I Think of Nothing

A couple of days after leaving L.A., I arrived at Master Fwap’s monastery. It was early in the morning, and I had brought all of my gear, including my two snowboards, with me. Master Fwap greeted me at the entrance with a beaming smile. Without saying a word, he gestured to me to follow him into his monastery, down a long dark corridor, and into the main meditation room.

I placed my gear on the floor and followed him over to the altar, which was located at the north end of the room. It was covered with small flickering candles, a large Buddha statue, burning incense, and fresh flowers. Above the altar was a large Tibetan thangka, which consisted of a picture of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, that had been painted on cloth in bright reds, greens, aquas, golds, purples, and blacks.

In the painting, Padmasambhava was seated in a meditation pose, holding a dorje (the symbol of power in Tibetan Buddhism) in one hand and a lotus flower in his other hand. On the same piece of cloth, above, below, and around him, were paintings of other deities, fluffy clouds, and bowls of fresh fruit.

The intricate cloth painting of Padmasambhava was surrounded by two narrow red and yellow pieces of brocade cloth. The entire cloth painting had then been mounted on a second, much larger piece of blue brocade, which was decorated with flowers and what appeared to be spoke-filled wheels. Parts of the brocade were very faded, and I assumed that the thangka must be very old.

The Oracle was in front of me, sitting to the right of the altar on a large, ornate meditation cushion. He was dressed as he had been the first day I had met him, in a bright ochre robe with a red sash. Several strings of stone beads tied together by some kind of black cord hung around his neck. His eyes were closed, and I assumed that he was in deep meditation.

Master Fwap indicated with a glance from his eyes that I should take a seat in front of the altar. Sitting on a small, greenish meditation cushion between Master Fwap and the Oracle, I closed my eyes and tried to meditate.

The smell of the Nepalese incense that flooded the room brought back memories of many Sunday mornings I had spent as a child sitting in church. In the midst of my childhood recollections, I began to wonder if I hadn’t made an error by returning to Kathmandu. For no apparent reason, I suddenly felt uncomfortable and strangely alienated, sitting between these two elderly holy men, having just returned from the totally sensed-out world of Los Angeles.

The three of us sat in this manner in silence for about an hour. I kept mentally reassuring myself that I had done the right thing by returning. I was aware that my consciousness was not exactly frosty after my “dark night of the soul” adventures in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my Santa Monica-ized aura was polluting the sacred vibration of Master Fwap’s incense-filled meditation hall.

I then opened my eyes, and as I did, I saw that Master Fwap and the Oracle were simultaneously bowing, touching their foreheads to the cold, stone temple floor. I imitated their movements as best I could, bowing and touching the floor with my forehead as they had done. I didn’t want to offend any of their Buddhist traditions, even though I didn’t see much point to bowing and offering my meditation to the universe—as had been recommended in The Handbook for Enlightenment—since all I had done for the last hour was think about my doubts instead of slowing and stopping my thoughts and entering into a meditative state.

After bowing, Master Fwap and the Oracle sat up and looked at me. The Oracle was the first to speak: “I am glad you have returned from America. It takes great courage to come to a foreign land in search of truth. Tomorrow we will begin our journey into the depths of the Annapurna range, but today we should converse and relax. Tomorrow we will need all of the strength we can command for the long and harsh road that lies ahead of us.

“It is important at times to talk about enlightenment,” the Oracle continued with a serious tone of voice. “Even though it is impossible to accurately express the higher truths of eternity in words, it is still very helpful to discuss them. Engaging in what we refer to as ‘Buddhist high talk’ helps us to clarify and strengthen our consciousness.

“Your mind must be strong and clear enough to understand and accept the Buddhist reasons for following the pathway to enlightenment. Even though much of what we will talk about today will be beyond your capacity to understand, our conversation will still be of great assistance to the logical side of your mind, whose help you will need in order to pursue the seemingly obscure metaphysical truths of Buddhism.

