107. The Enlightenment Game
When asked by a popular Buddhist magazine to write an article on enlightenment, I sent the following spoof on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? To my surprise, the article was published.
Who Wants to Be Enlightened?
“Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen. Today on ABC (American Buddhist Channel) we present the final of Who Wants to Be Enlightened?
“This show is proudly sponsored by Dhyana Corporation Meditation Cushions, the only company that promises ‘If you’re not enlightened using our cushions in this life, we’ll give you your money back in your next life!’
“Now, with a great pleasure that I am not attached to, I introduce our four finalists: Venerable Anna Gami, Geshe Bo De’Sattva, Roshi Sid Arthur, and renowned lay meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and gay and any other rights activist, Amy Tarbha. Please welcome them with a Sadhu, Om, or Mu!
“For new viewers to the program, here are the rules again. There will be three elimination rounds, where each of Their Holinesses will be tested on their achievement of enlightenment. One finalist will be eliminated and sent back to the source after each round.
“The first round is a question. How do you describe enlightenment?”
Anna: “Enlightenment means having no self. In fact, as the only
Theravada Buddhist here, following the original teachings of the Buddha, I am the purest and most enlightened. I say that if you have realized that you have no self, then be proud of your attainment and tell everyone.”
Bo: “Enlightenment to me means being so compassionate to my disciples that I intentionally get very angry at them so that they don’t feel so miserably inferior in my presence.”
Sid: “Enlightenment means having no attachment. I am so detached that I am not even attached to detachment, hence my cool new Rolex. Check it out! Awesome, isn’t it?”
Amy: “Enlightenment to me is having great sex without the delusion of a self that has to feel guilty about anything.”
“Thank you, Your Emptinesses, for your unfathomable wisdom. And the first off the wheel and off the show is . . . Anna! And don’t ever come back, Anna Gami.
“The test for the second round is who can sit in meditation for the longest time. So, Your Ineffables, after the gong, meditate!” . . . GONGGG!
After only two minutes, Amy opens her eyes and checks her Twitter account. Sid lasts a whole hour. But Bo sits still for so long that the medics on the show decide that he is dead and cremate him. Bo has gone to suchness. The audience give Bo a big round of “Om! Sweet Om!” Now, only Sid and Amy remain.
“The final round, which will decide the winner of Who Wants to Be Enlightened?, has arrived. Isn’t this exciting! Sid and Amy, I now want you to demonstrate on live TV a psychic power.”
Sid closes his eyes, focuses deep within, and with a rush of ecstasy, he floats up into the air like a feather on the breeze. Higher and higher Sid levitates above the stage until the awestruck audience bursts into thunderous applause. So loud is their cheering that it interrupts Sid’s concentration, destroying his psychic power and causing him to come crashing back down on the stage. Breaking his neck, he dies instantly. Many in the audience gain satori, Sid returns to the ground of all being, and a new koan is born.
With only one contestant remaining, Ms. Amy Tarbha, famous lay meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and every-right campaigner, is declared the winner of Who Wants to Be Enlightened? and presented with a special, limited-edition, solid-gold meditation cushion—hell to sit on, but impressive to look at—with GPS to navigate through and beyond all hindrances. She was the only one left found wanting.
I wrote this piece originally for Inquiring Mind (Fall 2010) as a bit of fun to destroy the craving to attain, expose the fraudulence of those who publicly claim to be enlightened, and to vacuum up the centuries-old cultural dust that has covered up enlightenment to the point of total obfuscation.