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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
71 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly draws specific parallels between Odysseus’s ordeals and those of meditative practitioners, recounting his students’ experi- ences as well as his own. In “Setting Forth,” Fischer illuminates four aspects of Telemachus’s experience, as he prepares to depart from Ithaca. First, there is the state of waiting, which Fischer likens to the stasis of those who came to the Zen center where he taught, uncertain of their motives and “waiting for nothing.” Second, there is the act of voicing one’s “grief,” as Telemachus does in the public assembly at Ithaca. Third, there is a felt movement toward an objective, “something uplifting and challenging, however vague it may be.” And fourth, there is the novice’s consultation with a mentor, who proffers advice and caution- ary tales. All of these components are necessary conditions for Telemachus’s departure, as they are for the meditative practitioner, who like Telemachus must leave home and sail uncharted seas. In “Disasters,” Fischer turns his attention to Odysseus’s adventures, interpreting each as a moral or psychological exemplum. Commenting on the episode where Odysseus tricks Polyphemous by identifying himself as “Nobody,” Fischer observes that “[t]o be Nobody is not to enter some fantastic condition of egolessness. It is simply to be willing and able, when it is time, to drop the self, to let Somebody go and sur- render to circumstances.” Recounting Odysseus’s visit to the Land of the Dead, he advises against thinking of death as a comfort, urging us to regard mortality as “the incomprehen- sible, the beyond-all-reach.” And in his exegesis of the epi- sode where Odysseus’s men, seduced by Circe, are turned into swine, Fischer argues that exploring desires, including illicit desires, is not necessarily immoral, so long as it is done with awareness. “[I]f we want to journey home to who we really are,” he explains, “we have to find a way to go forward into even our most alluring desires, without being turned perma- nently into pigs.” In “Return,” his analysis of the last twelve books of The Odyssey, Fischer examines Odysseus’s heartfelt reconcilia- tion with his father, Laertes, perceiving the lesson that “we must begin this phase of our homecoming by expressing the passionate emotion and shrill cries associated with our fam- ily lineage.” Similarly, Odysseus’s protracted reunion with Penelope prompts an extensive discussion of fear, as manifest in intimate relationships. And, most strikingly, in Odysseus’s slaughter of Penelope’s suitors Fischer finds a metaphor for the expunging of delusions, including entropy, inertia, and “inner profligacy.” The fact that Penelope had 108 suitors, corresponding to the 108 delusions of Buddhist doctrine, lends credence to Fis- cher’s interpretation of Odysseus’s mass murder as symbolic and constructive. In general, however, Fischer’s interpretation Reviews