“Your mind needs ‘reasons’ for pursuing what appears, from its Western perspective, to be ritualistic forms of Buddhist practice and behavior. You have not had an Eastern cultural education in which you would have been taught from childhood the positive gains that engaging in these practices and forms of behavior will bring to your entire life over the course of time.”

“The truth is,” Master Fwap interjected, “all of life’s phenomena are really empty. From the Buddhist perspective, all of life’s pursuits, including the pursuit of enlightenment itself, are illusory.”

“Well then,” I inquired as I directed my eyes toward Master Fwap, “why would you want me to seek enlightenment if it is really only an illusion? That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

“Oh, but it does, my young American friend, it does,” he said as a gentle smile crossed his aged face. “Please be patient with my traditional Buddhist monk ways. I will explain to you why this is so.

“Enlightenment, as I have told you before, is beyond your mind’s understanding. You can experience it, talk about it, and ultimately even know and become ‘one’ with it, and yet your intellect will never completely understand what enlightenment truly is.”

“Pardon me, but, that doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense either. How can I experience something, be able to discuss it, know it, and ‘be’ it, but not be able to intellectually understand what it is I am experiencing, discussing, knowing, and becoming? I don’t get it. Please help me out here.”

“It is easy to talk about enlightenment,” he said, rapidly responding to my question. “For example, I can say that enlightenment is perfection, bliss, and ecstasy, or that it provides an end to suffering. I can also explain to you about both the philosophy and cosmology of Buddhism. In addition, I can inform you of the secret practices and the meditation techniques of Tantric Buddhism and explain how to perform them. And if you follow my instructions to the letter, then after many years of practice, you will experience enlightenment personally. You will both know it and have ‘become’ it. But still you won’t intellectually understand what enlightenment is, or what it means to have become it.”

I was becoming frustrated. “How can that be possible? To me, what you are saying is completely illogical.”

“Well, I don’t understand the first thing about enlightenment, even though I am enlightened. Perhaps the Oracle understands it better than I do. Do you, O enlightened Oracle of Nepal?” Master Fwap asked, turning his attention to the Oracle.

Following Master Fwap’s glance, I looked over at the Oracle to see if he had anything to say that would help me make sense out of Master Fwap’s seemingly contradictory statements. He was silent for a few minutes, and then in a singsong tone of voice he said, “Personally, I have been enlightened for countless incarnations. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember an age in which I was not enlightened. But I am afraid I am in the same position that Fwap is; even though I am enlightened, I really don’t understand the first thing about it.

“Enlightenment,” he continued, “cannot be understood here, in this three-dimensional world that you call home. You may think that you understand it, but if you do you are only allowing your mind to play a trick on you. Your so-called understanding of enlightenment will at best only be a dry, conceptual understanding, since enlightenment resides in worlds that are beyond conceptual knowledge.”

Master Fwap smoothly cut in, “We see this happen here in Nepal all the time. Young people from the Western cultures come to the Himalayas with the idea that enlightenment can be gained through discussions with enlightened masters. These young people, many of whom are very bright, are absolutely convinced that once enlightenment has been explained to them, they will have intellectually grasped the concept of enlightenment and will have therefore attained it!

“So we normally play a little Buddhist joke on them. You see, truly enlightened Tantric Buddhist monks, like the Oracle and myself, have quite a sense of humor.

“We tell these would-be seekers of enlightenment, who have traveled so far from the West, whatever it is they want to hear. When we see that they have become convinced enough through our conversations with them that they understand what enlightenment is, and in their own minds believe they have attained it, we assure them that they have gained true ‘understanding’ of enlightenment, and then we encourage them to return to their homes.”

“That doesn’t sound very honest to me, Master Fwap and Master Oracle. I thought Buddhist monks weren’t supposed to tell lies.”

“We’re not telling lies,” Master Fwap responded with a broad grin. “Are we, O enlightened Oracle of Nepal?”

The Oracle shook his head vigorously from side to side several times before replying. “No, of course not. It’s impossible for enlightened Buddhist monks to tell lies.”

