“The Wizard of Oz” Revisited

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

Many years ago, I think in my first year of the ministry, I wrote an article about the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” I would like to revisit that movie and reflect on the symbolic teachings and metaphors in Buddhism that we can learn from this timeless movie.

In the beginning of the movie, Dorothy is very unhappy. Her family is upset with her.  Someone is trying to take away her beloved pet dog, Toto, and she feels as if the world is against her. In our unenlightened life, we feel that nothing ever goes our way. We never get a break. Everybody is always against us. Our parents, our boss, our spouse, everybody is against us. We can relate to how Dorothy feels and how we have all wanted to “run away from home” at one time or another.

But Dorothy finds herself in a big storm, a tornado, in which the world is spinning around her. We too can find ourselves suddenly totally lost and forlorn. Relationship issues, bad news about our health, the loss of a loved one, losing our job, anything can cause the world to spin around us like a tornado. We lose our sense of direction, up or down, right or left. Where am I? How did I get here? How do I find my way home? This is the feeling of being lost that Dorothy finds herself in.

But fortunately for Dorothy, she is told to “follow the yellow brick road” to Oz, to see the Wizard, who surely will help her find her way home. Buddhism is a religion, it is a philosophy, it is a way of life, but most importantly, it is a path. It is a path that we must follow. It is a journey of finding not only our way home, but a journey of finding our true self.

Along her journey, Dorothy meets fellow travellers, friends along the way. This is the meaning of Sangha. Sangha is most important in our spiritual journey. We must have fellow travellers to share our life and our journey with. We must listen to them and receive their encouragement, their scoldings, their friendship. We cannot travel this journey alone. Dorothy meets wonderful friends, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion. They help one another on their journey to Oz. We need our Dharma friends to share this path of the Nembutsu.

When Dorothy and her friends finally reach Oz, at first, the Wizard is a most awesome figure. Of course this is because of the special effects that the Wizard himself had created. When Toto pulls back the curtain, they realize that the Wizard is just a regular man. When we first encounter a wonderful teacher of the Dharma, we are in awe. But in time, we come to find out that our revered teacher is just an ordinary human being. However, the more we come to see the humanness in our teacher, the greater the teacher becomes. When I first heard Rev. Kubose in a lecture at the San Jose Betsuin, I was in awe. After studying under him in Chicago, I saw him planting flowers, making lunch, washing dishes, and being a husband and father. The more I saw what an ordinary person he was, the more respect and admiration I had for him.

The Wizard was able to show Dorothy’s friends that what they were seeking, they had all along. The scarecrow had a brain. The tin man had a heart. The lion had courage. Many great Buddhists have come to realize that what they had been seeking was there all the time. Instead of seeking truth, they found themselves immersed in it. It was all around them and in them too.

Dorothy’s journey ends up back at her home. But now her perspective on life and her world around her had changed 180 degrees. Instead of being upset with the world around her because things “didn’t go her way”, she was so grateful to be home again. Her family and people in her life were still there, but her view of them was different. She had a heart of gratitude that was overflowing. We all know that beautiful and timeless line from the movie, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

To come to the heart of the Buddha-Dharma is to truly arrive home. It is to discover our true self, that is never lost, but always has the true direction of life.  Our spiritual journey can go from being lost and deluded, feeling like things never go your way, to being utterly grateful and wondering how you could have ever thought like that and acted so selfishly.

When Dorothy returned home, everything was basically the same, but herself. How she looked at the world had changed. How she appreciated the world had changed. How she felt about others had changed. This is the transformation of the self that occurs when we encounter the Dharma, when the heart of the Buddha enters our heart and mind.


Rev. Marvin Harada