Former Buddhist monk spreads spirituality satirically

By Brenda Zahn, Marin IJ correspondent, April 21, 2005

Marin County, CA (USA) -- Satirist and former Buddhist monk Alan Clements is searching for "heartfelt people who are wanting to go beyond coffee-table compassion."

He hopes people who fit the bill will come see his one-man show, "Spiritually Incorrect - An Existential Anti-War Comedy," this Saturday night in Mill Valley.

The 8 p.m. performance will be at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. It's the kick-off of Clements' 25-city Burning Bush End the Violence Tour.

"My show is a spiritual message with a satirical edge," says Clements, who lives in Vancouver. "When I opened up to the world of satire and comedy, it's as if all of a sudden you get to speak to a lot of other people who you wouldn't have access to."

Clements started his nonprofit Burma Project USA while living in Mill Valley. He calls Marin County an "outpost of hope."

Saturday's 90-minute performance will benefit the Burma Project USA, supporting Burma's incarcerated Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, whom Clements credits with leading the country's "nonviolent struggle for freedom."

"In terms of inspired people in the world, she's one of the most interesting and inspiring," Clements says.

A performing artist, activist, author and teacher, Clements was the first American to become a Buddhist monk in Burma, where he lived for about a decade.

"I went (to Burma) to practice enlightenment and I didn't know it was in the midst of a totalitarian dictatorship," Clements says, adding that he has since dedicated himself to exposing the world to the country's struggles.

Since leaving the monastic life, Clements has worked for global human rights and shared his experiences of war and conflict through books and performances.

His work for human rights work worldwide led Jack Healy, the former Amnesty International director, to call him "one of the most important and compelling voices of our time."

He authored "Burma: The Next Killing Fields?" "Instinct for Freedom: Finding Liberation Through Living," "Natural Freedom: The Dharma Beyond Buddhism" and "The Voice of Hope," a book of conversations with Suu Kyi. He also co-authored "Burma's Revolution of the Spirit" (with Leslie Kean), with a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

Clements served as script revisionist and adviser for "Beyond Rangoon," a feature film depicting Burma's struggle for democracy. He also worked as a journalist in the former Yugoslavia during the final year of the war there.

Clements describes his one-man show as, "an unscripted metaphysical, political monologue that combines comedy, satire and activist entertainment." It covers such topics as war, enlightenment, politics, religion and modern society, taking issue with "contemporary sacred cows."