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The Relgion of Oz: Religious Theory in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

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Oz as the Path To Enlightenment

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“The Wizard of Oz” is believed to house elements of Buddhism and author Todd Gardner says it most certainly can serve as representative of “a Buddhist quest for enlightenment” (Gardner)

 

I came upon a website entitled “The Wizard of Oz as a Buddhist Parable” by Ryuei Michael McCormick who provides a very straight forward, clear argument indicating why he approaches the story of “The Wizard of Oz” as North American story with strong Buddhist symbolisms.

 

McCormick begins his discussion by stating that Dorothy is symbolic of the struggles one encounters in the world before discovering one’s true Buddha nature, essentially meaning becoming enlightened. Enlightenment is a pillar concept of Buddhism akin to the concept of making it to heaven in Christianity. And, upon reaching enlightenment, one enters into the realm of Nirvana. Unlike heaven for Christians, Nirvana is not considered a place that Buddhist people will go after death, but rather a state of mind that is transcendent of anything worldly(Wikipedia).

 

Dorothy’s journey down the yellow brick road, according to McCormick, begins her path to enlightenment. He supports this claim by explaining that Buddhists follow what is called “an eightfold path” to reach enlightenment and that there are three stages of Buddhist law that must begin and expire within this eight fold path to make enlightenment complete (McCormick).

 

This first stage of the law requires one to encounter three obstacles and four devils and is meant to turn “ignorance into wisdom, heartlessness into loving-kindness and cowardice into courage” within themselves (McCormick). The three companions that Dorothy acquires on the yellow brick road are Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion and each want to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City in hopes that the Wizard will fulfill their desires as well. The Scarecrow desires a brain to diminish his ignorance, the Tin Man wishes for a heart to feel love and the Cowardly Lion wishes for courage so he can fulfill his role as the courageous lion. Thus, it appears that McCormick’s claim has some validity as Buddhist parallels are clearly apparent through this example.

 

Just before reaching the Emerald City, Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion come upon a field of poppies, and are essentially drugged by the scent of these poppies due to a spell put on them by the Wicked With of the West, who has been causing trials for the group all the way down the yellow brick road. For McCormick the scene where Dorothy and her companions lay in the poppy field sleeping and drowsy, essentially stalling them from making it to the Wizard, is the equivalent of “the annihilation of body and mind” brought by evil forces to people journeying on the eightfold path, and this marks the end of the first period of the above mentioned Buddhist law. The Wicked Witch of the West acts the evil force and Dorothy’s clan most definitely are temporarily rendered unable to use their body and mind. When they awake they have essentially reached the Emerald Palace marking the end of their time on the yellow brick road. This, considering what McCormick has explained about Buddhism once again adds validity to his idea that The Wizard of Oz is reflective of the eight fold path to enlightenment in Buddhism (McCormick).

 

McCormick is not the only person to see Buddhism in the story of Oz, there is a fairly well known book by Joey Green entitled, The Zen of Oz: 10 Spiritual Lessons from Over The Rainbow. From Green’s perspective, Glinda who plays the Good Witch of the North who directs Dorothy down the yellow brick road as a means to finding home again, is meant to mirror that of a “Zen master” who is sending a student of Zen down the path of enlightenment (Gardner).

 

When referring to Buddhism the concept of the path of enlightenment is a mental and spiritual process and it appears that both Green and McCormick are suggesting that the yellow brick road in “The Wizard of Oz” is the physical manifestation of this path. Beyond that, the yellow brick road is a central element in “The Wizard of Oz” as it is the place where some of the greatest action in the story takes place and it is the route that connects directly to the pinnacle element of Oz and the story as a whole, the Emerald Palace. Just as enlightenment is a central element of the Buddhist belief system with Nirvana and true awakening as the pinnacle moment to reach, within “The Wizard of Oz”, traveling on the yellow brick road is central and reaching the Emerald Palace is the pinnacle moment which eventually brings Dorothy her moment of true awakening, when she finds herself back in Kansas with a new appreciation for her life there.

 

Dorothy’s repetition of the phrase “follow the yellow brick road”, both sung and spoken has also be suggested to reflect Buddhism, in that it acts as Dorothy’s “Mantra”(Gardner). Within the Buddhism belief system Mantras are single words, syllables of full poems that are repeated by the follower express devotion and most importantly it helps the follower to keep focused and concentrated on the path of enlightenment and the ultimate goal of Nirvana(Wikipedia). In “The Wizard of Oz” the phrase “follow the yellow brick road” serves to act in the same way as a mantra, clearly evident in the scene where Dorothy and her new friends become afraid on the road, out of which The famous line “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My” appears. Dorothy begins to waver from her determination to make it to the Emerald Palace; however, she overcomes this fear by singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” which sets her mind back to the task at hand.

 

The above mentioned examples are just a few of the Buddhist parallels within “The Wizard of Oz”, yet they do provide strong support to the claims of writers and readers who see Buddhism echoed all throughout the famous story.

 

 

 

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