“I met the Dude on DVD sometime in the late 1990s. A few years later I met Jeff Bridges in Santa Barbara and we started hanging, as he likes to put it, often while smoking cigars. Jeff has done movies from an early age; less known, but almost as long-standing, is his commitment to ending world hunger. I was an aeronautical engineer and mathematician in my early years, but mostly I’ve taught Zen Buddhism, and that’s where we both met. Not just in meditation, which is what most people think of when they hear Zen, but the Zen of action, of living freely in the world without causing harm, of relieving our own suffering and the suffering of others.”
Bernie Glassman wrote this about meeting Jeff Bridges on a blog post for the Zen Peacemakers Website in 2013. The post was written to promote The Dude and the Zen Master, a book the two co-wrote on the Zen-ish wisdom demonstrated by go-with-the-flow “Dude” Jeffrey Lebowski in the Cohen Brothers film The Big Lebowski. It would make the New York Times Best Sellers List.
Aside from the Dude and the Zen Master, Bernie and Jeff collaborated on several projects during the course of their friendship, a friendship that would last for the rest of Bernie’s life.
Jeff brought Bernie into the planning for Disney’s 2010 film Tron: Legacy, which contains themes familiar to Buddhism and Christianity. Jeff says that he brought Bernie “on-board to help add some spiritual depth to the thing.” (More about Jeff, Bernie and Tron at Gizmodo and Hollywood.com.)
A longtime advocate of ending child hunger, Jeff resonated with the social action quality of Bernie’s work with Zen Peacemakers. A particular inspiration for the campaign was Bernie’s work with the Greyston Foundation, a support network for low-income community members of Yonkers, New York, that included childcare, employment opportunities, and an AIDS hospice. Through Greyston Bernie pioneered open hiring, which is now being widely hailed and studied in business schools around the world. Moved by their shared wish to serve, in 2011 Jeff and Bernie co-launched the Head for Peace campaign, where 108 ceramic heads sculpted by Jeff were auctioned to support social action projects to benefit those in poverty.
A constant source of inspiration and connection for their friendship was “The Dude.” Bernie wrote, “We would often be joined by […] the Dude. We both liked his way of putting things and it’s fun to learn from someone you can’t see.” Eventually their appreciation for the Dude turned into the book, The Dude and the Zen Master. The book captured their sense of The Dude’s messy but somehow artful gliding through life that Bernie had long suggested was characteristic of a Zen Master.
The book came together during a weekend hang session at Jeff’s Montana ranch, filled with chill vibes and cigars. There, the friends channeled The Dude while Tricycle editor-publisher James Shaheen recorded and moderated the exchange. Publicizing the book brought the buddies to Union Square, and into interviews with Charlie Rose, with MSNBC, at the University of the West, and elsewhere.
Bernie was so fond of the Dude that he even worked up a kind of Koan system based on the Dude’s sayings. “That’s just, like, your opinion, man,” became a key piece of Bernie’s Zen teaching– he repeated it in countless talks and interviews he gave around the world.
The two had known each other for nearly twenty years when Bernie passed away in November, 2018. Following his passing, a memorial service was held at Greyston in Yonkers, NY, a spot deeply respected by both men. Jeff had the honor of closing the ceremony with a musical performance done in Bernie’s memory.
“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”
Learn more about Jeff Bridges’ and Bernie Glassman’s friendship and work together:
Lion’s Roar: The Dude and the Zen Master
Tricycle: Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman
See what other greater good Jeff is supporting: