Our culture abounds in more or less explicit references to Buddhism or Zen. Here we will mention a few.
Do you remember Leonard Cohen? Many people were moved by his songs, from Suzanne to Halleluja. Well, Cohen was ordained as a Zen monk in August 1996. He started practicing in the early 70s under Sasaki Roshi, an old Japanese master who was famous for his particularly strict Rinzai Zen style. When he was ordained, Cohen was given the name Jikan, the Silent One. Having followed the teachings of the Soto school before venturing along the Rinzai path, the first koan he received from his master was: 'How do you express Shikantaza when you look at a flower?' In June 1999, Jikan left the Mount Baldy monastery, where he had lived beside his master and 'made soup for him everyday'. He now lives in Los Angeles and is working on his next album. It will be interesting to see whether the Zen spirit transpires from these songs. But then, haven't his songs always had something special and subtle that touched our inner self?
References to Japan and Samurai stories are obvious in all the movies of the saga. However many probably don't know that George Lukas practiced Zen in Los Angeles under the guide of Maezumi Roshi. The character of the wise Joda, the little 'great' Jedi master, is inspired by Maezumi himself. Sentences such as "there is no trying; there is either doing or not doing" come directly from Roshi's teachings. Given the director's interest, one may also wonder whether when Obi Uan Kenobi exhorts his young disciple, Luke, to "follow the Force," he is in fact referring to the energy of the Ultimate Nature (or Buddha nature) of which, according to Zen, all is a manifestation.
"Aquarius, the age of Aquarius." The film that became a symbol of the 60s and 70s counterculture begins with a tribute to the new age, the new era. Yet, in the unforgettable choreography there is also another tribute: the dancers' sinuous movements are inspired by Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi traditional exercises called Tai Shou or 'pushing hands.'
Don't worry, Zen doesn't say we are slaves of machines that keep us prisoners in a virtual world and suck our vital energy! However Zen does tell us that we are living in a dream. Life, as we normally perceive it, is nothing more than an illusion from which we need to wake up in order to be truly free. "Buddha" means "the Enlightened One," and in the same way that Neo wanders through the world of illusions and awakes all the beings in Matrix, so did Buddha. Similarly, like taking the red pill in the film, it is only by practicing Zazen that the illusions that surround us will be revealed and we may attain full freedom or Satori. Only then will it be possible to interact freely with the illusionary phenomenal world, and evade all the 'bullets' that are shot at us everyday.
Have you ever noticed that cats sit quietly and meditate? Well, T.S. Eliot did too and wrote The Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which later inspired the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the beginning of the show, the cats explain to the audience that "(...) when you notice a cat in profound meditation, the reason, I tell you, is always the same: his mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought of his name; his ineffable effable effanineffable deep and inscrutable singular Name". This is very similar to a Zen koan that monks contemplate in meditation: what is your true face? What is your true nature? The cats then meet to determine which of them will be reborn in the Heaviside Layer, the 'other' dimension full of wonders. This reminds us of the Buddhist idea of reincarnation (Deuteronomy, the great master of cats, is said to have lived many lives) and of final liberation or Nirvana, the absolute and blissful dimension.