“Sometime’s there’s a man, I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? I’m talking about The Dude here, well, he’s the man for his time and place.” (The Stranger, The Big Lebowski)
There are two kinds of people in the world – those who don’t really “get” The Dude, and the enlightened one’s who worship him. Those who dismiss Lebowski as trivial, and the fortunate few who appreciate it for achieving the impossible – being inanely comic and profoundly cosmic simultaneously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do yourself a favour and take the Lebowski test – download it on iTunes, stream it on Netflix, or if you’re into a retro flashback, get the DVD. Let the saga of The Dude and his rug unfold at its own pace, and at some point in your second viewing, as The Dude deals with the birdies and bogeys of life with remarkable equanimity, the realisation dawns that this is a yarn as deeply philosophical as Homer’s Odyssey, and much funnier besides. Worst case you’ll get a few laughs, hopefully enjoy the soundtrack (my favourite is the Gypsy Kings’ rendition of Hotel California), and appreciate some of finest actors of our time, including John Turturro in a memorable cameo role. The upside scenario? New shit will come to light with every viewing, and your life will change in ways you cannot even begin to comprehend. And if you really don’t like it – as The Dude says “yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion, man.”
To call someone an evangelical atheist might be the ultimate oxymoron, but Ethan Coen fits that description. Ethan studied Philosophy at Princeton, and wrote his thesis on Two Views of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy. I know jack shit about Wittgenstein, and even less about his later (or earlier) philosophy. Personally I think Ethan just drops that into his bio for the same reason I throw it in here – it sounds cool. In any case, Ethan is on record as saying that “belief in a benevolent omnipresent creator is the height of stupidity”. Fair enough, and while even I wouldn’t care to be quite as blunt, this is a world view not far removed from my own. Conventional religion requires a suspension of logic that has always been a bridge too far for me, and Richard Dawkins’ brilliant The God Delusion provides an infinitely more palatable alternative to your average holy book.
Much of the Coen brothers’ work explores complex theological and existential questions suggestive of an alternative belief system, but none more so than Lebowski. Starting with the appearance – the hair and beard, the robe and sandals – there is no shortage of comparisons between The Dude and Christ. Like Jesus, The Dude is described sacrificially as “taking it easy for the rest of us”, according to theologist Rabin. In her book The Dude Abides, Kathleen Falsani draws upon the Old Testament and suggests that The Dude be thought of as one of the menschen on whom the fate of the world rests. Eddie Chung, in his documentary The Achievers, believes that if Moses were to appear today, he would receive his commandments from The Dude. Buddhism teacher and scholar Bernie Glassman, whose book The Dude and the Zen Master (co-authored with Jeff Bridges) makes for entertaining reading, compares The Dude to a Boddhisatva. And if you really want to dig deep, try William Irwin’s The Big Lebowski and Philosophy, which enlists Plato, Nietzsche, Gödel, and Freud to unravel the movie’s hidden depths, and makes the persuasive case that The Dude represents the contemporary version of the ancient Taoist way of life. Finally, we have Dudeism, whose spiritual leader the Dudely Lama proudly claims his to be “the world’s slowest growing religion”. Apparently, he’s in no hurry, which of course is the whole point.
All of which – and admittedly some of it is total nonsense – is a long winded way of addressing the insecurity the highly educated among you might feel about getting spiritual guidance from a pot-smoking ex-hippie from Venice Beach, let alone adopting The Dude’s laissez-faire attitude to coping with the vicissitudes of life.
What follows below is a hypothetical conversation between The Dude and me, my version of communion with a divine incarnation, in the sense of someone who in an earthy way is a living manifestation of much that I find useful about ancient spirituality and the search for happiness. Why this way? Quite simply, I like The Dude’s way of expressing himself, and its fun besides. For those fortunate enough to count themselves among the legions of Lebowski fans, every line contains an inside joke, some of which might make you laugh out loud; this is after all the most quotable cult classic of all time. For the unfortunate uninitiated – an affliction easily remedied – hopefully you find the exercise somewhat insightful, and at least modestly amusing. So here goes…
Me: Mr Lebowski, it has been suggested you may be the happiest man alive. I’m here to seek your wisdom on the path to this sublime state.
Lebowski: Nobody calls me Lebowski, man. I’m The Dude. So that’s what you call me. Or His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
Me: Ha ha, of course Dude. But back to my question, your cortisol and adrenalin levels are practically non-existent, your serotonin levels the highest on record. Unbelievable. How do you do this?
The Dude: My what? Wtf you talking about, man?
Me: Sorry Dude. I mean, how come you’re so chilled?
The Dude: Ah ok. I mean I guess, I uh…lost my chain of thought there, man, do you mind if I light up a J? I guess, its because, uh, let me think, I guess I don’t really give a fuck, man. I mean I never worry about shit. Look at Walter, he gets all wound up about Vietnam and his fucking ex-wife, but I never really look back, man, you know what I mean? I think the world would be a better place if everyone said “wtf” every four hours, ideally shout it out loud.
Me: Ha ha, that’s wild Dude. So no looking back, no regrets, no guilt, no anger, no resentment. Great. You worry much about the future Dude?
The Dude: Yeah, I mean we got the semis for the League coming up tomorrow, we’re up against that pervert pederast Jesus Quintana. The guy exposed himself to an 8-year old, can you fucking believe that? But the creep can roll, man. Its not like it bothers me tho’, its just a fucking bowling match, you know what I mean? I got no family to worry about, I got some cash saved up, so I just make it up as I go along, man.
