Zen: Meditations of an Egotistical Duck, by Phicil – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Zen: Meditations d’Un Canard Égoiste (Zen: Meditations of an Egotistical Duck), by Phicil
Paris, Éditions Carabas, November 2015; hardcover €16,00 (80 pages).
Google’s automatic translator says that “un canard égoiste” is “a selfish duck”, but in this case “egotistical” is a better translation than “selfish”. Jean Plumo sees everything as revolving around himself, but he’s not particularly selfish once the needs and desires of others are brought to his attention.
The Patten-Nakashima conspiracy to get you to read French funny-animal bandes dessinées that aren’t likely to be published in English has probably let you down this time.
Jean Plumo, a mallard office-worker in a funny-animal world, is fed up with not only being yelled at by an unsympathetic boss, but at not getting the respect he feels that he’s due from his fellow deskmates. When he sees a copy of Bronzage (“Tanning”) magazine on his boss’ desk with an article about a luxurious vacation retreat to study zen meditation all day (implied under the sun; a good way to get a tan), he decides to sign up for it.
It’s not what he expects.
Zen: Meditations of an Egotistical Duck probably isn’t what you expect, either. Yes, there is a story here, but there is a serious lesson on the history and teachings of Buddhism and zen meditation as well. There are three long interludes in the story when Bernard, the master of the retreat (a Saint-Bernard dog), tells everyone a famous Buddhist legend: “Sur les Pas du Bouddha”, Prince Siddharta’s life and conversion into the Buddha in India (about 500 B.C.; Buddha drawn as a tiger); “Bodhidarma, l’Insaisissable”, one of Buddha’s “perfect disciples” (drawn as an elephant) introducing Buddhism to South China, and disappointing everyone by insisting that it’s impossible to know anything, and the secret of immortality lies in studying nothingness for the rest of your life; and “Asanga et la Sagesse”, about a famous Buddhist monk about 400 A.D. (drawn as a dog) spending a dozen years in meditation to become pure enough to see a spirit, then not recognizing one when it appears. There is a parallel in the spirits of Buddha, Bodhidarma, and Asanga appearing to Jean, and him dismissing them as just other students in the retreat. Does Jean get anything out of the retreat at the end? Well, yes – in his egotistical way.
Zen: Meditations of an Egotistical Duck is witty, but it seems more worthwhile for the student of zen Buddhism than for the average funny-animal fan. The French is more complex than usual, too; full of adult slang. There are probably better Buddhist primers for beginners available in English.