Can a book have “Buddha nature”? Since The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Creator of El Topo is about the spiritual journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the director of the cult movies El Topo, The Rainbow Thief, and The Holy Mountain, and since part of his spiritual journey involved his experiences with the Zen Buddhist monk Ejo Takata, the question of whether or not a book can have Buddha nature is not perhaps an irrelevant one. Asking it is paraphrasing one of the koans (questions designed to provoke deep inner introspection and ultimately a state of enlightenment) which Zen masters often ask their students. The one it paraphrases is: “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” The answer I would give is: “It is what it is.” Which, if correct or not, might be all that would be required and the rest of this review would be a blank space. Words are just words, after all, not the essence of what they represent.
But I will take the possibly perverse view that since words are, for better or worse, what we generally use to communicate thoughts and ideas with, I will use words and give a somewhat more in-depth idea here about what Jodorowsky’s book is like.
It is a memoir of his experiences with Master Ejo Takata and the group of wise women magicians who influenced his spiritual growth. As such, it is a true and accurate portrayal - at least, relatively speaking, as everything is more or less relative. The author experiences the events in the book and relates his interpretations of them, so the things he sees and reports are “true”. To someone else experiencing the same things, his/her interpretations and conclusions would likely be different, though also “true”. In this way, and also in that some of what Alejandro experiences during his spiritual journey - though revelatory - are alcohol and/or drug influenced, this book reminds me a lot of the books of Carlos Casteneda.
Each of us follows a spiritual path of some sort, and makes choices concerning our beliefs - or, making the choice of not believing in any other explanation of reality than that which science provides. So, whether or not you have gone through or felt the sorts of things Jodorowsky has, involving illuminating revelations and insights due to the profound wisdom of the Zen monk Takata and the seemingly magical powers of the influential women he encountered, the memoir is still a fascinating read.
One of the women who influences his spiritual journey is Leonora Carrington, a poetess/artist he’s directed to by Takata while living in Mexico City. The woman is intelligent and witty, had been the mistress of the painter Max Ernst, and has also undergone “a crisis of madness.” But, just as indigenous peoples worldwide have often respected and believed in the visions of shamans, many of Leonora’s friends and acquaintances find a profundity in her poems, art and life. In a letter to Jodorowsky, she writes:
I have discovered the marvelous qualities of my shadow. Lately it has been
detaching itself from me by virtue of its powers of flight. Sometimes it leaves
wet footprints. But I confess: I constantly sleep wrapped in it, and the moments
when I am able to awaken are rare.
This book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for anyone who enjoys reading memoirs about truly interesting and influential people, this is definitely a book to check out. Jodorowsky’s surrealist films have stood the test of time, like all good art does, and among his other interests, he is a playwright, composer, mime, and a psychotherapist. If you like books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the Carlos Casteneda books, and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, or any other books about a person’s search for enlightenment and the meaning of life, then likewise, this book is sure to appeal to you.