Community College Buddha Master

(Originally appeared on McSweeney's, June 9 2004)

Week Five: “Fire & Ice”

ME: Master, how does one find the strength within himself to find true love?

MY MASTER: By being one with the world that is without himself.

ME: How so?

MY MASTER: When fire meets ice, what prevails?

ME: Ice.

MY MASTER: Yet in dying, does not the ice in the fire also die?

ME: Um . . . I don’t . . . could you possibly attack it from a different angle? I’m a little confused, my master.

MY MASTER (very angry): Did you not read the handout from last week?

ME: I am ashamed and dishonored to tell you that I have not.

MY MASTER: Spent a lot of money Xeroxing those for you.

ME: It’s just I had to pull that extra shift and then one of the kids …

MY MASTER (exasperated): Is love not a reality that exists within all creatures?

ME: It is.

MY MASTER: And is love not a byproduct of heaven?

ME: This is correct.

MY MASTER: So does it not come to pass that this heaven that we speak of . . . this heaven that we . . . Jesus, what the hell was I thinking before? You’re messing with my head.

ME: That this heaven is ours for the taking–

MY MASTER: Right. That this heaven that we speak of is available to creatures both large and small?

ME: I think so–

MY MASTER: The answer is yes! Remember? The blackboard? The diorama? The giant wood pointer? The Power Point presentation? Did you not take notes?

ME: Master–

MY MASTER: Yes or no?

ME: No.

MY MASTER: Thought so. Pathetic.

ME: But how can heaven and earth both reside within ourselves when–

MY MASTER: When they consist of two different realities?

ME: Yes.

MY MASTER: I knew you were going to ask me that goddamn question. Um . . . I do know that heaven lies within. Or is it without? Wait a second–see, you confused me again.

ME: And it is our earthly duties–

MY MASTER: I said, hang on a sec! Have you seen my book with all the answers?

ME: I’m not sure . . .

MY MASTER: It says “Master’s Edition” on the cover, “not for resale.” I swear to God, if any one of you jackasses . . .

ME: Master, may I again talk of love?

MY MASTER: Make it quick. I have another class at the temple across town.

ME: If ice does indeed prevail from its meeting with fire, then why is ice not a more powerful element?

MY MASTER: I’m very hungry and dinner beckons, a dinner that I shall eat in my car. So let me tell you what. I want you to try a little experiment, a homework assignment of sorts. Go home. Take some ice. Light it on fire. Write down what happens. We’ll discuss it next week. Sound good?

ME: But have we not already decided that–

MY MASTER: Am I a joke to you?

ME: Master?

MY MASTER: I didn’t go to Buddhist school and I don’t have a diploma. I never did attend a fancy Buddhist retreat on top of a big ol’ mountain. I wear a bald rubber cap to look smart and fake glasses to appear wise. This makes me a joke?

ME: No, master. But . . . as for this question of love–

MY MASTER: Ahhhh, if I didn’t need the money so bad . . . (sadly, to self) You make one wrong turn in life, money troubles, women troubles, government troubles . . . twenty years down the road, you take a long look in the mirror and guess what you see? An enlightened Bodhisattva. How the hell did that happen, you think? Oh, man.

ME: And heaven?

MY MASTER: You . . . you ask me that mother-flippin’ question one more time, so help me! I. Do. Not. Know. Don’t know. Got it?

ME: Maybe next week?

MY MASTER: Maybe. By the way, blood stains on a robe. Laundering advice?

Answer to Last Week’s Zen Koan:

The grasshopper knew the ant from just seeing him around, that was why he did not harm him.