The Silly and the Sublime
(Conversations in a monastery)
(Scene in a monastery. Seated are PLATO, EINSTEIN, JOSHU, AN ONLOOKER, SANKARA, DISCIPLE1 and DISCIPLE2. DISCIPLE1 sits near JOSHU and ONLOOKER near PLATO)
DISCIPLE 1: (To JOSHU) Master JOSHU, I am confused by what you say. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
JOSHU: Come here. (DISCIPLE1 approaches. JOSHU slaps him hard.)
DISCIPLE1: (Holding his cheek) Ow! Ow! Master, what you have done?
JOSHU: Don’t you see?
PLATO: That was the sound of one hand slapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
ONLOOKER: At this point of time, you are supposed to be enlightened.
DISCIPLE 2: Oh yes, I am.
PLATO: How are you enlightened?
DISCIPLE2: Now I know better than to ask Joshu a question from close quarters.
ONLOOKER: That reminds me. This is a joke. How many Zen practitioners does it take to change a light bulb?
DISCIPLE 1: This is no laughing matter. Please not to laugh.
JOSHU: Ho, Ho, Ho. Mu.
DISCIPLE2: Mu? Mew? What is that?
ONLOOKER: Probably something insignificant. Anyway, to return to my joke…
DISCIPLE1: A monk asked Chao-chou, “Has the dog Buddha-nature or not?” Chao-chou said, “Mu”. That is what Joshu is referring to. (Suddenly looking at his hand which has no watch) I am going to be late. What is time now?
PLATO: My friend, I am supposed to ask these deep metaphysical questions. Socratic dialectics was specifically bequeathed to me. So don’t go around filching my intellectual property rights. Now, returning to your question, what, indeed is Time?
ONLOOKER: Plato, I think all he wanted was to know what time it is now. Since you have a watch, why don’t you tell him? Getting back to my joke…
JOSHU: Is there Time when there is nobody around to see his watch?
EINSTEIN: That reminds me of my dear friend Schrödinger who had a cat. Well, at least a metaphorical cat.
DISCIPLE1: Are metaphorical cats rarer than Siamese ones?
EINSTEIN: No, No. This was a purely experimental one…
DISCIPLE2: Genetically mutated, eh?
EINSTEIN: I was referring to a Gedankenexperiment. Thought experiment. This cat was put in a box and…
PLATO: My friend, I am an admirer of yours and all that. But you seem to be losing the thread of the topic. What is Time?
ONLOOKER: Listen. Let me finish my joke… In order to change a light bulb…
SANKARA: (Coming out of his meditation) Time, Who has time now? Fools, Sing the praises of the Lord When the Appointed Time comes Not all your piety nor wit Will save you
DISCIPLE2: That was Omar Khayyam, wasn’t it?
SANKARA: The child constantly thinks of playing The youth, of girls Older men of their worries Time moves on Who, O, who, thinks of the great Brahman?
ONLOOKER: I have only one life. Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.
JOSHU: Live your life and there was no Shakyamuni nor will there be a Maitreya Buddha.
SANKARA: What will happen will happen. Did not Yudhishtira, the epitome of Dharma, give away his fortune, why even his freedom, while gambling?
DISCIPLE 1: Why did Lord Krishna do nothing about this?
EINSTEIN: God does not play dice — as I told Bohr once.
PLATO: Aren’t we wasting a lot of time this way? Getting back to the big question again, what is time?
ONLOOKER: Before that let me finish my joke. Zen monks don’t need to change light bulbs because…
PLATO: EINSTEIN, please tell me what is Time?
EINSTEIN: There is no such independent entity. It is all space-time.
DISCIPLE1: I have been spaced out too — many times.
PLATO: Are you saying that Time does not exist?
SANKARA: Everything is an illusion. Maya. The traveller witnesses a rope lying on the road. In the uncertain twilight, he sees it as a snake. What is the truth?
JOSHU: Is there really a snake on the road unless there is someone it can bite? Does a tree fall in the forest if there is no one to listen to it fall?
EINSTEIN: My colleague once said –
DISCIPLE1: The one with the Siamese cats?
EINSTEIN: Ja. Ja. Nicht Siamese aber Metaphorical. Schroedinger said an event is only in a composite state of probabilities till the probability wave function collapses — when there is an observer and the event can be deemed to have taken place.
PLATO: Are you saying that since we measure time by events and events by time and events don’t happen until observed, time really has no meaning?
DISCIPLE1: My grandmother used to say — A stitch in time saves nine.
DISCIPLE2: Nine what?
JOSHU: Ho, Ho, Ho. That is a good koan to meditate on. Or, if you prefer — What is the difference between a crow?
DISCIPLE 1: A crow and what?
JOSHU: That is one of the things you should meditate on.
DISCIPLE1: What happens then?
JOSHU: You get enlightened.
ONLOOKER: ENLIGHTENED! You, you thief! You, you plagiarist.
DISCIPLE2: Hey, relax. What happened?
ONLOOKER: He stole my punch line. The monks were already enlightened.
DISCIPLE2: What do you mean?
ONLOOKER: That is why they don’t need to change light bulbs. (Looking at JOSHU) You rogue. You really look like the scoundrel that you are.
JOSHU: Don’t look at me. Look at what I hold in my hand.
ONLOOKER: Let me see (reaching for JOSHU’s hands). Let me see what kind of stolen stuff you have hidden in your thieving hands.
DISCIPLE1: Relax. The ways of masters are mysterious.
JOSHU: Listen, I will relate a Haiku to you. A very rare one.
The Swallow spreads its white speckled wing
Without concern flies away.
ONLOOKER: What does that mean? And isn’t a Haiku supposed to be exactly seventeen syllables long? This one seems too long.
JOSHU: (beaming) Yes. That’s why it is a very rare Haiku.
PLATO: For one last time, let me ask — Sankara, maybe you can answer. What is time?
SANKARA: Time is Mithya. False like this entire universe. Brahman alone is real. Brahman alone is real. Brahman alone is real.
ONLOOKER: Hey, I got it the first time. Why do you have to say it three times?
SANKARA: Didn’t you know, according to the sacred scriptures, if you say something three times, it becomes the truth?
PLATO: What I am saying is not true. What I am saying is not true. What I am saying is not true.
ONLOOKER: Wow, that is remarkable.
PLATO: Is it the beauty of the paradox in what I said that you find so remarkable?
ONLOOKER: No, the fact that for the first time you said something without a question mark at the end.
PLATO: Oh my God — I mean, a hypothesis thereof- have I failed my master, Socrates?
DISCIPLE1: Oh God, I have absolutely no time. I must be leaving. (Exits)
EINSTEIN: Yes there is no absolute time. It is all relative.
DISCIPLE2: That reminds me. I must pick up a relative of mine from the station. (Exits)
ONLOOKER: Actually it is getting a little close around here. All these centuries of dirt that Plato has accumulated hasn’t exactly left him smelling like roses. (Exits, holding his nose)
PLATO: (smelling his clothes)- I stink, therefore I am. Hey, that sounds clever. Maybe I’ll go and ask someone to write it down; if not me somebody else can use it. (Exits)
JOSHU: Since I am really not here, I don’t know how I can leave. (Disappears)
EINSTEIN: Let me get back to my own space-time.
SANKARA: Om Peace, Peace, Peace — at last.
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