We all need to smile sometime – but some of us cannot afford to, or perhaps think as such; some just pretend, while others are too serious and don’t know how to find humor in anything. All cultures have weavings of fun and humor in their festivals, fairs and traditions to make life easier for people. Zen Buddhist monks are famous for calmly infusing humor with Koan paradoxical metaphors into deep philosophical/spiritual queries. A Koan is conceived as a tool, at a very high level of intelligence in doubtful terms of certain ideas, dogmas or principles in order to help stimulation of thought processes in queries. Here is one such Koan: Climate does change because it is fluid and transient, so should we; but taxation is not the answer. Let us attempt to see something different in this piece – something, in a lighter vein through the eyes of Frank. Who is Frank? Well, Frank is what Frank is – like all of us – sometimes this, sometimes that – bashful, dopey, grumpy, happy, sleepy, sneezy, and wisey – similar like the characters of the 19th century German Fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (image credit: anon). Let us enjoy some time with Frank riding on the wings of his observations, wit and imagination . . .
1 – A Scientist’s Grievance
Once a well-known scientist angry at mistreatment of scientists in jobs, remunerations and positions, was giving a lecture on how scientists were being deprived.
At one point he blurted out, “You know, we are at the forefront of social and technological progress and civilization. But then why, why?”
There was Frank rising up from behind and commenting at the top of his voice, “It is because you have eaten too much, and are too eager to unload them for nothing but personal fame – but alas, only within a small group of your community.”
2 – An Engineer’s Fluency
Once there was a high level ministerial meeting for approval of a civil engineering project. Frank was there representing a client.
At one time, the Minister asked, “What do our engineers say?”
All turned their attention to an engineer sitting in a remote corner of the table. The engineer started by saying, “Sir, if . . .”
Before he could move further, the Secretary to the Ministry said with an authoritative voice, “Sir, our engineers are very capable people. They are problem solvers. Only, they do not speak much of our language.” He looked at the engineer and continued, “Right, Mr. Engineer?”
A lady assistant to the Minister remarked, “Very impressive.”
The Minister looked at her and inquired, “What is . . .?”
Before she could answer, Frank joined in, “Sir, it is very impressive that our engineers are fluent in speaking the languages of concrete and steel. They are our high level technicians.”
The Minister looked at the engineer for a comment, hearing nothing sulked, “I see!”
3 – A Showcase of Irresponsibility
Once a university arranged a debate between a politician and a journalist. This is rather unusual because these two slippery professions are buddy-like, but sometimes they are in love-hate relationship. The politicians need journalists for their exposure, the journalists need politicians to feed constant stream of news – yet they clash often. Frank was invited to moderate the session.
The debate went on for long hours without any yielding to the fierce and dirty arguments presented by the other. Instead of stopping, Frank let it drag on, as the audience was in an enjoyable mood.
At one time, the politician angrily blurted out, “You are the guys – your news and views label people, and create words and phrases dividing them: far-left, left, left leaning; center, centrist; far-right, right, right leaning. What are these, eh? So many of this religion – so less of that religion, so many of this color of people – so less of that color. Why number games? Harvard graduate, Oxford graduate – as if graduates of other institutions do not matter. First World – Third World, etc. Working class – who are the non-working class, you, eh? Do people speak like that when talking to one another? Why divide people? Sir, although you guys say differently, your lenses are dirty, and need to be cleaned to make them transparent. You have a forum, and are in a position to reach people far and wide and make a difference. If you understand things . . . I mean!” He looked at the journalist with a mocking wink, “Can you do that and say we are all equal citizens of the country.”
He paused, took a sip then continued, “Instead, your big mouth spills out anything and everything – shallow and lacking any substance – to increase rating. Royal and celebrity cats and dogs are more news-worthy to you than the lives and problems of hard working people. When we initiate projects for the benefit of average citizens, your immediate question is where the money would come from. When political parties come to solutions and compromises, you immediately look for ways to label them winners or losers. Why provoking people and parties to go against one other? You even act as the provocateurs of conflicts. You know - people see these activities as absolutely irresponsible. You know what you guys really are – really are – nothing but scumbags.”
The journalist got infuriated and fiercely shot back, “Wow! The garbage list is very long Mr. powerful flip-flop. Don’t try to distract with all these nonsense, and don’t you ever dare to think of curbing our press freedom. We create the public image of people like yourself, we can as well destroy it, so be very mindful. Some crooks must have taught that politics is all about saying one thing in public and doing something different in private – you see, that define loud and clear the sinister characters of all of you. When there is a problem, we need to write with people to express their grievances for years, only then your lordship’s elephant starts to wag the tail. In the meantime great damages are done, and you let some entities to pocket the profit from delayed response. What a shame! Still you do not hesitate to call yourself people’s government, and people’s representatives.”
