“…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!” –Dorothy Gale
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” –Buddha
When I was a child, I watched The Wizard of Oz on television every year. MGM’s classic film never failed to transport me into a Technicolor fantasy of singing, dancing, and old Hollywood glamour.At 13, I was able to channel my obsession with Judy Garland’s singing and acting into a character study when I played Dorothy in my high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Getting to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” night after night gave definition and purpose to my nebulous yet insistent dream of a career in the performing arts.
All these years later, I am struck anew by the beauty and universality of L. Frank Baum’s allegory. Buddhism teaches us that, whether we realize it or not, all of our fears, doubts, and frustrations are just momentary obfuscations of our inherent Buddha nature. In other words, we are already whole, eternal beings. Boundless compassion is our natural state. The dharma also reveals that the difficult circumstances of our lives are, in fact, our best teachers; our difficulties provide us with the opportunity to free ourselves from fear and suffering.
In a Buddhist sense, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion are just like most of us. The four vagabonds travel through an illusory realm, believing themselves to be incomplete. After an arduous journey fraught with peril, the four friends arrive at their destination only to discover that the salvation they’d been tirelessly pursuing was present within themselves from the start.
Watching the movie, we understand that the Scarecrow had always been smart, the Tin Man was tender-hearted long before his audience with the Wizard, and the Cowardly Lion was valiant when it came to protecting his friends, despite his protestations to the contrary.
Upon learning that Dorothy had always had the power to return to Kansas, the Scarecrow asks Glinda the Good Witch why she hadn’t simply told Dorothy how to get home. Glinda laughs merrily, “She wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.” Or, as the Buddha said, “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”
The Wizard of Oz turns 70 this year, yet its lessons are as timely as ever: we never have to look outside ourselves for wholeness. Our intelligence, compassion, and courage are intrinsic to our very being. Finally, the journey of this life is beautiful, mysterious, and occasionally very frightening; we might as well make the trip in a fabulous pair of shoes.