Me: But you have a special lady Dude, what about Maude? Any thoughts on love and family attachments?
The Dude: She’s not my special lady, she’s my fucking lady friend. I’m just helping her conceive, man.
As for love, that can be cool for some, and family is awesome, but it doesn’t always work out the way its supposed to. People listen to The Beatles singing All You Need is Love, and think that’s the way to Instant Karma, but Lennon also said I Am The Walrus, and wtf does that mean, man? I just think you need to make sure you don’t lose your head. Look at Walter, can you believe he brought his wife’s fucking Pomeranian bowling the other day? If my fuckin’ ex-wife asked me to take care of her fuckin’ dog while she and her boyfriend went to Honolulu, I’d tell her to go fuck herself. You know what Othello said, most people love “not wisely, but too well”. And kids too – what’s that King Lear line about children and snakes?
Me: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have an ungrateful child”. You’re right Dude, King Lear really did get screwed over by his daughters, drove the guy nuts. You like Shakespeare Dude?
The Dude: Yeah, he’s cool, just about the only useful thing I learned in high school. But sometimes all those guys talking to themselves, they take life way too seriously. I mean look at Hamlet, I know the guy had it bad, and that’s a real bummer, man, but he’s just messing himself up with all that “to be or not to be” shit. Why not just say “wtf!” and get on with it? Strikes and gutters, that’s just the way it is, man. I think Macbeth was on to something with his “life’s but a walking shadow” thought. Life is too short, too complicated, and nobody seems to know what the fuck to do about it. So keep it simple man, fuck it, lets go bowling. Or golfing, if that’s your thing…
Me: I know exactly what you mean Dude. You remember what Caesar says about Cassius? A “lean and hungry look” because “he thinks too much”? I think I’ve always been that way. Been trying to meditate for the last few months, which is really great. You meditate Dude?
The Dude: Yeah, I guess I do, pretty much every day. Usually in the bathtub, by candlelight, drinking a White Russian and listening to whale sounds, kind of cleans up my mind. Tho’ there was this one time, these fucking German nihilists with their marmot wanting to cut off my “chonson”…
Me: Ha ha, I remember that Dude. I know you love bowling Dude, you know there’s this theory out there that people are happiest when totally immersing themselves in something they’re passionate about. This Hungarian psychologist Mihali did a lot of research on how people react when they’re “in the flow” or “in the zone”. There’s elements of the Bhagavad Gita in that, doing your duty being a key element of the path to inner peace.
The Dude: Yeah I get that. But you know the problem is you’re happy when you’re doing your thing, in the flow or whatever the fuck you call it, but what about the rest of the time? Wtf does Arjuna do when he’s not firing arrows from his fucking chariot? I think its less about doing what you love, instead love what you’re doing. Like that Stephen Stills song, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with“? So I think being “in the flow” is cool, but “going with the flow” is even cooler, which I think is what Heraclitus says also, and he was a real dude…
Me: That’s profound Dude, there’s elements of Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus in that, imagining yourself to be happy even if you’re condemned to a lifetime of pushing a rock up a mountain…and I think what Heraclitus said was “you cannot swim in the same river twice”, which is pretty much “going with the flow”, I guess, in the parlance of our times.
The Dude: Yeah man, or Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching, when he says “he who gently yields is a true disciple of life”, and he was a total dude…
Me: Wow Dude, this is amazing. Now I get why Buddhists believe you are a genuine Zen Master, truly living in the moment. In fact, they call you the Duddha, the second coming of the Enlightened One! No fear, no baggage, just going with the flow. You know it takes Vedic and Zen Masters years of practising transcendental meditation to get to this point Dude, using techniques developed over 2,000 years ago?
The Dude: That’s fuckin’ interesting, man. So you mean no new shit has come to light in 2,000 years?
Me: Something like that Dude. What about some type of code of conduct Dude, you know all these ancient scriptures believe that doing the right thing is what makes a man?
The Dude: Yeah, that and a pair of testicles…
Me: Ha, ha, that’s funny Dude! And what about the role of suffering? Zen Buddhism insists that overcoming a world of pain is essential to attain the sublime state you seem to be experiencing. I suppose there’s a transition point where, very much like Schrodinger’s cat, you’re effectively in two parallel states of existence…sort of like the top of the backswing where according to Hogan you’re effectively moving in two directions at the same time…
The Dude: Wtf you talking about man? And who the fuck is Schrodinger?
Me: Sorry Dude. Schrodinger was a physicist, he came up with this theoretical paradox where a cat can be alive and dead at the same time…and Hogan was a golfer, you know the one-plane swing…
The Dude: I hate cats, man. And I hate the fuckin’ Eagles too, man…and I don’t get the whole world of pain thing. I mean shit happens, but wtf? And I’m telling you, keep it simple, man, you look fucking anorexic, you’re thinking too much again. Might help your golf game too…
Me: Ha ha, of course Dude. I think I get it. Nice rug, by the way.
The Dude: Yeah, it really ties the room together, man…you know there’s this whole story, it all started with Woo peeing on The Dude’s rug…
Me: Ha ha, I know! One final question, Dude, do you really have to curse so much?
The Dude: Wtf you talking about, man?
Me: Ha ha, never mind. Take it easy, Dude, I know you will.
The Dude: Yeah, well, The Dude abides…
So there you have it. Go on, be a dude. And if you must latch onto a tune, as an alternative to Pharrell Williams’ ubiquitous Happy, try Paul Simon’s very dude-ish 59th Street Bridge Song:
Slow down, you move too fast
You’ve got to make the (moment) last
Kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy