The Buddha

I met the Buddha coming down along La Brea on a sun-soaked summer’s noon. He knew I had to kill him, which meant our brief acquaintance would begin at once on an awkward foot. Though reticent at first, I mustered up eventually the readiness to say, “Make me one with everything.”

“Very well,” said the Buddha, with an almost melancholic air of consummate detachment. His face was settled on a look of perfect acquiescence; his belly, plump and spilling proudly through his tattered pauper’s clothes, beckoned with the promise of sartorial liberation. It was the height of measured nonchalance, but I knew it was a ruse. The Buddha had always been expecting me.

In truth, I’d never lent much thought to how I’d kill the Buddha when it came to it. Buddhacide had always seemed so hypothetical, and when I pondered what it meant my logic failed, as it was wont.

Strangling was out of the question; I didn’t wish to make a scene. Nor was I dressed especially for a good old-fashioned brawl, for I had spent the better part of morning on Melrose among the stylish and the damned. (Of course, I knew neither indulgence nor asceticism would lead me to Enlightenment: I chose the Middle Path and wore Varvatos.)

Sensing my bewilderment the Buddha answered with a riddle: What is the sound of one tortilla? (Or something to that effect; I chalked it up to the Buddha’s poor command of English.) It was a kōan I had never heard before.

The Zen master Línjì exhorts the pupil to see past his false perceptions; the Buddha is no external savior, but an obstacle to overcome. To destroy the Buddha I would have to think beyond the Buddha’s terms—indeed, would have to transcend rational thought itself—and yet, who was I to challenge the Sublime and Peerless sage? I had already so many doubts about this Buddha business, after all. I knew my girlfriend would resent my realization of nirvana as a ploy to keep from getting too attached; I knew I’d limit my career choice to being white girls’ guru in Echo Park. But I was not about to be that guy who let the Buddha get away. I would have to stupefy the Buddha, to startle with an act untainted by the limitings of logic. I would have to shatter the illusion of duality, of salvation from outside, and in destroying him I would discover I was the Buddha this whole time. I reached into my bill-fold and answered with a twenty.

“I have no change to offer,” said the Buddha, and then I knew I’d had him beat. I had exposed him, defrocked him, unraveled his unworthiness; I had compelled him to admit what I already knew: that change comes only from within.

There was nothing left to do except to stab him in the neck, which I did with my meat skewer, and the big fat Buddha fell with an ephemeral, blissful thump.

Spontaneous Enlightenment was not as fun as I’d imagined. And I knew henceforth I’d hardly leave my house without an eye behind my shoulder—lest I be captured unawares by some aspiring bodhisattva, who had now to kill me too. I fled and left the Buddha flopping on the sidewalk by his pushcart, where among the taco meats and hotdog buns the dying Buddha laughed his last.

Paris, 2013.

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