Koan of the Space Buddha

(Excerpt from the Book of Serene Being, Vol. 19)

Farcee, an apprentice monk, recognised the Space Buddha and at once prostrated himself.
‘Space Buddha, I have studied for many years and I believe myself to be ready. Please help me find the gateless gates to nirvana,’ Farcee pleaded.

The Space Buddha said nothing, but nodded.
And walked on gently.
Farcee followed, his head bowed low.

The Space Buddha stopped at the school just outside of Farcee’s settleplace.
Farcee stopped too.

The Space Buddha waited for a long time, quietly, patiently, by the entrance to the school. John, Farcee’s friend from many years past, approached Farcee and asked three questions.

‘What are you doing here?’ John asked.
‘Waiting to be helped reach a state of enlightenment,’ answered Farcee.
‘And who is this man?’ asked John.
‘He is the Space Buddha, the Laughing Buddha from another world, true successor to the Gautama Buddha.’
‘Oh’, said John, ‘But why are you standing at the gates of our old school?’
Farcee had no answer.

A short while later many children emerged from the teaching house and the Space Buddha gave them honeyed sweets. When he had no more sweets tucked in the ravels of his cloak he left.
Farcee followed.
So did John.

Further down the same path, the Space Buddha stopped at a teashop. Cohn, the owner, opened the door to his three new customers and they all came inside.

‘What can I get for you?’ Cohn asked them individually.
John said nothing, because he did not know what was going on.
Farcee said nothing because he wanted to have whatever the Buddha was going to have.
The Buddha said nothing because he had already begun to pour his own tea.

‘This is the Space Buddha,’ whispered John to Cohn. ‘He is going to show Farcee the path to enlightenment.’
‘Oh,’ said Cohn, ‘What’s enlightenment?’
John was not sure, so he turned to Farcee for help. Farcee was irritated because he did not want to answer questions; he wanted to observe the Space Buddha. He sighed and answered anyway.
‘Enlightenment is Bodhi. Bodhi is waking from the ignorant sleep that The World teaches us is reality.’

The Space Buddha filled his cup once more, drank it dry and then stood up.
As did Farcee.
As did John.
Cohn was already standing.
When the Space Buddha left they all followed.

Eventually the path they walked down split into three separate directions. The Space Buddha turned and looked directly at Farcee.

‘Ah,’ said Farcee proudly, ‘I think I know which path we should take.’
‘How?’ asked John.
‘Buddha teaches us that we should never move in extreme directions in life, but instead always take the middle path.’
‘But that’s a metaphor, this is a real path,’ John complained.

Farcee explained, ‘The Buddha achieved self-enlightenment. The rest of us need help.’
Farcee’s two companions listened, hoping to finally understand what they were doing here.
‘Assistance is oft provided by koans: stories and situations which initially seem to make no sense, and cannot be fathomed using conscious thought. Instead intuition leads us to the truth.’
‘I do not understand,’ said Cohn.
‘You will,’ John assured him, hoping that he would too.

The Space Buddha did not choose any of the paths.
Instead he sat down at the crossroads.
After a while, so did Farcee.
As did John.
So did Cohn.

After many hours the sun dipped below the horizon and Farcee’s head became heavy. He almost fell asleep three times, waking after each slump with a start and a grunt.
The Buddha did not stir.

‘What is the meaning of this, master?’ asked the young monk, when he could not bear waiting any longer.
‘The mole on your face,’ said the Space Buddha with a giggle.

The Space Buddha stood up and began walking again, back in the direction they had all come from.

Exasperated, Farcee panicked. ‘I do not understand. Space Buddha! Does this mean I am not worthy? Shall I never know enlightenment?’

‘All things are impermanent. Everything will pass. Even this.’
The Space Buddha smiled.
‘You are your own koan.’

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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