Tag Archives: religion

The zen of Coop


A damn fine cup of coffee.

“The idea of zen it so catch life as it flows.” D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

PRIMARILY IN THE FIRST SEASON of Twin Peaks, the show, through FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), introduces its viewers to Buddhism via Cooper’s obsession with Tibet. I can’t speak to Cooper’s actions with regards to the more traditional aspects of Buddhism (Dale Cooper and Buddhism is interesting if you are interested in that). However, I happened to recently re-watch the series while I was simultaneously reading D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, and the similarities between Suzuki’s words and Cooper’s actions were striking.

The main idea of Zen Buddhism is that all truth can be found in the moment. The past doesn’t exist, nor does the future. Only by focusing on what one is doing right now can enlightenment be found. There is no enlightenment in the external. It is found within.

Cooper often embodies this idea of being all in on the moment. The primary example would be Coop’s sincere adoration for a good cup of coffee. It isn’t a need for the caffeinated energy rush. It isn’t about satisfying a thirsty palate. It is about that moment when that hot, earthy liquid makes first contact with the lips, warming the tongue and throat before comfortably resting in the belly. When Coop takes the first sip, it isn’t unusual for him to, say, lift his hand to stop all action and commentary around him, so that he can focus on that one, lone, simple action, because at that moment that is where he both wants to be and should be. There is no fear, no hate, no violence, no cases, no pressure, no clock, just a damn fine cup of coffee and a clear mind.

Joshu once asked a new monk: “Have you ever been here before?” The monk answered, “Yes, sir, I have.” Thereupon the master said, “Have a cup of tea.” Later on another monk came and asked him the same question, “Have you ever been here? “This time the answer was quite opposite. “I have never been here, sir.” The old master, however, answered just as before, “Have a cup of tea.” Afterwards the Inju (the managing monk of the monastery) asked the master, “How is it that you make the same offering of a cupe of tea no matter what a monks’ reply is?” The old master called out, “O Inju!” who at once replied, “Yes master.” Whereupon Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.” – An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

WHILE THAT’S THE MAIN EXAMPLE of the zen of Dale Cooper – in part because it is repeated frequently, particularly in season one – it’s not the only one. There’s a moment where Cooper and Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman are sitting in the police station, talking shop, when Coop reaches up and tweaks Truman jovially on the nose. It’s the kind of act that could seem demeaning or rude. But really, it’s an affectionate act between two men who have great respect for each other. For Coop, it’s also an affirmation of his living in that moment. While some reactions work in many situations – as the story of Joshu above shows – there are plenty of times when an act such as Cooper’s nose touch would be ludicrous or insulting, such as at the funeral of Laura Palmer or during the questioning of Mike and Bobby. And Coop, being a man of each moment, would have never considered tweaking Truman’s nose in those situations. But for that one second in that one place at that one time, it expressed his joy at being in a place he loved, doing the job he loved, and conversing with a friend and compatriot.

These may seem like minor actions, and maybe they are. But they are also indicators that Coop is a man who yearns to catch the flow of life. It is an interesting mindfulness that you don’t often see in characters from popular culture, one that helps make Coop – and Twin Peaks – unique.

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In the beginning …

What always draws me into Margaret Atwood’s work is her sense of humor. Yes, there’s no denying her abilities as a storyteller. From the speculative fiction of the Maddadam trilogy to the epic historical fic of The Blind Assassin, the Canadian has proven to be a masterful craftswoman when it comes to plot and is about as insightful a judge of character as you’re going to find.

But for me, what really keeps me reading Atwood, is her sense of humor. The Blind Assassin is a dark tale: Child sexual assault, possible incest, abortion, political and economic malfeasance, families broken and alienated, etc. It’s a long book and not an easy read. However, when Atwood shifts the perspective to that of elderly Iris, the narrator who is looking back on her life, the book finds its funny. Iris’s recognition of her own aging process and how it’s affecting her life is both stark and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. What really tickled my funny bone was Iris’s “hobby” of using public restrooms, in part to read what the kids have carved or marked into the stalls. It’s oddball in an endearing way, it works for the character and it really helps break up a hard story with an occasional chuckle.

In Maddadam, Atwood creates her own theology and mythology. By design, the Crakers were bred and raised apart from the corrupt world Crake eventually destroys. However, Crake misjudged what the post-floodless flood world would be. Yes, genetically, the Crakers are designed for the post-civilization landscape: No need for protien means eating pretty much anything that grows from the ground keeps you alive, no jealousy to drive wedges into the group dynamic, a rapid reproduction cycle, etc. But because some hard people fought through the global pandemic, the Crakers can at best be taken advantage of, at worst used, raped, tortured and killed.

So what do the Crakers need? Guns? Training? Nope, good, old new-fashioned religion, courtesy of Jimmy/Snowman and Toby, an ad man and an abused woman turned post-apocalyptic leader. Both to answer the questions about what has happened and how the Crakers now need to behave to live safely, Jimmy and Toby create their a mythology origin story casting Oryx and Crake as the all-knowing deities.

And while it sounds ludicrous – and in many ways, it is – it is precisely how religion began: An attempt by humans to explain the world around them without scientific knowledge or the necessary tools to examine the universe. In some cases, it worked. We see in the Bible in Numbers that Moses orders the soldiers who have conqured the Midianites to stay out of the camp for seven days to cleanse themselves. Think of battle then: Face to face, nose to nose, slicing off limbs, crushing skulls, breaking bones, all very personal and up close. After that sort of fighting, many of these soldiers were at least borderline PTSD. They need the silence, the prayer, the time to heal mentally before returning to society. It wasn’t called that, it wasn’t interpreted as that by the people of the time, it was framed as spiritual purification, but that’s what was really being observed and “treated.” On the other hand, belief in the power of the devil led lunatics to order the murder of girls in colonial Massachusetts.

Writer’s note: This was an unfinished post that I thought I had scheduled for a few weeks down the road. But apparently that was not the case. I’ll re-visit Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy at some point.

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Am I missing something?

How did Emperor Palpatine end up in charge of the Catholic Church? It’s a match made somewhere, but not likely in heaven …


Let me see if I have this straight …

If you do the good work of Christ, if you get down in the mud and filth in corners of this world most of us don’t know exist (let alone visit), if you care for the sick, feed the hungry, educate children, care for the sinners while condemning the sins, then you aren’t a good Catholic and you are to be condemned by the Church hierarchy. Bad nuns.

If you participate in the largest, most successful child-rape ring in the history of the world, if you obfuscate, lie and cover-up for the abusers, if you mock the pain of the abused by shipping their abusers elsewhere to abuse even more, then you are perfect children of God. Go priests.

And if you’re the guy who spends his entire career covering this up, making sure the abusers continue to abuse, making sure the abused receive no justice or retribution and generally do everything you can to make sure the cycle of abuse never ends while offering half-assed, insincere apologies once this all comes to light, then you get made the pope.

I guess my failure to understand this is why I have no regard for “organized” religion. Once we get around to “logical, compassionate, merciful” religion, though, I’ll be ready.

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