As a teacher (retired) the works of Salinger intrigue me. I taught his The Catcher In The Rye
more times than I am able to count.
After all of that teaching, I didn't learn that Salinger practiced Zen Buddhism until he recently passed away at age 91. Here's an article I found about Salinger's practice and his writings:
The Relationship Between the Writings of J.D. Salinger and Zen Buddhism
Author Camille Scaysbrook
Often the first thing a reader of Salinger's writings will ask him or her self after reading one of his stories is "What did that mean? What was the point behind my journey?". As one critic puts it "Salinger's mode of Zen Buddhism offers for this uneasy and unresolved conflict".
The teacher/student relationship is integral to Zen Buddhism. Often Salinger's characters will play the part of teacher, while we the student, and/or another character will receive from them (and their author) a koan to solve and thus reach our next stage of enlightenment.
This is very much the case in The Catcher in the Rye. While it appears in the second last chapter that Holden Caulfield has achieved his moment of enlightenment; his nirvana, in the last page-long chapter Holden tells us "that's all I'm going to tell you" and proceeds to ask the kind of questions which have plagued him throughout the book. It seems that he has returned to square one, and that is the last glimpse we receive of him. However, we realise that the fact that Holden's quest never ends is an end in itself. Like the Buddhist cycle, he has been reborn and given a new start, and we realise through this that like Holden, we have undergone a learning experience.
Examining our mind's reactions to this seeming irrelevance, we realise that with extreme subtlety, that the story has, like the Zen koan, stimulated the mind into other planes of thought to the ones we are used to, and as with the koan we are compelled to find an answer within apparent non - logic.
One of the main ways Salinger uses this student/teacher relationship to express his spirituality is to equate his characters to various real religious figures and principles, in a way updating their teachings to educate a modern audience who, like Holden, do not realise until after the journey how much they have learned.
Marianne (learning daily)