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Learning To Live In The Moment With 'The Dude'

Listen to the commentary on All Things Considered

Now, if you think The Dude — the main character in the The Big Lebowski — is no Zen Master then Bernie Glassman and Jeff Bridges would like a word with you. That's because one, a well-known Zen teacher, and the other, the guy who brought Leboswski to life, have written a new book together titled, appropriately, The Dude and the Zen Master. It's a delightful, whimsical little text with a very serious intent.

Glassman and Bridges are friends who've spent a lot of time talking about Buddhism and what it means in everyday life. Their book's gentle conceit is to use The Dude and his response to situations thrown at him in The Big Lebowski to unpack the essence of Zen's promise. With chapter titles like "The Dude Is Not In", they show us The Dude as a kind of intuitive Zen Master.

"I dig the Dude," says Bridges at one point in the book. "He is very authentic. He can be angry and upset, but he's very comfortable in his own skin. And in his inimitable way he has grace."

No matter what happens, Bridges explains, the Dude is there, getting upset and then quickly adjusting with good humor and natural kindness. He shows up and in Zen that is what really matters. Just showing up. That's because being present for whatever appears without pushing it away or demanding it be different is the only way we can act with real freedom. As Glassman writes, "Trillions of years of DNA — the flow of the entire Universe — all lead up to this moment. ... So what do you do? You just do." You remain curious, open and aware even as you act.

Bridges best insights often come when he brings his experience as an actor to bear. That's important because, in a very real sense, we are all actors waking up and putting on the mask of our personalities each day. The trick, Glassman and Bridges would say, is to learn to live in the moment and not in the character.

Having experienced my share of seven-day Zen intensives, I can vouch for the fact that a big chunk of Buddhism lies in a daily practice that can, sometimes, be intense. This book doesn't really touch on that aspect of Zen, but that's OK.

Glassman and Bridge's wonderful little volume fleshes out more than enough reason to consider the Zen perspective: finding ease in the midst chaos; finding grace in the midst of now. Glassman and Bridges are trying to show us that the real truth is that we have no other choice. We, like The Dude, must always learn to abide.

You can keep up with more of what Adam Frank is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @AdamFrank4

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.
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