THE TAO OF THE DUDE
1. Zen and the Art of Dudeism:
The Dude Attitude
By Oliver Benjamin
"What makes a dude?
Is it being prepared to do nothing at all? Whatever the price? Isn't that what makes a dude? Of what value is achievement, competitors bested, obstacles overcome? Strong men also get high. Strong men also get high."
Astute readers and fans of the cult film The Big Lebowski will note that the above is a shameless reworking of one of its scenes. In the original, a wealthy old cripple posits What makes a man? and expounds on his achievements and a lifetime of moralistic rigor. The charge he is addressing, a washed-out ex hippie who goes by the name The Dude smokes a joint and concludes that all that makes a man is simply a pair of testicles.
Yet, though the Dudes philosophy runs deeper than that, it is simply not his habit to impose his assertions upon the world, nor the lifestyles people have chosen, least of all his own. He neither judges the corrupt old man nor takes umbrage at his condescension. As he will say later, in response to a tongue-lashing offered by a purple-clad pedophilic bowler, Well, thats just, ya know, like, your opinion, man. The Dude is a pacifist, though not only that, for pacifism is a political stance. He is the 1960s peace symbol in human form tarnished, a bit dated, but still the chubby anti-Mercedesian ideal upon which many once hung their hopes for the future.
Moreover, the Dude is the torch-bearer in a long tradition of Dudeism that has been handed down through the ages, a spiritual heir of such luminaries as Lao Tzu, Heraclitus, and Charlie Browns dog Snoopy. After riding the movies manic rollercoaster of reversals and revelations, our hero offers up his last, unflappable adage: The Dude Abides. But against the terminal upheavals of mankinds history, true dudes have always abided. The reason for this is plain: Life is full of strikes and gutters. So fuck it, lets go bowling.
Lao Tzu: The Original Dude
The original dude, the O.D. if you will, was surely Lao Tzu, the author of the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu was so incredibly dudeish that no one is even sure if he existed or not. All that we know of him comes from a tale, possibly apocryphal, in which the great sage got fed up with Chinese civilization, and was asked to scribble down his accumulated wisdom before he split, never to be heard from again. Hardly a self-promoter, the ephemeral Lao Tzu never really engendered an iconography virtually the only enduring image of him can be found in a painting called The Vinegar Tasters. And this picture says a thousand words a sum not much greater than in the entire Tao Te Ching, in fact.
In the painting, the three prime movers of Chinese religion are found sticking their fingers in a pot of vinegar and tasting it. The Buddha finds it bitter, that it represents the suffering of mankind. Confucius finds it sour, a symbol of the corrupted state of the world since the legendary Chinese golden age. But Lao Tzu is grinning from ear to ear. To his palate, it is marvelous. If nothing else, vinegar is a crucial ingredient in that most allegorical of Chinese condiments: sweet and sour sauce. All sunshine all the time makes the desert goes the Arab proverb. And all sugar all the time, Lao Tzu knew, will make your teeth fall out.
Heraclitus: The Classical Dude
In contrast with Lao Tzu, Heraclitus was a rather dour dude, but a dude nonetheless. Where Lao Tzus element was water (everything flows), Heraclitus was fire (everything burns). The underlying attitude was similar drink and be merry, and smoke if you got em, respectively. Like Lao Tzu vis-à-vis the Confucians, Heraclitus was responding to a rigidly hierarchical Greek society which put absolute faith in its leaders and manmade laws. Heraclitus and Lao Tzu put their faith in the natural world, and the world of ideas instead. Additionally, they were both late sleepers.
Virtually all Western Dudeism can be traced to the man who said in his single surviving document On Nature, You cannot step into the same river twice an early incarnation of our modern go with the flow maxim. Like Lao Tzu, he also stressed that (and I am paraphrasing here) we need to chill out, take it easy, roll with the punches, and everything will be as copasetic as can be under the circumstances. Heraclitus held that the world was an ever-shifting union of opposites (compare this with the Chinese Yin-Yang) and that our greatest challenge was to perceive the world without bias (a basic principle of all eastern philosophies).
Truly, placing Heraclitus and Lao Tzu side by side its hard to imagine they arent the same dude. Both come to us via a single similarly naturalistic document, both lived from about 550 to 480 B.C, and both favored rather monstrous facial hair, at least in drawings.
From these two Dudefathers, it could be said, all subsequent global Dudeism has sprung. The supremely dudesque novelist (he took drugs once and wrote about it) Aldous Huxley coined the term Perennial Philosophy to refer to the many similar religions and ideas that popped up around the same time in mans history: that of Taoism, Buddhism, Yogism, Christianity, Greek philosophy, etc.
He pointed out that this rebel shrug has endured through the subsequent ages in one shape or form, despite dictatorial efforts to curtail it.
Throughout history, secret societies of dudes, cabals of proto-modern bongo-players and players of the French game of boules kept the flame of Dudeism alive while the world around them seemed eager to snuff it out. As the Dudes quixotic sidekick Walter admonishes a bowling adversary who has broken the rules: You are entering a world of pain! Mark it zero. Confronted with this inflexible and unfeeling existence, the Dude in all of us will acquiesce, slyly scribbling a peace sign where a zero might otherwise suffice.
He who gently yields is the disciple of life, wrote Lao Tzu. That is to say, he abides.
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