Thursday, May 19, 2005

If You See the Buddha...

I was driving down County Road 27 kicking up a nice plume of dust and gravel, my trusty hound, Ananda, beside me on the passenger seat, when I saw the Buddha. He was standing by the roadside, and I almost didn't notice his stooped, wizened frame and balding pate as I sped passed; my mind was on other things.

"Croaking bullfrogs!" I slammed on the brakes and looked into the rearview mirror. Yup, that was the Exalted One all right. As the dust settled I could see him standing there in his maroon robes, serene and radiant as always. He was holding a cardboard placard with the word "Nirvana" written on it in marker.

"By the Great Wheel of Samsara!" Ananda lifted his spotted head and was cocking one canine eyebrow in mock perplexity. "Why do these things always Mutually Arise when I'm in a rush?" I was due in town for my AA meeting--Agoraphobics Anonymous. We met each week in the elevator of the Howard Johnson.

I kicked the Ford into reverse and backed up to where the Great Emancipator stood in his sandals, projecting an ocean of deep tranquility even as the dust particles from the road danced about him through the dry summer air. Moving slowly and deliberately, as if in a dream, I patted Ananda's aging head and leaned over to flip open the glove compartment. Even through my dirty passenger-side window I was transfixed by the Laughter of the Cosmos that sparkled in the Tathagata's opal eyes.

My hand rummaged through the abyss of the glove compartment until my fingers set upon a cool, angular metallic object. Gripping it with my left hand, I used my right to roll down the window of the truck. The Buddha stared directly into my non-self with his calm, compasionate gaze. I'd studied, meditated and prepared for this moment for years; I knew what was expected.

In one practiced gesture I pulled the handgun from out the glove compartment and brought it to bear at the level of the Venerable One's chest. Ananda let out a slight whimper at the site of the weapon; he wasn't a hunting dog. My finger was tensed on the trigger, ready to fire, when the Enlightened One spoke in a languid, resonant but humble voice:

If a Bodhisattva thumbs a lift on a deserted backroad, does anybody stop to pick him up?

In that instant my nerve was shattered. I dropped the gun to the car seat; It bounced off the dog and hit the floor mat with a thud. Without rolling up the window I jammed the stick-shift back into gear and slammed the accelerator. The roadside figure of Shakyamuni was lost in billowing dust, but the cloud was nothing compared to the fog obscuring the mirror of my mind. I had failed the final test: I could not kill the Buddha.

Killing the

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