The Dudely Lama Discusses Dudeism
By Jason Tabrys
It was a failure by fiscal standards, but more than 13 years after its release The Big Lebowski is still making its mark, a cult movie favorite and the inspiration for an honest to goodness religion known as Dudeism.
What is Dudeism and what is it about its belief system that has attracted tens of thousands of Lebowski fans and true believers to the Dudeist way? I asked Church of the Latter-Day Dude co-founder and author of both “The Dude De Ching“ and the upcoming “The Abide Guide”, Oliver Benjamin (aka The Dudely Lama) what all the noise was about.
Q: An outside observer might look at Dudeism and think that it is representative of a slacker nirvana; strict drug regimens, and meandering, general give-not-a-fuckedness, how are they bruise deservingly mistaken?
The Dudely Lama: You say that like it was a bad thing! But yes, even though The Big Lebowski, and hence, Dudeism, might seem at first glance to glorify drugs, laziness, and apathy, the truth is far deeper than that.
What the film, and the religion it spawned glorify is the notion of personal freedom, a “rebel shrug” that says “fuck it” to the pressures heaped upon us by modern society, and a general skepticism about the received wisdom of civilization. If that engenders a bit of recreational pharmacology, languid relaxation and willful ignorance, well, then, who are we to pass judgment? It might just as well give rise to all sorts of energetic behavior, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Our frenzied society seems unnatural. Arguably, humans were meant to be a bit more laid back.
Q: Is The Big Lebowski the birth of Dudeism or the culmination of a way of being that has evolved over time? And a follow-up, in your own life, did you live in the way of The Dude absent a name for it or did the Big Lebowski alter you and the way you walk the planet?
The Dudely Lama: Dudeism isn’t exactly a culmination; so much as a modern incarnation of a way of being that has always existed, even if it hasn’t been actively promoted by the powers-that-be.
As far as my own life goes, I, like many other people spent most of my life grasping around in the dark for a meaningful “frame of reference” which would make the world easier to understand. I think I was always looking for Dudeism, and it eventually found me. Many of Dudeism’s followers say exactly the same thing. That makes me feel all warm inside.
Q: Another follow-up, has anything else inspired you to these heights? I mean slacker anti-heroes, non-conformists, aren’t a necessarily underused Hollywood archetype, what is it that makes Jeff Lebowski so much for you and, if you’re willing to offer an answer for them, your fellow believers?
The Dudely Lama: Slacker heroes have been around forever, but I think none have been imbued with the pathos and providence that the Dude is. Whereas most have been mere hedonists, the Dude is a true humanist. I can’t see people upholding Cheech and Chong or Happy Gilmore as paragons of moral virtue. Again, the thing that makes the Dude lovable isn’t his laziness per se, but his courage to be lazy, despite all the pressure from those around him to “make something” of his life.
Q: You said once, “Oddly enough, I’d long wanted to start a religion”, that’s a unique life desire, one usually restricted to the head chambers of shouty street folk, you are not shouty street folk, clearly, but what makes this so palatable to the masses? Is it the blend of Eastern religion and the words of The Dude that you have so keenly sewn together or is it based on the appeal of The Big Lebowski, based on fans of that film wanting to continue their relationship with the character?
The Dudely Lama: Definitely the former. I love the character of the Dude, but he’s really just a perfect vehicle to espouse a magnificent philosophy and manner. I can’t think of any character since Lao Tzu or Epicurus (though the latter was a real person) who so perfectly transmit this ethos to a world so desperately in need of it. But again, he is the medium, not the message. That’s true of all the other world religious prophets (Jesus, Buddha, etc), I believe, though most of their followers seem to have overlooked or ignored this.
Q: Why a religion, why not just a way of being? Not to delve into the electrified, various incarnations of upstairs/downstairs worship, but religion is, in part about rules and fences, “thou shalt not’s” and the like, “being easy” isn’t necessarily a natural state. Do you think Jeff Lebowski would be an ordained Dudeist or is abiding by someone else’s Tao Un-Dude?
The Dudely Lama: The problem is merely semantic. It’s virtually impossible to define what a religion is and is not. It’s only in the West that religions are associated with hard and fast rules and otherworldly sky-gods. In the East, religion takes on a much broader panoply of forms and incarnations.
Dudeism is at heart an Eastern-style religion, similar in many ways to Taoism, Yogism and Zen Buddhism. However, the real reason we choose to see it as a religion is because it is communal at heart. And how many philosophies engender community or brotherly feeling between their members? Not many, if any at all.
Also, philosophies tend to be esoteric and/or specific. Religions like Dudeism are the opposite: humanistic and general they are worldviews for our time and place. They really tie our ruminations together. They are our answer for everything. We tattoo them on the inside of our foreheads, so to speak. They allow us to feel connected to the world, and each other. Compeers, you know?
To learn more about Dudeism and Oliver Benjamin check out the Church of Latter-Day Dude’s official site here (http://www.dudeism.com). The “Abide Guide” is available for pre-order via Amazon.com, while you’re there take a look at the just released Big Lebowski Limited Edition Blu-Ray and find your dudely way, or don’t…Nihilist.