“You see,” Master Fwap went on to explain, the smile on his face quickly enlarging, “we are telling the young Western seekers of enlightenment the truth. In all honesty, through our discussions with them, they have gained a completely accurate intellectual ‘understanding’ of enlightenment. We absolutely tell them the truth, but we just leave out something; we skip the part about the fact that an intellectual ‘understanding’ of enlightenment is not the same as knowing, experiencing, and becoming enlightened.”

“Now is that fair, Master Fwap? If someone travels all the way from the West to come here and find out what the higher truths of life are and to become enlightened, and you only explain it to them, but don’t further explain that the explanation of enlightenment you have given him isn’t the same as really being enlightened, then … if you’ll excuse my language … that’s fucked.”

“Not at all,” the Oracle said with a hearty laugh. “It’s a joke.”

“A joke?” I asked in a plaintive and confused voice. “Why would you want to play a joke on someone who is searching for enlightenment and truth?”

“For two reasons,” Master Fwap responded with a gentle laugh. “The first reason is simply because it’s so funny. Now, at first you may not understand our Buddhist sense of humor, so humor me for a moment, and I will endeavor to explain it to you.”

“Okay,” I said hesitantly, “but this better make sense.”

“Imagine,” he began, “someone who travels all the way from the West in search of enlightenment. This, as the Oracle remarked before, takes great courage in and of itself. In order for a young person to leave their ‘modern’ first world country, with all of its comforts and conveniences, and to join us here in our antiquated, physically impoverished, uneducated, and unsophisticated third world country, they must be highly motivated.

“Naturally, as Buddhist monks, we respect this courage and motivation, but courage and motivation are not enough for the true attainment of enlightenment. In addition to these qualities, an individual—whether from the West or the East—must have what I can only describe as a ‘bright curiosity,’ an ability to see through our Tantric Buddhist fabrications. We create our Tantric Buddhist fabrications, as our masters and their masters did, to gently eliminate individuals who we see are not yet truly ready for the hardships and demands of the practices that lead to non-conceptual enlightenment.”

“What are Tantric Buddhist fabrications?”

“A Tantric Buddhist fabrication,” Master Fwap continued in a patient and dignified tone of voice, “is a test. It is necessary to test a potential student to see if he is strong enough to endure the rigors of the path. It is one thing to learn how to meditate and experience higher states of consciousness, that requires some effort. But to become fully enlightened and realize nirvana, that’s truly challenging.

“So if we see that someone we have met and talked with about enlightenment is content with the intellectual explanation we have provided them with, then we know they are not ready to learn the secret Tantric Buddhist methods and the secret meditation techniques that lead an individual to non-conceptual enlightenment and finally the entrance into paranirvana.

“Assured by us that they have fully intellectually grasped enlightenment—which in truth they have, at least on an intellectual level—we then encourage them to return to their homeland. They then do so convinced that they now not only know what enlightenment is, but that they have attained it!

“Some of them even write books about enlightenment, intellectually explaining it to other people in the cultures they have returned to. No doubt their intellectual explanations are correct, but they really have nothing to do with the true experience and ‘knowing’ of enlightenment at all.

“Lord Buddha was very specific about this very point,” Master Fwap continued, emphasizing his words in a stronger tone of voice. “Buddha explained to his disciples that enlightenment cannot be explained. He made it very clear to them through his discourses on the dharma that enlightenment can be attained only through an individual’s practice of meditation, and that all of the explanations and rituals that are often associated with self-discovery will not lead a person to true enlightenment.

“Buddha further revealed to his disciples,” Master Fwap continued explaining, “that all of the sutras, tantras, and fine discourses he gave to his disciples about enlightenment were really quite worthless. They were, as he said, ‘only hollow words.’”

“If they were only hollow words, why did he bother uttering them at all?”

“A good question,” remarked the Oracle.

“Buddha, and every enlightened master before and since him,” Master Fwap responded, “has made it abundantly clear to anyone who would actually listen carefully to what he said, enlightenment can be experienced only through the actual practice of meditation. The more you ‘understand’ enlightenment, the less you really ‘know’ it.

