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Mexico City, Koans, and the Zen Buddhist Master: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ejo Takata and the Fundamental Lesson of the Death of the Intellect

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In Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical story El maestro y las magas (2006), the eclectic and esoteric artist spends a significant amount of time recounting his experience under the tutelage of Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Ejo Takata in Mexico City in the latter part of the 1960s into the early 1970s. Their relationship as master and disciple would be an important, if not foundational, part of his worldview, which would be omnipresent in his corpus. From the koans proposed by Takata to his own book of short koans and stories for contemplation, Eastern philosophy is inseparable from his own being or his search for his true Self, which is also a common theme in his work. Takata’s four word lesson of “Intelectual, ¡aprende a morir!” (“Intellectual, learn to die!”) is the nucleus around which all of Jodorowsky’s oeuvre would revolve for at least his next forty-five years. Whether drinking warm sake and discussing Takata’s childhood or telling how Takata was challenged by an arrogant American student, Jodorowsky’s reverence for his master is pervasive and speaks of his dedication to the practices of Zen Buddhism. The monk, who usually dressed in his traditional robe, even participated in one of Jodorowsky’s plays by sitting on stage in meditation during the entire length of the performance. The monk’s influence would not end with Jodorowsky, as the artist himself would one day become the teacher and muse to many other popular artists, including Marcel Marceau, John Lennon, Marilyn Manson, Kanye West, and many others.

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