He paused and then continued, “Dummy, don’t you know those who line up in discount and dollar stores are the working class. And the countries where you and I visit and stay in five-star luxury, while the people of those countries live in squalid conditions are the Third World countries. You blame us for dividing people? Well . . . well . . . look who use the phrases we write and talk in bombastic rhetoric, as a corporate puppy to spearhead hidden programs. How are these responsible?”
“I say you are . . . you are . . .” He was so enraged that he could not find the right word.
An audience came in help, “Scumbag eaters.”
“Yes – yes, you are nothing but scumbag eaters.” shouted the journalist.
Frank thought of applying the brake at this point and rose up saying, “I am afraid we have to stop here. We have enough name-calling, and are too tired. Okay, we all get it! One is irresponsible and other does not know what responsibility is.” The audience rose up and burst out into laughter, clapping and whistling.
Frank paused and then continued, “I thank the debaters for a lively discussion – although emotions overtook and masked some very good rational points from both sides. We need to live in a culture of mutual respect despite differences, by realizing that people whoever they are, work their best – given the constraints and circumstances. But some bad and incompetent apples are in every profession to spoil the broth. Good or bad, without free press the information world would have been dark – and governing entities would have a blank check to use their power and position for doing whatever benefits their personal gains. And mind you, politicians are not selected or elected based on merit. Although people may perceive, or are told otherwise – most journalists are not scholars, and politicians hardly care about people except during election time. It is not difficult to understand why journalists pick some as news and mislead or suppress others – and why politicians behave as they do because of campaign funding constraints, and others. In the end, all that matters are honesty, integrity and the commitment to do good jobs – and when committed, the petty differences simply melt away. It is easy for political leaders to pamper and yield to corporate pressures, to vested interest groups, or to raising taxes under different pretexts – but it is difficult to work for all people and the country. Anyone can do the easy job, but people vote for politicians to do the difficult job.”
4 – Frank Meets the Buddha
Over the years, Frank became an ardent god believer. But he was still having some doubts. Friends advised him to see the Buddha. They said, the Buddha would be able to satisfy his queries. One day, Frank made up his mind and went to Venuvana Vihara where the Buddha was in rainy-season meditation retreat. After vowing, Frank placed his question, “Bhagavan Buddha, the omniscient, the supremely compassionate awakened one – a question is bothering me very much.”
“Have peace Frank. Speak without hesitation.” The Buddha calmed and assured Frank.
“Bhagavan, is there a god?” Frank asked.
“No, there is no god.” Was the reply from the Buddha.
“Bhagavan . . . ?” Before Frank could proceed further with more queries, the Buddha formed Dharma Chakra mudra at the level of his heart by saying, “Be happy Frank, and let others become happy.” Frank knew what that meant. The Buddha was referring him to focus on understanding the Wheel of Law he taught.
For many years after meeting the Buddha, Frank became a non-believer in god. But he was still having doubts.
After about a decade later, he thought of visiting the Buddha again. The Buddha was staying then in Jetavana Vihara at that time. So Frank took a long journey to reach there.
After the usual greeting, Frank asked, “Bhagavan Buddha, you have told me long ago that there is no god. I became a non-believer since then. But I am having doubts again. Bhagavan, can you assure me whether or not there is god.”
The Buddha calmly replied, “There is god.”
Frank became quite baffled and started asking, “But Bhagavan . . . ?”
Before he could finish, the Buddha formed the Dharma Chakra mudra again by saying, “Be happy Frank, and let others become happy.”
The contradictory replies kept Frank thinking, and yet the Buddha cannot be wrong. One day, it has suddenly dawned to Frank that it does not matter what one believes, as long as one looks deep into his or her own Bodhi for answers – by remaining awake to see things as they are – to find peace and happiness in the spirit of Sublimities.
5 – Frank’s Unusual Encounter
Once upon a time . . .
Frank had been walking for long on a beautiful god’s land; he became exhausted, covered with sweats and dust. But he never let go the piece of paper he was holding in his hand. The paper certificate says that he would be able to see god and go to heaven. Finally, after days and days of painstaking journey, he saw a mountain in the horizon. Frank became hopeful and got rejuvenated – his dream might come true. As he walked further toward it, the silhouette of a beautiful palace came into his view. He reached the huge golden gate. The gate-keepers stopped him. Frank got annoyed; he thought god’s door is open to all. The gate-keepers demanded, “Who are you? Where are you coming from? What are you doing here?”
