“The Prisoner” as Zen

What is zen? What is a garden? Who are you?

The Prisoner” was a 1967 TV show in which an unnamed man resigns from a non-specific job, and is immediately kidnapped and placed in “The Village”. Various people try to break his mind and extract information from him, while he tries to escape.

My thesis is that the entire thing is one huge Zen koan.

Firstly, we have the fact that the man is never named. Who is he? The search for self and non-self is one of the key themes of Zen practice.

The whole program is scattered with snippets of wisdom, such as this one:

Sign: Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

Zen themes flow throughout the show. Fear, honesty, the illusion of life.

Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of death.
Number Six: I’m afraid of nothing.
Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of yourself. You are aware of that? Good, you are honest. That is of use here.

“A”: What are you going to do with your freedom?
Number Six: Go fishing.
“A”: Perhaps you’re fishing now.

Number Six even makes a version of the Bodhisattva vow, to liberate all sentient beings.

Number Two: Do you still think you can escape, Number Six?
Number Six: I’m going to do better than that.
Number Two: Oh?
Number Six: Going to escape, come back.
Number Two: Come back?
Number Six: Escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it.

However, Number Six is constantly striving to escape. His striving is a form of attachment, he is attached to the idea of leaving the village. Perhaps this is why it takes him so long.

Indeed, does he ever truly escape?

My favourite quote, however, is the following:

Number Six: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.

I was reminded of it the other day when I came across this actual Zen koan:

A monk named Hui Ch’ao asked Fa Yen, “Hui Ch’ao asks the teacher, what is Buddha?”.

Fa Yen said, “You are Hui Ch’ao.”

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. [* please note that "ten or more" is still something.]

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