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Lions Roar : May 2013
Big Lebowski is celebrated for its dharmic wisdom. Maybe this shouldn’t strike me as strange. While puritans like me abound, Buddhist history is peppered with practitioners on the wild side. In the Tibetan tradition, there is the mishap lineage that Jeff Bridges is so fascinated by, and in the Zen world there are such iconoclastic figures as the monk Ikkyu, who not only drank heavily but also apparently visited brothels wearing his robes because he believed sexual intercourse was a religious rite. Bridges was skeptical when Glassman first told him that many people consider the Dude to be a Zen master. During the making of the film, no one claimed any such thing—neither the actors nor the film’s creators, the renowned Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Glassman laughed. “Just look at their name—the Koan broth- ers.” He went on to assert that The Big Lebowski is filled with modern-day koans: “The Dude abides—very Zen, man. Or The Dude is not in—classic Zen.” According to Merriam-Webster, to abide means to wait, to endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without objection. “That is no easy feat, especially in a culture that is success-driven, instant-gratification-oriented, and impatient, like ours,” Bridges says in The Dude and the Zen Master. “True abiding is a spiritual gift that requires great mastery. The moral of the story, for me, is: be kind.” Yet the Dude isn’t some idealized bodhisattva. As Glassman points out, he’s “a lot like us. Stuff upsets him, like when some- one pees on his rug. He has thoughts, frustrations, and every- thing that we all have, but he doesn’t work from them. He works from where he is.” That is, the Dude is authentic. When he gets bent out of shape, he doesn’t feign tranquility but quickly readjusts to his new cir- cumstances, showing that he isn’t attached to a self-image or identity. “Since he abides nowhere,” continues Glassman, “he is free to abide everywhere.” In stark contrast is Walter, the Dude’s bowling buddy played by John Goodman. Walter suffers intensely because he can’t accept that in life there are strikes and gutters, ups and downs. In Walter’s own words, “This won’t stand, man.” He’s attached to his opinions and, because his opinions are so odd, so extreme, and so blatantly untrue, he helps us see the holes in all opinions, even our own. Even when we think our opinions are sacred. “A lot of people say that my boss, this guy Shakyamuni Buddha, talked about the four noble truths,” Glassman ribs. “But what he really taught was ‘the four noble opinions.’ ” We can’t say that Buddhism is about not being attached to any truth, and then say there are four noble big ones. “There’s a little contradiction there,” says Glassman. The Zen of the Dude Is the Dude a Zen master? His enigmatic pronouncements are certainly food for thought—or nonthought. Roshi Bernie Glass- man has created a course of koan study based on some of the film’s best-known lines, which are followed by a series of possible commentaries—from Koryu Roshi, with whom Bernie Glassman passed his first koan; from Glassman’s students KoOn and Mark (his “life koan” is social entrepreneurship); from a hypothetical Harvard student (representing rational mind); from traditional Zen sources; and, of course, from Roshi Bernie himself. What to Do? Lebowski koan: “What do you do, Mr. Lebowski? A Harvard student asks: “How do I choose my vocation?” Koryo Roshi says: “Why do you put on your patchwork robe at the sound of the bell?” KoOn’s interpretation: “What will Gandhi do when he grows up? Roshi Bernie replies: “The vocation chooses you!” Knowing and Not-Knowing Lebowski koan: “Shut the fuck up, Donny, you’re out of your element!” Buddhism or Dudeism? COURTESYOFUNIVERSALSTUDIOSLICENSINGLLC