Enlightenment through Lebowski
Previously, I wrote about Four Spiritual Lessons from the Big Lebowski: Abiding in Dudeism, and explained a little bit of my journey.
I used the Coen brothers’ cult classic, The Big Lebowski, and the religion surrounding it, Dudeism, as a parable to expound on the Four Noble Truths.
If the journey ended there, things would be a bit simpler, but the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment can also be illuminated by using parallels from the life of the Dude.
To review, the film features “The Dude,” a guy named Jeff Lebowski who is mistaken for an apparently much wealthier dude, also named Jeff Lebowski.
This causes the Dude’s rug to be first soiled upon, then stolen, launching a series of events including a supposed kidnapping, fraud, an encounter with nihilists, and several bowling-related incidents.
The movie stars Jeff Bridges as the Dude, John Goodman as Walter, and Steve Buscemi as Donny.
The three attempt to recover the Dude’s rug, which turns out to be much more difficult than it at first appears, as “new information comes to light.”
Throughout the story, the three friends illustrate many lessons we can learn from.
SEE ALSO: 5 Leadership Lessons From Buddha
The Wisdom Path: Understanding Things as They Are
At first, things are very confusing.
The Dude’s head is forced into a toilet, and two men demand money owed by his wife for gambling debts.
Since he is not even married, this leads him to try to understand things as they are, or pursue a path of wisdom.
To do so, he must achieve right view and pursue right intention, to provide him with a sense of direction.
“Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.”
The outline of the right view is expressed in the Four Noble Truths and involves the understanding of three principles.
- You See What Happens Larry? Larry is a kid who steals the Dude’s car, but leaves evidence, his homework, stuck in the seat, and so is found out. Similarly, every act of the mind or body has karmic results, or a reaction, related to the action. This is the right view about the moral process of the world.
- Everything’s Digital Now, Dude. Nothing illustrates better that nothing is permanent than Jackie Treehorn, a porn producer who laments big changes in his industry. Failure to accept this impermanence leads to suffering.
- That Rug Really Tied the Room Together. Because the Dude cannot get his rug back, he is suffering. He even traverses the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance throughout the film. Suffering can also include birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair. Craving things you cannot have, or craving to control things beyond your control, is the underlying cause of suffering.
“Don’t take life so darn serious.”
The Dude makes the decision to pursue change for the better by forsaking wrong or immoral qualities and aspiring to harmlessness.
His struggle to follow this intention allows him to progress on his journey throughout the film.
For the Dude to concentrate properly, he must avoid wrong deeds and words.
This conduct aids the purification of his mind, allowing him to better understand the world around him.
“Do you have to use so many cuss words, Dude?” This factor is not just about cussing.
It really means the Dude should:
- Abandon False Speech. Walter, interviewing Larry, who stole the Dude’s car, declares, “We know this is your homework, Larry. Now where’s the damn money?” On the path to right speech, Larry would have just told the truth.
- Abandon Divisive Speech. Even when another bowler, Stony, was “over the line” Walter should have treated him with a little more respect rather that “flashing a piece out on the lanes” until he marked the frame zero. This scene illustrated the opposite of enlightenment.
- Abandon Abusive Speech. Just because another bowler, Jesus Quintana, does not share Walter’s religious beliefs, he should not have called him names in Spanish. In Buddhism, practitioners can hold all kinds of beliefs while practicing. A Dude should avoid all abusive speech, not just name-calling.
- Abandon Idle Chatter. When Donny frequently finds himself out of his element in a conversation, he should just follow Walter’s advice and shut up. Chatter that is pointless should be avoided.
Right action involves taking only actions that will not cause harm to others or be perceived as corrupt.
When Bunny, wife of the non-Dude Lebowski, ran off (“She probably kidnapped herself, man”) she displayed wrong actions.
But so did Mr. Lebowski in his attempt to use the Dude and take advantage of the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers (proud we are of all of them). The Dude, in his own way, tried to steer them both toward right action.
Even if, like the Dude, you are “between careers at the moment,” there are careers that should be avoided on the path to enlightenment.
- Trading in weapons or instruments for killing, a Dude might end up aiding the nihilists, who believe in nothing and keep amphibious rodents as pets inside city limits.
- Trading in human beings, such as slave trade, prostitution, or pornography. Jackie Treehorn is a porn producer, very un-Dude, and not very enlightened at all.
- Trading in meat, like handling bodies after they are killed or raising animals for slaughter.
- Buying or selling intoxicants or addictive drugs. While Gary is a great bartender, to be more enlightened, he should stick to serving a great sarsaparilla.
- Buying, selling, or creating poison. The Dude is just waiting for a career that can’t be perceived as corrupt or harmful to any living being. Being a roadie for Metallica qualified, even though he quit, because those guys can be real jerks, man.
The Dude uses a strict regimen of diet and exercise to keep his mind limber.
While in his case this is aided by drugs and alcohol (not the most enlightened part of the movie), mental discipline definitely plays a role in his path.
Take it easy, man.
The Dude makes an effort to avoid wrong and harmful words, thoughts, and deeds, and to bring out the best in others.
He even explains to Walter that “You’re not wrong, you’re just an a**hole.”
The keys to right effort are:
- Not allowing negative qualities to arise. The Dude becomes frustrated when being followed but retains his cool once he gets to the bottom of things.
- Letting go of negative qualities that have already arisen.
- The Dude also nurtures the good qualities in himself, even when he thinks the kidnappers are going to kill that poor woman (Bunny), and in others.
The Dude tries to keep his mind alert to things that could harm the mind or body, especially when there is a beverage involved.
There are a few steps to mindfulness.
- Focus on the Body. When doing Tai Chi on a rug, the Dude puts away greed and distress, concentrating on the body
- Focus on Feelings. This would be like letting one’s hatred of the Eagles become tolerance and not fleeing the cab. Not the Dude’s most enlightened moment.
- Focus on the Mind. Keeping the mind free of wrong distractions, the Dude listens to Creedence while lying down, even though his reverie is interrupted.
“New information has come to light.”
To process this information, the Dude must concentrate on something, or meditate to achieve a better state of consciousness.
He can do this a few different ways.
- He Concentrates on Breathing: ins and outs and what-have-yous
- The Dude Concentrates on an Object: like a bowling ball.
- The Dude Can Recite a Mantra: or listen to the sounds of strikes and gutters over and over.
The Dude’s Path to Enlightenment
Throughout The Big Lebowski, the Dude discovers both the mental and emotional causes of suffering.
The mental cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur and is corrected by his acquisition of knowledge.
The emotional cause is desire or attachment—like to a rug—and it can be managed by learning to understand and manage emotions effectively.
Once the Dude accepts the fact that he doesn’t need the rug to be happy, it all works out in the end, although not for everyone.
Much can be learned from the Dude, Walter, and Donny about attachment, ignorance, and the path to enlightenment.
But only through practice can one hope to achieve it.
We can all simply abide in truth. Like the Dude. Take comfort in that. Namaste.
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