores the obvious selecting the obscure in order to make clear how the underlying principles of intelligence and self are expressed to us in current symbols. He is not DE-constructing--he is IN--structing. Dean is our needle and we are his thread, to borrow the image of teacher and student used by the 17th century mystic and warrior, Miyamoto Musashi. He pulls us through the warp and the woof of the cosmic fabric of our mind to help us see old themes in new insight. Snow White is discussed in Sashimi terms of Asian enlightenment and expansion versus the ponderous fatty sausage of Germanic Grimm or a Yorkshire Pudding Campbell. We are treated to a pastiche of the soul's yearning to find fullness of Self. Marlow represents a Light Warrior girding his loins to vanquish the forces of ignorance driven by passions and the senses.

But more than an exercise in the new American idiom of enlightenment, I am drawn to the volume as a document, a testament, of a generation's contribution to the growing richness of the American Mind and Spiritual Capital. Dean, like his subject, is telling us about things he himself is struggling to express. Like all of us, Dean is reassessing and revising his own experience of reality and our American experience with respect to his own consciousness. We are brought inside his awareness and witness his meditation. We have a theme, a mantra (a mental device with which to transcend and each person's is unique--mine is different than yours--besides it does not matter what it is--only that you return to it) that comes and goes. In between are thoughts--Marlow, Brando, Pod People, "we blew it." Dean shows how to do it through his own process.

And this brings us to the ultimate lesson--it does not matter if you agree with Dean or his choice in movies or even his take on the thematic underlying principles of creative intelligence--art or science--it makes no difference. The TEACHER is not imparting content--only pointing to process. We must have our own experiences. RATHER, the TEACHER wants us to REFLECT and meditate on our experience of the same object of experience. I do not like his take on the GODFATHER--so, what. What matters is that I have written my own short essay on why I disagree with him. I roared at the moon over JAWS--Where is the analogy of the whale; of MOBY DICK--it matters ONLY that I have been worked up about it for weeks. Dean has stirred my soul--THAT has helped me shake of years of rust from the lack of proper use of my own creative process.

Here, the force of the book is powerful--like a proper samurai's cut, or the perfect cherry blossom falling in the spring air. It is the whiteness of the page, the space between the letters, that connects with the direction of Dean's tutorial.

This book is instruction. It must be practiced often. He is an excellent teacher from whom there is much to be learned.

Read it and be well; these are the words of an exponent of reality.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Dean Sluyter has done it again! If you are looking for yet another place to find the seemingly ubiquitous and universal teachings of spiritual practice, Dean has opened the doors of american popular film. I loved rethinking some of my favorite movies as important spiritual teachings. What I found most helpful about this book, was that it explained what can be difficult concepts in easy to understand ways. Using movies has his area of exploration, Dean takes spirituality out of some far off esoteric eastern tradition and puts it right in my living room. A great book for someone who's just beginning to be interested in spirituality, or a spiritual "veteran" (not to mention movie buffs!).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Cinema Nirvana is a terrific book and a way fun read. I want to go over some of it again because it is quite thought provoking for me. I got a non-New-Age-Oh-Wow-How-Cosmic-Dude look at roots of some of my own beliefs and practices. Completely unexpected, and pleasantly surprising.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Reading Cinema Nirvana was an exceptionally gratifying experience. It was hard to put the book down, and every time I tried to do so, I was drawn back to it. The reading of it was a comforting experience, as well as being entertaining and making me laugh. When I poked my head out of its waters, I felt like I had been meditating for quite a while.

But it actually did more than that. Sluyter's life experience and committment to seeking consciousness infuses this book with a clear and cogent energy that passes on to the reader. Not many books have this magic. In the reading of it, I felt something in me unlock, taking me deeper within myself, a priceless experience.

Sluyter's ability to recognize and interpret the presence of spiritual guidance in the movies is amazing. But it is not just this skill, nor just the knowledge imparted, that makes this book shine. It is also his willingness to be real, to share his passion and to bare his heart. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is just a delight to read, entertaining, funny, educational. The author weaves and illustrates so brilliantly the dharma teaching in each film and story. Many I have seen/read and some I ended up seeing to watch from his point of view. I have reread this book many times and have shared it with many. My daughter 1st discovered it and shared with me. We've had a fun time discussing it. It is spiritual and so insightful, one is learning about untangling from negative ego via Dean's inspired writing. I can't say enough good about it! What a fun way to learn and 'awaken!'
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
I love this book. I can't understand why it's not a runaway bestseller. I saw the author speak locally and picked up a copy just to support him, but this book is so fascinating and well written. It's funny, insightful, a little irreverent, and just plain compelling.

It makes a great gift for film buffs or anyone interested in high-level thinking with a twist! Buy it and if you don't like it I'll give you your money back.*

* Just kidding, but buy it anyway.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have some dear friends who are Budhists and also movie fanatics, so I purchased this for them. I had an opportunity to read some of it before I gave it to them and, even though I am not a Budhist, I found this book facinating and enlightening. They have not yet had a chance to read it since I just gave it to them yesterday, but they were excited about receiving it and anxious to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
Sluyter's Cinema Nirvana is an interesting, if not always successful, book, and occasionally it is even a moving one. In part, this is because where it fails on one level, it succeeds on another.

While amusing, Cinema Nirvana fails to convince as film criticism. There are simply too many unconvincing moments when the reader's willing suspension of disbelief (and this is, of course, a work of non-fiction) just gives way to sighs and a gentle rolling of the eyes. A bit like reading Freud: certainly he is on to something, and so you press on reading, but then he says something so far removed from your own experience that you want to say: "Hey, wait!" But by then he has already drawn several conclusions based on the premise you question.

Fortunately, Sluyter does not pitch the book as film analysis; indeed, the subtitle of the book is "Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies." In essence, the films become the springboard for his discussion of nirvana, meditation, notions of the self, and other philosophical (and especially Buddhist) concerns. The films allow him to ruminate upon many of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and, hopefully, help to provide the reader with greater insights and inner calm. This is not a self-help book per se, but it is a helpful book. And if Sluyter does at times risk over-interpreting the films, the value of his discussions remains. After all, what the book itself demonstrates is that what we see "out there" (or, on the screen) is to a very great extent, really a projection or construction of what is "in here," in our heads.

What Sluyter demonstrates so well in this book is that the opportunity to find guidance and counsel is everywhere, even in the most banal of Hollywood movies. Enlightenment, or the opportunity for enlightenment, is ubiquitous, even--Sluyter shows us--where you least expect to find it. This is because you are the enlightenment you seek; simply, he says, open your eyes and see it in the next film you watch.

Recommended for anyone interested in the intersection of Buddhism and popular culture, as well as those interested in somewhat unorthodox interpretations of some classic American movies.
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