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Book Review: 'The Dude And The Zen Master'


A new book exploring Zen Buddhism comes from an unlikely place, Hollywood. And the Zen master at the center of the book is the cardigan-wearing, White Russian-swilling Jeff Lewbowski.

Reviewer Adam Frank explains.

ADAM FRANK, BYLINE: You know, The Dude.

JEFF BRIDGES: That or His Dudeness or Duder or, you know, El Duderino - if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

FRANK: Now, if you think the Dude, the main character in "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 Lewbowski 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 intention.

Their book's gentle conceit is to use The Dude and his response to situations thrown out in "The Big Lewbowski," to impart the essence of Zen's promise. With chapter titles ranging from "The Dude is Not In" to "Sorry, I Wasn't Listening," they show us The Dude is a kind of intuitive Zen master. I dig The Dude, says Bridges at one point in the book. He's 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, he shows up. And in Zen that is what really matters, just showing up. 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.

Having experienced my share own 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 that aspect of Zen but that's OK. Glassman and Bridge are trying to show us that the real truth is we have no other choice. We, like The Dude, must always learn to abide.


CORNISH: "The Dude and the Zen Master," written by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman, and reviewed by Adam Frank. His most recent book is called "About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.