Mar 2, 2011

The Electric Dog Goes Buddhist

This time, the Electric Dog was really down. None of his usual tricks and defenses worked. He tried to write a sensational bestseller, but could not get past a two-page outline. He wrote a revolutionary paper on drugs and the human mind, but no one wanted to publish it.

His worldly possessions dwindled to a futon, a laptop computer and a copy of the Dhammapada. He had no job and no home, and he managed to alienate most of his friends with his incessant complaints.

On top of it, his health was deteriorating; neither exercise, nor generous doses of multivitamins seemed to help. While the present was perfectly abhorrent, the future looked even bleaker.

What was he to do? Commit suicide? Get a straight job and go back to his girlfriend?

No, there was one last gambit he was going to try before limiting himself to such hard choices.

He was going to become a Buddhist.

He went to a monastery on top of a mountain where they taught mindfulness as a way out of life's misery. All one had to do was to watch one’s stomach rise and fall as one sat on a cushion for twelve hours a day. The delusions and desires of worldly life were supposed to slough off one's mind like so much loose debris. That sounded simple enough.

The Dog was so miserable and so determined to get rid of his misery that he actually engaged in this new method of finding happiness, quite conscientiously, for almost two weeks.

His buttocks hurt like hell. Instead of resting at night he had nightmares. Even the food, so eagerly awaited during sittings, somehow failed to satisfy him.

He was trying to get his mind to follow his breath--and whatever else was happening in his body — but the mind refused to be a trained circus pony and was bucking like a wild mare. It would only fall quiet in order to lull the Dog's suspicion and then throw him off its back all the more triumphantly.

Nonetheless, the Dog saw very clearly what a fraud he had been during his previous life. He saw the effects of his self-destructive and delusional thinking. He even learned how to, if ever so briefly, stop the restless meandering of his mind by watching his stomach rise and fall.

But to get beyond suffering or even beyond conflict about suffering or not suffering – that he could not do. He guessed that Buddhists, just like everyone else, were overselling their case.

One morning, he woke up with such a sense of desperation and hopelessness that the original choice of either getting a straight job and settling down, or committing suicide, reared its ugly head again.

That morning, he broke his usual routine, climbed up to the top of the mountain and sat there under a blue gum tree.

He resolved not to move until he could come up with the answer to his life's dilemma.

He sat there for what seemed like eternity.

Finally, strange energy began to pulsate through his body. He saw a brilliant white cloud descend upon him, illuminating the farthest recesses of his mind.

Just at that moment a bull ant bit him on his already sore buttocks. As the searing pain tore through his body, he experienced a blinding flash and a surging sense of enlightenment.

As his mind became more composed he perceived the meaning of his revelation: there were not four, but five Noble Truths of Buddhism. They went like this:

1. Life is a pain in the ass.
2. No matter how much you squirm, you are still going to get screwed.
3. The only way to deal with pain is to face it in life through action.
4. You are going to do everything possible to avoid facing truth No. 3, including learning all the tricks of meditation and the Buddhist jargon about the Four Noble Truths.
5. You can no more control your mind than you can control the movement of stars in the sky. But you can control people by teaching them how they can supposedly control their minds.

Who needs sex or possessions, he reflected, when you can have so much power?

The beautiful female acolytes will even put food into your bowl, so that you can become like a child (or a drone) before you enter Nirvana. You can watch junior monks go through mind-numbing rounds of meditation and walking which would even impress a drill sergeant. What's more, your charges would be doing it completely voluntarily. They would even try to outdo each other in their feats of submission and mortification.

The Dog found that among the aspiring followers of the Gentle One competition for merit, recognition, and power was even fiercer than in the society at large. Instead of greed, anger and ambition, steel buttocks, mental endurance and rote memory were the prerequisites for success. The Buddhist scene around him seemed to have as much to do with the original experience of Buddha as the sittings of the Vatican Council had to do with the wanderings of the unruly band of rogues who gathered around the rabble-rouser from Galilee.

The Dog got up from under the gum tree, gently rubbed the spot where the bull ant had bitten him, and started his descent from the mountain.

At first he thought that he would start teaching people the Five Noble Truths that had been revealed to him. But then he realized that people would not listen. They were so eager to give away their power for even a temporary relief from suffering via some second-hand guru or technique that they would ignore him and might even stone him.

The Dog stowed his futon in the van and started on the road leading back to town. He donated his copy of Dhammapada to the monastery's library. His buttocks still hurt but a vague sense of joy at having found his own truth was rising in his soul.

A butterfly skimmed over the road and landed on a gum tree. The Dog smiled. Why burn the house down just because it is going to fall over some day?

The butterfly seemed to be telling him, "Life may be short and full of strife and disappointment, but it is still worth living—with acceptance and grace."

At that point he became a Buddhist

— Pyotr Patrushev

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