“Your intellectual understanding of enlightenment only fools you into thinking you have attained the genuine article. If that is the case, and you actually believe that you have attained it when in fact you have only a cursory intellectual understanding of enlightenment, then you will be satisfied, and your quest will end right then and there. You will return to your homeland convinced that you have actually become enlightened.”

“This phenomenon also happens frequently here in the East,” the Oracle added. “The East is filled with Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist masters who really believe they have attained enlightenment, because they have gained a deeper ‘intellectual’ understanding of enlightenment, in comparison with the average person who meditates.

“These masters are not consciously lying. From a Buddhist point of view, when they tell their followers and others that they are enlightened, they are not lying because they truly believe they have attained enlightenment. And since no enlightened person has bothered to contradict them, what they tell others about their ‘attainment’ is said in all innocence.”

“Enlightenment cannot be known through the reading of books, or listening to lofty discourses,” Master Fwap cut in. “You must experience it directly. It is like your snowboarding. I’m sure a person could read all about snowboarding, its methods and techniques, and have an excellent understanding of what it is and how to do it just by reading about it. But that doesn’t mean that they could then go and successfully snowboard down a mountain on their first snowboarding outing without proper instruction and practice, does it?”

“No, of course not,” I responded.

“Well,” Master Fwap continued, “it is the same with enlightenment. We have a lot of explanations and methods, practices and approaches, that we explain through words and concepts, or are depicted graphically in the thangkas and mandalas, but their purpose is not to transmit enlightenment. Their purpose is to inspire the student first to learn and then to go and practice meditation until they have directly experienced enlightenment itself, in all of its radiant glory.”

“Oh, I get it. It’s like reading about how great it feels to ride high when you’re snowboarding. It turns you on to the sport or inspires you, and then you go and give it a try.”

“That’s correct,” Master Fwap responded with a smile. “So perhaps now you can understand why we weave our Tantric Buddhist tapestry of illusions for prospective students of enlightenment. If they seem fully content with our intellectual explanations, which is more often the case than not, then we let them go. This is our way of weeding out the students of enlightenment who will not succeed. It is like one of your precollege examinations that eliminate prospective students who would not succeed in college.

“It is only a rare seeker of truth who will insist on more than our intellectual explanations of enlightenment. They will see through the hollowness of our Tantric Buddhist tapestry of intellectual explanations and insist on being taught the real Tantric techniques and methods of meditation that will lead them to the true experience of enlightenment.

“The advanced Tantric path,” Master Fwap said with a slight sigh, as a compassionate look crossed his face, “is not for everyone. This particular truth may be hard for you to understand. You come from America, and you are a believer in the American dream of equal opportunity for all. As Buddhist monks, we share your American dream of equal opportunity for all, but Buddhism is the study of reality. Part of the reality of life is that all people may be created equally, but not all people have the same skills and abilities.

“We feel that all beings are of equal worth, whatever their level of spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical development. Studying Tantric Buddhism is like attending one of your graduate schools in the West. It is only for a person who is motivated, determined, and has a certain level of specialized intelligence. Our test to determine who has this level of commitment and intelligence is to see which seekers are fooled by the trappings and rituals of Tantric Buddhism. Spiritual seekers who think our ochre robes, sacred books, prayer wheels, sand and rice mandala ceremonies, and other Tantric rituals are what is important, and who place little or no value on the daily practice of meditation, automatically rule themselves out from being taught the advanced tantras by a truly enlightened master. It has always been this way and it always will be this way.

“Don’t misunderstand me, it is certainly true that our rituals and explanations are helpful in inspiring a seeker of truth to get to and stay on the pathway to enlightenment, but you should understand that these very rituals, practices, and ceremonies can also become a seeker of enlightenment’s worst enemies.”

“How is that?” My curiosity was really aroused now. I wanted an explanation. “Why would you have all of those rituals and ceremonies and all of this other Buddhist stuff if all of it might only succeed in trapping a person and preventing him from becoming enlightened?”

“Fwap!” the Oracle shouted. “He still doesn’t understand our Buddhist sense of humor!”

