Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Dharma of Wile E Coyote

When I was a kid, and even now, I enjoyed the simplicity of watching Wile E Coyote chase the Road Runner week after week, always failing in spectacular ways. Until today, I had never thought much about the dharma lessons inherent in these classic cartoons.

Road Runner & Wile E Coyote - Episode 20 - Lickety Splat (1961)

This may seem self-evident, and somewhat simplistic, but Coyote exemplifies the suffering we accrue through unhealthy attachments of any kind, but in his case, to catching the tasty Road Runner. Coyote is so attached to eating the Road Runner that he repeatedly does stupid things in an effort to satisfy his craving.

Like many versions of the Coyote story, he is a trickster figure -- very innovative in the ways he chases the evasive Road Runner, but always a victim of his own obsessions and creativity. And like all trickster tales, Coyote teaches a valuable lesson. In this case, Coyote is teaching us the truth of the first two Noble Truths:

1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha):
"Now this ... is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."

2. Suffering's Origin (Samudaya):
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."

We are not much different. Whenever we become attached to some outcome, or some craving, we open ourselves to suffering. We all do this in various ways, often without the dire consequences Coyote suffers, but the lesson is the same -- attachment and craving cause suffering.

Even when we see Coyote (known here as Wile E Coyote, Genius) with Bugs Bunny, there is a valuable lesson to be learned about the destructive power of ego:

Operation Rabbit (1952)

Being a Genius doesn't help much, either. In fact, being attached to that identify causes Coyote to suffer at the hands of the other trickster, Bugs Bunny. Like Coyote, many of us are attached to whatever identity we hold dear, and this attachment to ego is an endless source of suffering.

Who would have thought that cartoons could teach dharma lessons? I had never considered it until today, and clearly this is very simple look at a very simple cartoon, but it seems that dharma lessons are all around us, just waiting to be seen.

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