Frank got scared seeing the huge muscular gate keepers. But he was not going to be intimidated. After all, he took a painstaking journey up to this point.
He gathered courage, “I am Frank coming from Earth. I want to see god. Here is my certificate from the god saying that I can see him and go to heaven.” He gave the piece of paper to the questioning gate-keeper. The gate-keeper looked at the paper and told Frank, “Stay where you are. Let me see what I can do.”
The gate-keeper picked up a phone and Frank heard him saying, “Sir, here is a manuysha saying that he has arrived from Earth. He wants to see god.”
Frank heard a hoarse but authoritative voice on the other side of the phone, “Tell him to leave, we are very busy here.”
The gate-keeper replied, “But sir, he has a piece of paper saying he can see god.”
“Is it? Seems like some corrupt priests have given him false hope. Well, escort him in.” came the voice from the other side.
Frank never imagined that god’s domain also had a phone.
The gate-keeper escorted him to the palace door. An elderly man received him from the gate-keeper and examined the paper Frank carrying. “Hmm – so you are here from Jambudwip”. Frank protested, “No sir, I am from Earth.”
“Yeah, that is okay. What you know as Earth, we call it Jambudwip. We have many such systems in the universe, you know. We have our own system of labeling them. By the way, I am Amar – god’s deputy”.
“God’s deputy! But sir, are you sure you are telling me the truth. Isn’t god the only one overseeing everything?”
“Well, ideally yes. But you see, god has lot to do. It only makes sense that he has some assistance. You will see many of my colleagues in the palace hall.”
Amar guided Frank to a huge hall. The hall was decorated with a huge chandelier. Rows of chairs were piled on each side of the hall and each of them was occupied. On one side there was a pile of men, on the other side women. Frank got surprised and asked, “How come there are women in god’s court?”
“Why, is there a problem? You haven’t expected god to be partial, have you?” Amar tried to explain.
“But women on one side and men on the other!” Frank queried.
“Well there is no such arrangement. It is just personal choice.”
Appearing stress-free and happy, they all looked at him as he entered. Amar did not introduce him to the court - as if they knew he was coming. At the head of the hall seated on a high pedestal, was a very elderly man with white hair and long flowing beard. He seemed to be expressionless and oblivious of any one present in the hall. He was smoking what seemed to be a hookah. Amar indicated he is the god. Frank attempted to rush to god to bow. But Amar stopped him, “No rush, god is in terrible distress. He made a mistake while creating Jambudwip – now he’s trying to figure out what to do.”
“But, why? We have problems, but are not that bad in shape.”
“You have no idea! We are trying to keep god as much aloof as possible. Because, once his anger flares up – it will be a disaster.” Amar continued, “But you are in good time. The party is about to begin.”
“Party! What party, god’s palace has a party too!” Frank could not hide his surprise.
“Well, we work very hard you know. We need some entertainment too. Have a seat here, relax and enjoy, and you will see all for yourself. You are lucky to see Apsara dancing today”
Frank was not happy, “Sir, may I ask you a question before you leave. You and god – all are immortal?”
“Well technically yes. You see, our scale of things is much longer than yours. So to mortals like you, we really appear immortal. But all are subject to the law of transience including us.” Amar sounded very easy, “But don’t worry, you will get answers to all of your questions. Be patient.” Amar departed to take his seat at the head of the row.
An attendant brought drinks. Each of god’s deputies got a blue drink. Frank was given a drink looking like water. He could not hide his surprise for different treatment, and asked the attendant to give him the blue drink. The attendant replied in negative, “Sorry, Soma is for immortals only. This is for mortals like you.”
Frank took a sip; it was somewhat bitter, but seemed to contain alcohol. The hall light was dimmed as it was filled with exquisite soothing music – Frank had ever heard. There entered Apsara – the legendary woman known for her beauty, scantily clad in silk dancing to the tune. The deputies seemed quite energized enjoying the dance. Frank looked at god – he still seemed expressionless puffing his hookah.
As Frank started to enjoy the dance, he began to feel dizzy. He felt an image from the god came up to him, patted his head and shoulder, “Relax my child! Come with me and have a journey to realize things for yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask questions – I am always at your side.”
Frank suddenly woke up with his wife Mary patting him, “Frank, my gosh! You have been sleeping for hours. Wake up.”
Frank could not hide his disappointment and annoyance, “Oh Mary, you have ruined my dream. I was with god about to see things nobody has ever seen before.”
. . . . .
- by Dr. Dilip K. Barua, 4 October 2019