Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine

[SPOILERS FOR COWBOY BEBOP]

The first time I heard Spike talk I just knew he had to be sharing the same voice actor with Kaji from Neon Genesis Evangelion.  And he was (Kouichi Yamadera).  But I completely missed the fact that Faye Valentine and Rei Ayanami were both voiced by Megumi Hayashibara.  It’s not even a matter of voices: the dissimilarity of the characters prevented me from even conceiving of them as a pair in any way.  At some point I read somewhere about Megumi’s role, but I still didn’t really connect the two characters.  That is, until the end of episode 25 of Cowboy Bebop.

faye

The previews for the following episode in this show are hilarious: zany and semi-random conversations between the cast.  The preview for episode 26 has Faye doing some sort of philosophical rant while Jet and Spike babble on about their own concerns.  Faye’s rant immediately reminded me of Rei’s poem/monologue in episode 14 of Evangelion.  I went and took a look at Rei’s monologue at this Evageeks.org page here and not only was the connection made stronger in my eyes, but the articulation of Rei’s and Faye’s thoughts immediately reminded me of a Zen commentary by the Japanese philosopher Masao Abe.

So whether you think that these connections have any merit or not, at least be assured that they’re not some gimmicky stunt, but the wholesome product of my overtaxed imagination.  Let me deal with the Zen text first, then Rei, and finally Faye.

I. Enlightenment in a Nutshell

Masao Abe’s essay “Zen is not a philosophy, but…” is an extended commentary on the words of the Tang era Zen master Seigen Ishin (that’sthe  Japanese pron. of a Chinese name BTW).  This is what Seigen said (numbers have been added by me):

“1) Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, ‘Mountains are mountains, waters and waters.’

2) After I got an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, I said, ‘Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.’

3) But now, having attained the abode of final rest, I say, ‘Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.'”

So basically, in Stage One we believe like everyone that things are what they are, what you see is what you get etc..  In Stage Two everything we thought we knew becomes a problem, things turn out to be empty, nothing is what it seems.  In Stage Three, finally, we realize that emptiness is fullness and viceversa, and that to grasp things as they are you have to let go of them and they will come back to you in their naked simplicity.  So Stage Three is a return to Stage One at a higher level of consciousness.  [I don’t claim to understand all of this, by the way.  If I did I’d grow a beard and wander about doing speeches and stuff.]

faye2

I’d go ahead and say that this is a lot like the Hegelian dialectical movement from Being to its Negation, and finally from there to the higher truth of Becoming, but I’m scared Buddhists and Hegelians would both try to lynch me so I won’t.

II. Rei’s Impasse

I’m going to borrow the translation from Evageeks.org and abridge it, because Rei goes on for some length.  All in all, Rei starts off caught between Seigen’s Stage One and Stage Two.  Then she goes more deeply into Stage Two, but without actually reaching the enlightenment that will allow her to pass on to the final stage.  I’m going to add numbers so you can see how she goes back and forth between stages, plus the words in parentheses ( ) are mine.

“1) Mountain…Heavy mountains.

2) Things that change over time. (impermanence?)

1) Sky…Blue sky.

2) What your eyes can’t see. (emptiness?)

1) What your eyes can see.

[…]

1) Man made from red soil.  Man made from man and woman.

[…]

1) Who is this?  This is me.

[…]

1) I am myself.  This object is me.

1) → 2) This is the me that can be seen, yet I feel as though I am not myself.

2) Very strange.  I feel as if my body is melting.  I can no longer see myself.  My shape is fading.  I feel the presence of someone who is not me.  Is someone there, beyond this?”]

It’s interesting that practitioners of meditation often describe this “melting of the body.”  Rei’s monologue shows that she is one messed up cookie on the verge of an existential breakthrough, but not beyond…

III. Faye’s Declaration

We finally come to the words that triggered this whole stream of thoughts.  Faye has pretty much resolved her main issues by the end of episode 25 (Spike does it in the last episode and Jet not at all) so her words here can be taken as the New Faye’s philosophy.  IMO, she seems to be replying directly to Rei Ayanami, or, if you think in seiyuu terms, to herself!  This is what she says, following the transcript I found here (I’m sticking a 3 in there to correspond with the Zen teaching):

“3) The past is the past and the future is the future.

A man is a man, and a woman is a woman.

I am who I am, and you are who you are.

