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Thread: Samuel Beckett koan

  1. #1

    Samuel Beckett koan

    I'm re-reading a book called Beckett and Zen, published by Wisdom about 30 years ago, and now out of print. Beckett has long been one of my favorite authors, well before I knew anything about zen, and one can easily argue that his works do elucidate many ideas found in zen.

    There's a well known quote from the novel Molloy, often cited as a way of saying what Beckett thought about his work, but on reflection, it seems like this is a wonderful zen koan:

    No symbols where none intended.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryumon View Post
    I'm re-reading a book called Beckett and Zen, published by Wisdom about 30 years ago, and now out of print. Beckett has long been one of my favorite authors, well before I knew anything about zen, and one can easily argue that his works do elucidate many ideas found in zen.

    There's a well known quote from the novel Molloy, often cited as a way of saying what Beckett thought about his work, but on reflection, it seems like this is a wonderful zen koan:

    No symbols where none intended.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    Ah! I thought perhaps this was the koan regarding hope that the next leap will be the leap home!

    Gassho, John.

    Sat/LAH
    "If you’re not sure, don’t act. Once you act, you wander through birth and death and regret" -Bodhidharma Bloodstream Sermon

    "Frog is a good example of our practice —when a frog sits he sits. He becomes a frog, Zen becomes Zen." -Suzuki

  3. #3
    Beckett is Buddha (as are all things, even Godot), but Beckett was not quite a Buddhist. On Beckett and Buddhism (from Tricycle):

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    As it happened, one of Beckett’s production assistants on the Endgame rehearsals was a puppeteer who had done several productions of Beckett plays with his puppets as cast. When rehearsals ended, there was a closing party, and he was asked to give a performance of Act without Words. As anyone knows who’s seen it, no Beckett play demonstrates better the

    Samuel Beckett sketch on buddhism
    Illustration by Barry Blitt
    consistency of his vision and the relentlessness with which he maintained it. It’s a silent, almost Keatonesque, litany about the futility of hope. A man sits beside a barren tree in what seems to be a desert, a blistering sun overhead. Suddenly, offstage, a whistle is heard and a glass of water descends. When he reaches for it, it’s raised until it’s just out of reach. He stretches and strains for it, but it rises to elude him once again. Finally, he gives up and resumes his position beneath the tree. A moment later, the whistle sounds again, and a stool descends to rekindle his hope. In a flurry of excitement, he mounts the stool, stretches, grasps, and watches the water rise beyond his reach again. A succession of whistles and offerings follow, each arousing his hope and dashing it until at last he ceases to respond. The whistle continues to sound, but he gives no sign of hearing it.

    Like so much Beckett, it’s the bleakest possible vision rendered in nearly slapstick comedy, and that evening, with Beckett himself and a number of children in the audience and an ingenious three-foot-tall puppet in the lead role, it had all of us, children included, laughing as if Keaton himself were performing it. When the performance ended, Beckett congratulated the puppeteer and his wife, who had assisted him, offering—with his usual diffidence and politeness—but a single criticism: “The whistle isn’t shrill enough.”

    As it happened, the puppeteer’s wife was a Buddhist, a follower of the path we’re pursuing in sesshin, the path to which Beckett himself paid homage in his early book on Proust, when he wrote, “The wisdom of all the sages, from Brahma to Leopardi . . . consists not in the satisfaction but the ablation of desire.” As a devotee and a Beckett admirer, she was understandably anxious to confirm what she, like many others, took to be his sympathies with her religion. In fact, not a few critical opinions had been mustered over the years, concerning his debt to Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, the Noh theater, all of it received—as it was now received from the puppeteer’s wife—with curiosity, appreciation, and absolute denial by the man it presumed to explain. “I know nothing of Buddhism,” he said. “If it’s present in this play, it is unbeknownst to me.”

    Once it had been asserted, however, there remained the possibility of unconscious predilection—innate Buddhism, so to speak—so the woman had another question, which had stirred in her mind, she said, since the first time she’d seen the play. “When all is said and done, isn’t this man, having given up hope, finally liberated?” Beckett looked at her with a pained expression. He’d had his share of drink that night, but not enough to make him forget his vision or push him beyond his profound resistance to hurting anyone’s feelings. “Oh no,” he said. “He’s finished.”

    ====

    Adapted from Four Men Shaking: Searching for Sanity with Samuel Beckett, Norman Mailer, and My Perfect Zen Teacher, by Lawrence Shainberg

    https://tricycle.org/magazine/beckett-buddhism/
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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