“I will endeavor to explain it to him, O Exalted One,” Master Fwap responded to the Oracle. Then the two of them started to laugh hysterically. I felt very embarrassed. I didn’t know if I simply didn’t get the joke, or whether I was the joke.

After their laughter had subsided, Master Fwap wiped the tears away from his eyes with the right sleeve of his ochre robe and resumed his explanation.

“Buddhists think everything is funny. This may be hard for you to grasp, because you come from the West, where you have a very different concept of humor. For us, life is funny because it cannot be understood. I know this sounds contradictory, but I will explain to you what I mean, which, of course you realize is yet another ruse on my part to weave you further into one of our Tantric Buddhist tapestries of intellectual understanding.”

Before I had a chance to interrupt or even contradict him, he continued. “When you look at life you see beauty and ugliness, hate and love, suffering and pleasure, truth and illusion, and salvation and redemption. As Tantric Buddhist monks we don’t believe in any of those things at all. We simply pretend to believe in them when we are around people who have faith in those types of concepts.”

“Isn’t that lying?”

“No,” he gently remarked, “it is just an expression of our Buddhist courtesy. Buddhist etiquette is very complicated. We would consider it very discourteous to tell an individual something they didn’t want to hear, which might then upset their concepts of life. In doing so it might cause them to experience pain and suffering.

“The point of Buddhist teaching,” he continued, “is to help a person rise above their pain. Most individuals are so attached to their preconceived views and notions of life and enlightenment that if we were to confront them with the simple truth about enlightenment, their mind’s view of the world might be destroyed and they would be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually devastated. In other words, our explanation would not explain anything at all about enlightenment, since explanations can’t. It would only take away the slight happiness that their current illusions about enlightenment already give them.”

Master Fwap paused for a few moments and looked into my eyes. He then bowed slightly to me and started to speak again. “I see you still don’t understand our Tantric Buddhist sense of humor, so let me provide you with an analogy from your own culture that may help clarify this point for you.

“You have a tradition in the West of telling most young children that there is a being called Santa Claus, who comes into their houses on Christmas Eve and leaves presents for them. You tell children this because it makes them happy. Naturally, at a certain age children come to realize that there is no Santa Claus. Eventually, they find out it was simply their parents who were putting out the presents for them while they slept, dreaming peacefully of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

“Now, why do you tell children this, when later they find out that Santa Claus was only a hoax? Wouldn’t it be better just to tell children from the beginning that the Christmas presents they received were really from their parents?”

“Well, no. I mean, it was great for me when I was a kid to believe in Santa Claus, I would excitedly rush down the stairs on Christmas morning to discover what Santa Claus had left for me. My parents even left cookies out for him, and I would always find them half eaten. It was only when I was older I discovered my parents were munching out on the cookies after I went to bed on Christmas Eve, so I would think on Christmas morning that Santa Claus had eaten some of them.”

“When you found out that there was, in truth, no Santa Claus, did you experience severe mental trauma? Were you mad at your parents for having lied to you? Did you lose your faith in them or in life?”

As I was about to answer him, the Oracle interjected, “And if you were ever to have children, would you tell them that there was a Santa Claus?”

I could think of nothing to say in response to their questions. For some reason my mind went totally blank.

Master Fwap spoke up and answered his and the Oracle’s questions for me. “Believing in Santa Claus as a child made you very happy, and later when you learned there was no real Santa Claus, you were not traumatized. And yes, if you ever had children—which by the way you won’t because it is not your karma to do so in this lifetime—of course you would tell them that there was a Santa Claus, because you would want them to experience the same happiness you had when you were a child.

“Part of being a parent is protecting your children from the harsh realities of life until they are old enough to deal with and understand them in a positive and rational way. Part of being a Buddhist teacher of enlightenment is similar in many ways to being a responsible parent. We provide happy illusions to spiritual seekers until they are mature enough to deal with the more complex incongruities of the Tantric Buddhist pathway to enlightenment.”

“You want the truth to be straightforward, don’t you?” the Oracle asked me. “Well,” he responded, again answering his own question, “I am afraid it’s not!”

