Here is another chapter of my never-finished book The Zen of Godzilla. When I write a book about Zen, I don’t write the chapters in order. Instead, I write a bunch of essays based on the theme of the book. Then later on, I try to figure out what order to put them in. In any case, I think maybe this would have been chapter two.

Reading this again ten years later, I can see what went wrong with the book. It was really hard to connect Godzilla with the concepts from Zen that I wanted to write about! I worried there wouldn’t be enough stuff about Godzilla to keep the Godzilla fans entertained, and that Zen fans wouldn’t be all that interested in parts of the book about Godzilla. The connection between the Godzilla stuff and the Zen stuff in this chapter seems really loose to me.

Also, like the previous chapter that I put up on this blog, this chapter also lacks a proper ending. That’s also part of my writing process. I generally don’t write endings to my chapters until I know what chapter is going to go next. Once I know what comes next, I can write a paragraph or two that connects the subject of one chapter to the subject of the chapter that follows.

Anyhow, here’s a little more of The Zen of Godzilla!

In 1999, Toho films in Japan decided to take back the Godzilla franchise after the debacle that was the 1998 US-made Godzilla movie. They produced their own all-new all-Japanese Godzilla film, called Godzilla 2000: Millennium, for release in Japan. The film also made its way stateside a year later in a dubbed version supervised by Michael Schlesinger of Sony Pictures. Unlike Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich who directed the 1998 film, Schlesinger is a true Godzilla fan. Although Devlin and Emmerich had claimed to be fans of the Japanese Godzilla films, any true fan who watched their Godzilla movie could tell were actually only very loosely acquainted with a few they had seen on TV.

Schlesinger’s dubbing of Godzilla 2000: Millennium, whose title was shortened to simply Godzilla 2000 for US release, was a brilliant and witty tribute to the kaiju movie genre. Near the end of this version of the film, after Godzilla has just defeated a menacing alien creature bent upon destroying Planet Earth, a character asks, “Why does he (Godzilla) keep protecting us?” Another character answers, “Maybe because there’s a little Godzilla inside all of us.”

Almost every review of the US-version of Godzilla 2000 points out this line and makes fun of the dubbers for adding it. In fact, it’s one of the most insightful lines of dialog in the entire Godzilla series. And, like Raymond Burr’s similarly insightful closing dialogue that was added to the American version of the film Godzilla 1985, it shows that sometimes the American distributors actually do understand what Godzilla is all about.

People who know just a little about Eastern philosophy often like to throw around the phrase “all is one.” It’s one of those things wanna-be “spiritual” types who like to try to impress people with being into Eastern religions often throw around as if they know what it means. Really they usually don’t have a clue in the world.

Buddhist philosophy does indeed contain the notion that the entire universe is actually a single living organism, that we are not really eternally separate individuals but parts of this incredible vast intelligent oneness. Buddhism teaches us that none were ever born so none can ever die. Isn’t that sweet?

But Buddhism also teaches that we are separate individuals with our own unique histories, our own unique perspectives, our own unique being. It says that we were born and we will die and that once we’re dead we stay dead forever.

Yes. You read that right. Buddhism is completely and utterly contradictory. This is one of the major reasons why so many people have such a hard time understanding it. This lack of understanding isn’t limited to Western people. Even in nominally Buddhist countries like Japan lots and lots of people have no idea what Buddhism is really all about.

The contradictory nature of Buddhism is the fruits of an effort by generations of Buddhist teachers to try to create a philosophy that truly mirrors reality. The human mind is designed to interpret the data it receives by chopping up reality into small bite size chunks that can be set apart from each other.  The human mind exists to allow us to analyze reality and make choices about what to do in the situations we face.

We don’t like contradictions. My teacher Gudo Nishijima Roshi wrote a book called Understanding The Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo is a famous book by the 12th century Japanese Buddhist philosopher Dogen Zenji. In his book about Dogen’s book, my teacher says, “We generally feel that a book in which the writer contradicts him/herself is of little value. This is largely because our modern civilization has grown to be vast and powerful from the thousands of years over which human beings have developed logical and exact ways to process and control their environment. The intellect has become king. Human beings have used their powers of reasoning to develop a whole field of intellectual and moral studies to guide our progress through history. And in recent times, we have applied our reasoning powers to exact scientific study of our world, based on belief in causal laws. So in today’s world, in both philosophy and science, anyone who puts foreword contradictory propositions is soon passed over. Writings that are not logically consistent are disregarded by scholars and serious students. They are unacceptable to our finely-tuned intellects.”

