Log Lady as "Zen granny", etc.

We got the new Twin Peaks set for Christmas, and so have been going through it at a totally inappropriate pace. The Buddhist themes in the series are both obvious and widely noted, but here's one that was new to me.

The new set includes the Log Lady intros to each episode, which are absolutely fantastic, and it occurs to me that not only is the Log Lady the source of some of the goofiest and best Zennisms in the series, but she actually exemplifies a very particular type.

The Zen "granny," often an irregular adept, is a common figure in classical Chan stories. See Heine's Opening a Mountain for examples and some discussion. I think especially of Moshan and the woman who defeated Deshan. Known for their unorthodox and sometimes tricky powers, cryptic utterances, and especially for challenging and defeating the regular monks (and occasionally being bested by them), these women are written in the margins of mainstream Chan hagiography, existing in a liminal area between the ordered world and chaos, and perhaps between the Buddhist orthodoxy and older native powers. This is the Log Lady, living alone in the woods in the margins of Twin Peaks. In the very first episode, she defeats Cooper:

She holds the log out.

LOG LADY: Ask it.

A moment of silence. COOPER, unsure what to do, peers down at the log. Disappointed by his lack of action the LOG LADY counters...

LOG LADY: I thought so.

The LOG LADY walks off carrying her log.

A number of things happen to Cooper and the next time, he's able to respond.

The episode intros themselves read like a fantastic spoof of Yuanwu's introductions to the cases in the Blue Cliff Record, complete with odd images and juxtapositions, martial imagery, odd challenges and provocations, and an always oblique relationship to the main subject they introduce. I keep expecting each one to end with "I cite this to see" or whatever:

I can see the smoke. I can smell the fire. The battle is drawing nigh. (Episode 4)


When you see smoke on the other side of a mountain, you already know there's a fire; when you see horns on the other side of a fence, right away you know there's an ox there. To understand three when one is raised, to judge precisely at a glance—this is the everyday food and drink of a patchrobed monk. Getting to where he cuts off the myriad streams, he is free to arise in the east and sink in the west, to go against or to go with, in any and all directions, free to give or to take away. But say, at just such a time, whose actions are these? Look into Xuedou's trailing vines.
(Biyanlu, Case 1, tr. Cleary)

And finally, Cooper's thumbs-up reminds me of Juzhi's famous One Finger every damn time:

When Juzhi was about to die, he said to his assembled monks: "I received this one-finger Zen from Tianlong. I used it all my life but never used it up." With this he entered into his eternal rest." (Wumenguan, Case 3, tr. Aitken)

(Wade-Giles changed to Pinyin in citations.)

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