Like it really matters any…”

faye3

Lovely words, obvious words.  But after watching 25 episodes of Cowboy Bebop we are well aware of all the suffering that Faye has been put through in regards to her past and her identity.  I think she’s showing an appreciation of the world along the lines of Seigen’s Stage Three.  She’s a step ahead of Rei in episode 14 of Evangelion which allows her to end her declaration with a Zen flourish: “Like it really matters any…”  I can now see her beating apprentices with a stick.

***

I’ve just pointed out the connections as I saw them.  I realize that having read a bunch of Zen books I’m assuming knowledge of certain concepts or tropes, so that my exposition won’t be as clear as it should be.  I apologize for that but I can’t bring myself to actually try to explain Zen, or even the supposedly easier task of explaining my own understanding of Zen!  Instead, let me recommend the Abe essay, which is in his awesome book Zen and Western Thought.

An extra comment if I may.  Seigen Ishin claims to have reached Stage Two by learning from a Zen teacher.  I think that more often than not life is the best teacher, so please don’t start wondering who Faye Valentine would have learnt her spiritual lessons from!!  I realize that for all of Zennists’ talk of not being bothered with books and doctrines, the sect is extremely institutionalized and the worship of concern for lineages and transmissions is a very important factor for its members.  But then, of course, Zen is larger than any sect!

~ by Haloed Bane on May 8, 2009.

9 Responses to “Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine”

  1. I think you’ve got something good here, especially connecting Rei to the Zen book. Zen philosophies aren’t entirely far off from teh philosophies present in Evangelion, only in Eva there’s probably a 4th step or something where ‘mountains are whatever I want them to be.’

    I can also kind of see the Faye connection, and it really wouldn’t surprise me at all if it were a seiyuu connection, where one of the staff loved that like from Eva and wanted her to do something similar or something like that. And yeah, I was equally shocked when I found out they had the same seiyuu.

    Also, fuck, how many times have you watched Evangelion to have remembered that quote like that?!

  2. Good work here. You can always ask the Hegelians and the Buddhists to put down their rope and pitchforks and watch Eva and Bebop first. However, these hints of maturity that Faye teases us with are merely hints. Her final moment is still a failed appreciation of Spike’s value in her life and her failure to create a new destiny for him.

    But how could she? When nobody really ever bothered to know anyone. They pretend they know mountains are mountains, and water is water. But they don’t know the passes and plateus, the peaks and crevasses. They don’t know rivers and lakes, and rain and waterfalls. How spit is water and tears is water too.

    This is a violence to the ‘other’ on a grand scale, and Faye just gets what she gets.

  3. @digiboy

    Yes. I should really have talked about Rei’s change into the Giant Rei of Instrumentality, but I guess I should leave that for an Eva post.

    I haven’t seen Eva that many times, I think, but I remember liking Rei’s little rant and reading many people’s comments about it, so it stayed in my head. That and the scene with the white words flashing across a black screen when Asuka is going INSANE. I tried to screencap each frame and actually read the originals. twisted stuff.

    @ghostlightning

    “Hints of maturity that Faye teases us with are merely hints.” If you notice, the nice philosophical rant happens AFTER the episode is over, so yeah, the “real” Faye is nowhere near as clear on things as that. She ain’t a Zen master yet.

    However, I detect in you more longings for a Spike x Faye ending. Come on, do you really think Spike would have gone for her, even if she really tried to allure him??

  4. The shipper longing in me is post-Julia’s death, not before. Faye doesn’t contribute much to Spike, nor anyone’s life as she’s selfish (but not in a victimizing sense, but rather she is incapacitated in some way). Ideally they’d be there for each other after Spike deals with Vicious, but that possibility is cruelly, and quite beautifully denied.

  5. I have been enjoying for the past few days your coverage on Cowboy Bebop, reading the comparison between the two series has reminded me I haven’t watched either in years. I have both series on disc, I really need to crack them open. And I agree the Cowboy bebop movie was really just one long bounty hunt!

  6. […] Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine […]

  7. […] Exhibit Three – Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine […]

  8. […] Not unexpectedly, the religious themes of the series run deeper than one episode.  I’ve already mentioned Buddhist ideas in the show, but others, like those emphasizing suffering, can be scene in specific episodes and in larger arcs involving the main characters, particularly in Spike’s involvement with Julia and Vicious. The same is true of Faye Valentine, again as noted by Ghostlighning. […]

  9. […] Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine […]

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