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Каміль Скайсбрук. Селінджер та дзен-буддизм

Кілька коротких есе про зв'язок творчості Селінджера з дзен-буддизмом.

Camille Scaysbrook
The Relationship Between the Writings of JD Salinger and Zen Buddism

Often the first thing a reader of Salinger's writings will ask him or her self after reading one of his stories is "What did that mean? What was the point behind my journey?". As one critic puts it "Salinger's mode of Zen Buddhism offers for this uneasy and unresolved conflict".

The teacher/student relationship is integral to Zen Buddhism. Often Salinger's characters will play the part of teacher, while we the student, and/or another character will recieve from them (and their author) a koan to solve and thus reach our next stage of enlightenment.

This is very much the case in "The Catcher in the Rye". While it appears in the second last chapter that Holden Caulfield has achieved his moment of enlightenment; his nirvana, in the last page-long chapter Holden tells us "that's all I'm going to tell you" and proceeds to ask the kind of questions which have plagued him throughout the book. It seems that he has returned to square one, and that is the last glimpse we recieve of him. However, we realise that the fact that Holden's quest never ends is an end in itself. Like the Buddhist cycle he has been reborn and given a new start, and we realise through this that like Holden, we have undergone a learning experience.

Examining our mind's reactions to this seeming irrelevance, we realise that with extreme subtlety, the the story has, like the Zen koan, stimulated the mind into other planes of thought to the ones we are used to, and as with the koan we are compelled to find an answer within apparent non - logic.

One of the main ways Salinger uses this student / teacher relationship to express his spirituality is to equate his characters to various real religious figures and principles, in a way updating their teachings to educate a modern audience who, like Holden, do not realise until after the journey how much they have learned.

The Similarity Between Salinger's Characters and Prominent Religious Figures

There has always been speculation on just how autobiographical Salinger's stories and characters are. The media has undertaken many exhaustive searches for the details that will conclusively prove that he is in fact Buddy Glass, Sergeant X or Holden Caulfield. In fact, a letter supposedly exists wherein J.D. Salinger admits that Holden is a portrait of himself as a young adult. However, it is also easy to find the religious figures he embraces in his spiritual life imbued in the characters he creates in his writing life. Sybil of "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is an obvious example, her name itself meaning in ancient times a mystic or seer. But Holden Caulfield is the most intriguing, and the similarities between himself and various religious figures irrefutable.

Like Buddha, Holden recieves his flash of enlightenment after "meditating" amongst wild animals (at the Zoo). He recieves it not at a river, but in the rain, water being a baptismal symbol in many religions - he says

"My hunting hat really did give me a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn't care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around."

Holden says at the conclusion of the second last chapter, as he witnesses his sister who he has worried about being exposed to the harshness of adult life and change, sitting happily on the carousel - itself a "cycle".

The Use of Techniques of Zen Buddhist Writings in Salinger's Writings

Salinger also uses the techniques of Zen Buddhist writings in his own writings. Often, as stated before, his stories are koans which the reader is beseeched to solve. But he has also been quoted as saying in relation to his writing (and before "Catcher" was published) "I'm a dash man, not a miler. I will probably never write a novel.") He is more content with short story writing - a method of writing characterised by its compactness of narration and message. And one important aspect of Zen is to "convey the message in as few words as possible". One of the Four Statements of Zen is "no dependence on words and letters", and Salinger's message always comes across in the most direct way possible and always with the feeling that the rationality of words can never wholly describe his message - as one critic puts it "When the gesture aspires to pure religious expression, language reaches into silence". The attraction of the koan (and the Japanese haiku poem, another of Salinger's fixations which is named after the great koan writer Haikun) is its compactness, its emotional detachment yet quiet passion - qualities best characterised by the term "moksha". Moshka is a state of impersonal compassion, an attempt to avoid worldliness and replace it with an effortless and continuous love. And this is the main aim of nearly all of Salinger's characters. One book puts it as "a condition of being without losing our identity, at one with the universe, and it requires... a certain harmony between our imaginitive and spiritual responsiveness to all things." This is an almost perfect description of the aims of Salinger as a writer and his characters as people. They crave a oneness and sense from the nonsense-koan that is the world, but instead are hindered by the human egos of themselves and those around them. This is the spiritual search Salinger expresses in his writing.

The Story of Sri Ramakrishna

At the age of sixteen he went to Calcutta but was disgusted by the materialistic ideals of the people of the great metropolis. He eventually became a priest in the Dakenshineswar Temple and practically without the help of any teacher obtained the vision of God.

The Story of Gautama Buddha

At the age of sixteen Gautama faced the reality of adulthood. His family was rich and he lived a life of luxury but was not satisfied by it and made a journey. For 6 years he wandered the Ganges, learning from famous religious teachers, none of which satisfied him. Meditating by the river Neranjara after years of meditation in a forest full of wild animals, he suddenly experienced unexpected and indescribable enlightenment. He realised that once a man stops trying to control his life and environment, and attempting the impossible, he feels liberated from the everlasting round of birth and death.

The Story of The Catcher in the Rye

A sixteen year old boy named Holden Caulfield (the son of wealthy parents) runs away from school to his home in New York. Wandering the city alone, he is disillusioned by the superficiality of it and its citizens. However, it is through witnessing his young sister Phoebe going round and round on a merry-go-round after a trip to the zoo that he recieves any sort of answer or joy, not from the advices of the school teachers, girl friend and other acquaintances he meets along the way.


Aerius 2003