By Lori Ella Miller |
The Actor and Activist Talks Career, Charitable Causes and His Zen Way of Life »
Bridges’ portrayal of Jeff Lebowski (aka “The Dude”) in the cult classic “The Big Lebowski” has become an enduring iconic character. While Bridges continues to step into powerful acting roles, he has also taken on the role of activist and dedicates his time, celebrity and resources to ending hunger around the world. It is his dedication to this cause that led him to form the End of Hunger Network, a nonprofit organization committed to feeding children around the globe. He is also the national spokesman for the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign that is fighting to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. Bridges appears in “A Place at the Table,” a powerful documentary on ending world hunger, being shown at the Awakened World International Film Festival Retreat.
SoM: Why were you attracted to the “A Place at the Table” film project?
Bridges: I’ve been working toward ending hunger for about 30 years. About 30 years ago, we pretty much had gotten hunger under control in our country. Then I shifted my attention to America because about 15 or 20 years ago, hunger started to raise its head again because a lot of the programs that were keeping it at bay were not being funded properly and getting the needed support. Currently, we have about one in five kids in our country struggling with hunger and food insecurity. So, when I heard that Jeff Skoll wanted to make a movie about ending hunger, I was on board with that.
I am also the national spokesperson for an organization called Share our Strength and their campaign called, “No Kid Hungry.” These are my beliefs. Hunger has a lot to do with poverty and poverty is a very complex issue. Childhood hunger is the tip of the iceberg. Most people can relate to the vulnerability of kids, and children are our future.
So, I think it’s a place where people can come to agreement.
SoM: How does your Zen philosophy influence your creative expression?
Bridges: Well, technically speaking, I don’t consider myself a Zen Buddhist or anything like that. I enjoy all different types of philosophies. But, I’m built sort of “Buddhistically,” if that’s a word. I meditate. I meditate when I’m working and not working.
One way that comes to mind is my relationship with Zen Master Bernie Glassman. We wrote a book together and it’s kind of interesting. The book is called “The Dude and the Zen Master.” Bernie felt that “The Big Lebowski” had a lot of the Zen koans. [Editor’s note: A koan is a paradoxical puzzle designed to short-circuit the logical mind to make space for direct intuitive insight.] A lot of his Buddhist friends considered “The Dude” a kind of Zen master. I couldn’t understand what he was talking about, and he said, “Oh sure, look at it — the Coen Brothers — the Koan Brothers,” and then he proceeded to tell me about all the different koans that are in “Lebowski,” the more ancient versions of those koans. He invited me to write a book with him and we did that, and that was quite creative.
SoM: What are some of your other spiritual practices?
Bridges: Sitting is an aspect of Zen. I do sit, and that informs my work. To let, I guess you could call it maybe the Spirit or Love, come forth and fill the void. Or, whatever else happens … you know, in that void. It seems to me that most things are an aspect of love in one way or another. Also, kind of going with the Buddhist idea of Sangha [spiritual community]. I like to fire up some of the philosophic and spiritual questions that man has been dealing with since the beginning. I find that enjoyable and also inspiring for my own life. I’m constantly learning things that way.
SoM: The film “The Big Lebowski” made the phrase “the Dude abides” quite famous. What’s your interpretation and what does it mean to your spirituality?
Bridges: I think in Buddhism, Buddha abides; and where does he abide? He abides in the land of “nonabiding,” and that’s kind of a koan in itself. To me, it’s one of the koans that Bernie pointed out in “The Big Lebowski.” It’s one of my favorites: “Well, that’s your opinion, man.” We all have these opinions and all of these concepts and feelings about the way it is. One of the things that Bernie says is, “The four noble truths are really the four noble opinions.”