Nishijima Roshi then says, “From our common intellectual viewpoint, logical contradiction can never be permitted. But Master Dogen seemed to have two viewpoints: the normal intellectual viewpoint of the philosopher, and another viewpoint; one that looked at problems based on something outside the intellectual area. Now whether philosophical thought should admit the existence of an area other than the intellectual area as a basis for debate is perhaps the crux of the problem with Buddhist philosophy and the Shobogenzo.”

Dogen isn’t the only Buddhist philosopher to make use of contradictions. But Dogen may, in fact, be the most frustratingly contradictory writer in all of Buddhism.

Nishijima Roshi expresses it this way. “Reality cannot be captured in words. From Gautama Buddha’s time onwards Buddhists have made their efforts to capture reality in words, and this I feel is the basic reason for the tremendous volume and variety of Buddhist sutras that have come down to us. Master Dogen was no exception. He too tried the impossible. This is the reason why the Shobogenzo appears so difficult to explain; this is the reason for the contradictions contained therein. Master Dogen is not trying to construct a self-contained intellectual theory. He is trying to use all the tools of philosophy and logic to point to something else; something beyond them all. In the area of reason and logic alone, we cannot embrace systems of though containing gross contradiction. But reality itself contains contradiction. We experience those contradictions for ourselves at every moment. So an intellectual description of reality must find room for those contradictions, however unacceptable that may feel to our intellectual powers.”

Reality is contradictory. Our brains are meant to help us sort out the contradictory information we receive from reality. Our brains are unable to grasp what reality actually is, no matter how hard we try. Our philosophies and religions fail us when they try to encompass reality in terms our intellects can accept and work with. 

The way the Zen philosophy gets around that is by presenting us with contradictions that cannot be resolved intellectually. Early Western writers on Zen often misunderstood these as riddles designed to get us to go beyond logical thinking into some vague and mystical area. But in fact the contradictions in Zen philosophy represent an entirely different type of logic. They’re perfectly rational, but not in the way we usually think.

I’ll leave further discussion of this point for later. What I’d like to focus on here is the Buddhist concept of universal oneness.  The problem for most people with the idea of oneness is that we have a lifelong habit of conceiving of things in terms of subject and object. So when we hear about universal oneness we immediately imagine a situation in which we, as subject, might experience the oneness of the entire universe as an object.

But this is an absurd idea. We, ourselves, are part of this oneness and cannot be removed from it in order to see it objectively. In Genjo Koan, his most famous piece of writing, Dogen says, “To learn the Buddha’s truth is to learn ourselves. To learn ourselves is to forget ourselves. To forget ourselves is to be experienced by the myriad dharmas. To be experienced by the myriad dharmas is to let our own body and mind, and the body and mind of the external world, fall away. There is a state in which the traces of realization are forgotten; and it manifests the traces of forgotten realization for a long, long time.”

So oneness is not an object that we can possess, like going to the video store and buying a DVD of a favorite Godzilla film. The Buddha Way is nothing other than ourselves. And yet it is far bigger than the limited thing we usually conceive of ourselves as. 

So is there a little Godzilla in all of us? Dogen would probably agree that there is. Godzilla is a manifestation of what we are. Everything we encounter is, in some sense, a manifestation of ourselves. But Godzilla also has an independent reality of his own.



September 1, 2021 LECTURE Turku, Finland (more information coming soon)

September 2-5, 2021 RETREAT Hämeenlinna, Finland

September 8-12, 2021 BENEDIKTUSHOF RETREAT near Wurzburg, Germany

September 15, 2021 LECTURE at LibrairieAlmora Paris, France

September 18-19, 2021 TALK and more in the Ashram de Gilles Farcet, Angles-sur-l’Anglin, France