The Wizard of Oz as a Buddhist Parable

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

I had this flash of inspiration the other day, whereupon I realized that T'ien T'ai's teaching concerning the Five Periods of Shakyamuni Buddha's teaching and the Three Ages of the Law are clearly illustrated in the Wizard of Oz. I hope that others will find this helpful in their practice of Buddhism:

1. The story begins in a black and white Kansas with Dorothy, who is confronted by alienation, a mean old neighbor and a tornado. At this point Dorothy represents all of us common mortals confronted with suffering in this saha world. However, she is soon deposited in Munchkin Land where she kills the first Wicked Witch and meets Glenda the Good Witch. Everything is now in technicolor as Dorothy tries to grasp what is happening to her. This represents the Kegon (Flower Garland) period, where Mara is defeated (the first witch) and the Buddha makes his appearance in the saha world for the first time (Glenda's first appearence). However, Dorothy is unable to grasp the true significance of all of this, and is threatened by the Wicked Witch of the West (Mara) and so she desperately requests the way home (the search for her own True Nature).

2. Glenda obliges Dorothy and sends her down the Yellow Brick Road where she encounters her three companions and is threatened by the Wicked Witch on the way to see the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. This represents the common mortal who follows the Eightfold Path during the First Age of the Law, who must confront the three obstacles and the four devils while transforming her ignorance into wisdom, heartlessness into loving-kindness and cowardice into courage. Of course, this journey to the Emerald City of Nirvana ends as she falls to sleep in the Poppy Field, which represents the annihilation of body and mind sought by the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas. This dead end is also the end of the First Age of the Law, the teachings of the Agon or Hinayana teachings have led to their ultimate end and are now revealed to be mere expedients which must be transcended if Buddhism is to remain a living faith. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

3. Fortunately, Dorothy is able to awaken and enter the city through the help of Glenda. In the Emerald City, she learns that her journey must continue, for if she is to get back to her own home she must first defeat the Wicked Witch of the West for the sake of all the sentient beings in Oz. This represents the Hodo or introductory Mahayana period and the beginning of the Second Age of the Law. Glenda's magical rescue and the temporary rest in the Emerald City represent the assistance of the provisional Buddhas such as Amida and their Pure Lands. In addition, the commision to defeat the Witch is equivalent to the Four Bodhisattva Vows.

4. Dorothy finally confronts the Witch and causes her to melt away. She then discovers that the Wizard is not a Wizard. This corresponds to the Hannya or Wisdom period of the Buddha's teachings where all things are shown to be Empty. As it says in the Heart Sutra: "Nothing is defiled, nothing is pure." No Witch, no Wizard. However, Dorothy is now stranded and her companions have discovered their innate virtues but are still incapable of helping Dorothy attain her true goal. This is the end of the Middle Period of the Law, where even the Mahayana can not restore vitality to a Buddhism that only seems to end in an undifferentiated nothingness, something deeper must be revealed to truly bring Buddhism to life.

5. At this point, Glenda reappears and tells Dorothy that she had the power to return home all along. Dorothy does so, and discovers that after her journey Kansas (the saha world) and Oz (the Pure Land) are one. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha teaches that even after his Nirvana he has not really gone away but will reappear in response to our sincere aspiration to attain Buddhahood just as Glenda reappeared to Dorothy. The Ruby Slippers which Glenda points out to Dorothy represent our innate Buddha-nature. Finally, the realization that Kansas and Oz are not different, is the realization that the Saha World and the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light are not different. This is the teaching of the Lotus Sutra in the fifth period of the Buddha's teaching where he finally revealed the Truth. This is also the teaching of the Latter Day of the Law which is the true spirit of the Buddha Dharma that transcends the teachings and practices of any of the historical schools and institutions of Buddhism.

Well, I hope that everyone enjoys this and is able to get something out of my rather eccentric manner of expounding the Dharma.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1996.

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