THE TAO OF THE DUDE
3. Dude Vagabond,
Secret Agent, Man
By Oliver Benjamin
Some of you (hopefully not the editors) may have asked yourselves by now, Why is this regular column on Dudeism printed in this newspaper? The fact that youre probably wondering this while hanging out in a hammock, sipping a banana shake while listening to mellow Jack Johnson tunes might supply a clue. Also, youre probably wearing flip flops. Et tu, Dudeist?
Though the little town of Pai in Northern Thailand might not exactly be Dude Jerusalem (figuratively speaking I mean there are enough Israeli backpackers here for that to qualify), it must be considered a sacred and historical spot in Duderonomy. So what happened here to put it on the Dudeist via mellowrosa?
Absolutely nothing at all. In fact, so much nothing at all takes place here every day that it should immediately be conferred Dudeist UNESCO status. Since one of the hallowed mottoes of Dudeism is What day is it? Is this a weekday? this town beyond time, beyond nationality, and beyond drinking laws offers the perfect place to study and develop the fledgling science and religion of Dudeism. And we should all get right on that immediately. Perhaps after an invigorating nap.
Truly, there is no greater force for Dude evangelism than the crusades of backpackers presently fanning out all over the face of the earth. Carrying their little blue bibles and dressed in Velcro sandals with sackcloth sarongs they in fact resemble modernized desert prophets, albeit ones who receive their inspiration from their iPods rather than sky Gods. Their aim and message to the people of the earth? It is nice to meet you. In what manner do you fashion your pancakes? Allow me to pay you for some. It is a true and profound dispatch of peace and mutual exchange. Along with the tortilla, the blintz, the roti and the crêpe one must encounter the fragmented and forlorn soul of humanity. The fork on the plate is the fork in the road.
It is important to note, however, that one must not make the common error of mistaking dudes for hippies. Hippies are merely naïve bands of sentimentalists who smoke too much ganja. Backpacking dudes, on the other hand, are independent, well-informed, and cynical enough to know that people and things arent intrinsically all good. Many of them also smoke too much ganja, but thats another story. It might be said that dudes are realists who rebel against excess idealism, whereas hippies are idealists who rebel against excess reality. Thus the Dude mandate is the same as Voltaires, Samuel Johnsons and Thoreaus: Tend to your own little garden and mend your neighbors fence. Hippies, on the other hand, think the entire world is a boundless garden, and then get disappointed when people shoot at them for trespassing. This would be a great time to bring up Adam and Eve, but Dudeists dont believe that shit ever happened.
In his 1937 Book, The Importance of Living, Chinese-born philosopher Lin Yutang recognized the scamp (vagabond) as the last living hope for humanity. Yet for many, its hard to understand how lazing about by a river while flipping through a bad translation of the Bhagavad Gita could ever be construed as a heroic act. Thats only because most people watch too many Hollywood movies. In the average tinseltown action pic the hero is just as singleminded as he is simpleminded. He doesnt know much, but he knows whats right, and furthermore he has the biceps and artillery to logically support his self-evident and circular philosophy. When it comes to American foreign policy, then, does life imitate art? If so, should we?
Of course not. The reason people find enjoyment in the false heroism of big budget films is because humans are creatures designed for conflict. People everywhere love a good struggle, and everyone thinks theyre on the right side of every argument. No one wants to openly admit it, but its hard to identify the animated engagement most people displayed during the 2001 attacks on the U.S. with anything other than sheer exhilaration Americans included. There are many great war novels, not so many great peace novels. What value does life have, after all, if you dont have to fight for it?
Plenty. 2500 years ago, during the calamitous warring states period in China, the greatest Dude of all, Lao Tzu retreated from civilization out into the country so that he could get away from all the ruckus and presumably eat some early incarnation of the banana pancake. But Lao Tzu was no hippie. His pièce de résistance of peace, The Tao te Ching is riddled with advice on how to overcome a wartime enemy. Invariably it is done by not falling into your enemys trap, redirecting his aggression, or avoiding it altogether. Water was Lao Tzus favorite element and metaphor; its what you fight fire with, after all, and a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of beer. Evidently, he preferred its latter role. According to his philosophy, Taoism, fighting will generally get you nowhere aggression only begets aggression. An unfed flame will ultimately burn itself out. Lao Tzu, supposedly a former high-ranking subordinate of Confucius, left the generals to their firefights and chose to seek bliss where it grew naturally, somewhere out in the Chinese boondocks, someplace probably very much like the small, unassuming little village of Pai only, without the local military base poised to annihilate nearby Burma.
It is telling that Lao Tzu had to convince people that taking it easy was a good thing to do. Not much has changed since then. To this day people need to be continually reminded that nature is beautiful and that the good life consists not in collecting products and assets but in acquiring memories and friends. Over the last two millennia The Tao te Ching has been translated into every language on earth, has been read by billions, and still few actually ever take its suggestions to heart. Then again, its quite a thing (some might even say heroic) to go against the current of civilization. And this is why Pai, and other backpacker burgs the world over beckon to Dudes everywhere searching strenuously for an idlers idyll. Its not such an easy thing to take it easy.
An obvious objection to this, of course, one that has always been leveled against Dudeism, concerns economics. Pai-bound dudes are artificially wealthy. Neither the comparatively well-to-do Thais who visit or set up languid cafés here, nor the streams of vacationing foreigners have ever had to toil a day of their life in the Pais signature picturesque paddy fields. They were all born into privilege. This is a serious allegation: Just as its easy to be a holy man sitting on top of a mountain, its also easy to be a dude sitting on a pile of cash.
This overlooks the fact that Lao Tzu himself was a nobleman, as was nearly every other founder of a religion, from Zarathustra to the Buddha, to Moses to L. Ron Hubbard, before running away to the wilderness in search of an abiding value system. Hence, the legacy of Dudeism. As mentioned in last months column, the term dude was originally coined to describe upper-class and educated city slickers who shrugged off their birthright in favor of a metaphysical rebirth out on the western frontier of civilization. Picasso once suggested that one must know intimately what to rebel against before rebellion is possible. Otherwise every squiggle is a revolution.
There is a potentially worrisome consequence to all this, of course that the above principle excludes our neighborly rice farmers from the hallowed hovels of Dudeism. Yet this is manifestly wrong. For they are our apostles and poets, our Johns-the-Baptist, our Gilgameshes and grail-keepers. We owe our salvation and our inspiration to the tradition-bound locals. Though we may not know exactly what it is theyre doing, and some of us may be too lazy or drunk to care, the Dudeist community of Pailand ought to remember this always: their resilience, organic wisdom, and intimate understanding of the natural world are things we all should aspire to become better acquainted with.
And we shall indeed. Very soon. Right after a nice nap.