Sitting on an airplane, apparently going on vacation, Marge Simpson says to Homer, who sits next to her, Come on Homer. Japan will be fun. You liked Rashomon.” Says Homer, “That’s not how I remember it.”
My daughter recently texted me the above joke, and I had a great laugh. But it also got me thinking about how unreliable a witness I can sometimes be in my own life. In my own movie, called “Crafting My Self,” are a few lines like this: “That was wrong for him to criticize me.” “I deserved to be treated better.” “Boy, what was her motive behind that?” It is a big project, Self, and takes a lot of ongoing work.
Rashomon, released in 1950, launched both Akira Kurosawa as a leading director and Toshiro Mifune as Japan’s most famous actor. In the film, there are four witnesses to an assault and murder, and each testify to a different story.
On the same day I got the text, I was talking with a friend about the first of the Three Pure Vows, “I vow to do no harm.” We got to chatting about the Rashomon-quality of Dongshan’s koan about two crows fighting over a frog:
One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?” Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”
Were the crows doing harm, trying to feed their young? Perhaps the monk was doing harm, caught in his own delusive melancholy. Maybe the frog had died, having laid four thousand eggs, before the crows even arrived. Or maybe none of these stories are true.
I sometimes seem to have trouble seeing myself as others see me. In our kitchen is a counter often buried in bags, purses, mail, dog leashes, and other stuff. A couple of weeks ago, frustrated, I asked my partner in what I thought was a measured, neutral tone, “Could we please not put all this stuff on the counter?” My wife shot back, “Don’t you yell at me!” A bit shocked, I turned to my daughter, who was standing nearby, and asked, “Was I yelling?” She replied, “Dad, you were being an asshole.”
Maybe Dongshan is not suggesting we figure out who done it, and attach blame. I think it is something deeper than that. Perhaps he is just suggesting that we deeply appreciate the picture show. It is, after all, our movie, and a wonderful one at that.