“Yes,” Master Fwap agreed. “Truth is not straightforward, at least not the truth of enlightenment. It is the simplest thing in the world, and yet it is also the most complicated of all things.

“Try to understand,” Master Fwap continued in a soothing tone of voice, “truth and enlightenment are not simply understandings of life; they are metaphysical journeys, actual experiences that your spirit has from moment to moment as it passes through eternity. To understand this, or to help get you from the ‘understanding’ of enlightenment to the experience, knowledge, and realization of enlightenment, is why the disembodied master posed a riddle for you to solve on top of that lone snow- and ice-covered Himalayan peak. He saw that you were ready to go beyond the child’s view of enlightenment and that your power was strong enough to undertake the journey to have the actual experience of enlightenment. That journey, for you, is to solve the riddle of the missing dimensions. That is your test.

“The Oracle and I will do our best to help you solve the riddle and subsequently attain enlightenment. But we will also do our best to give you easy ways out—from time to time—so that you can keep your happy illusions, if you like, and believe that you’ve actually solved the riddle, when in truth you haven’t. You will never know from either of us whether you have actually solved the riddle. Out of Buddhist courtesy, we will always tell you only what you want to hear.

“If you persist, and if your power is strong enough, you will break through the tapestry of Tantric Buddhist illusions we are going to weave for you, and you will succeed in solving the riddle directly.”

“Master Fwap,” I complained, “how will I know whether I have solved the riddle of the missing dimensions if you and the Oracle won’t tell me? It doesn’t seem fair.”

“You will know,” Master Fwap said in a gentle tone of voice, “by the journey of your life. If you succeed in solving the riddle, then you will return to the West, and one day, in this lifetime, you will become enlightened. You will be surprised if and when you do, because you will discover that enlightenment is not at all what you ‘thought’ it was going to be.

“It is what it is,” he continued as a small, poignant smile stole across his face. “Without a doubt, if you do become enlightened, no one in the West will really believe that you are. Those people have enough trouble believing that the Oracle and I, and other enlightened Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist masters, are genuine, because they already have firmly established, unrealistic ideas and attitudes about how really enlightened masters should speak and behave.

“So if they can’t accept us and our ways and words, because we don’t fit into their cookie-cutter formulas for how enlightened beings should be, how can they possibly accept one of their own—a Caucasian—who doesn’t fit their mental description of the way an enlightened person should speak and act and look? At least we are aged Orientals who dress in ochre robes, lead compact lives, and perform yogic rituals. But you, a blond American snowboarder?

“Even if you manage to solve the riddle, and then practice the advanced Tantric methods and regain your past-life enlightenment in this incarnation, everyone in both the West and the East—with the exception of other enlightened masters who can see past your body’s surface and into the depths of your inner being—will assume you are a fraud. What else could they possibly believe? Think of it this way: They all still want Santa Claus, not reality, even though they claim the opposite.”

“There is nothing wrong with that,” the Oracle chimed in. “If you are enlightened, you won’t care what people think about you. That’s part of becoming enlightened. Once you have become truly enlightened, the opinions of others no longer matter to you. You know that your only true friend is the dharma.”

“If you solve the riddle of the missing dimensions, and then faithfully practice the advanced Tantric meditation techniques and methods that the Oracle and I will teach you, you will become enlightened. After that, know you will be ridiculed, and everyone will think you are a charlatan! Instead of learning the true ways of enlightenment from you, they will all run to the unenlightened teachers who have only a conceptual understanding of enlightenment but who talk and act in such a way as to fit into their preconceived notions of how an enlightened person should appear, speak, and behave.”

“Why don’t people in the East believe that you and the Oracle, and other truly enlightened masters who live here, are real? Growing up in a Buddhist culture, shouldn’t they be able to distinguish an enlightened master from a fake?”

“Not really,” Master Fwap replied. “People are generally the same, wherever they are from. They don’t, as a rule, like incongruities and anomalies. When something doesn’t make sense to them they usually prefer not to deal with it rather than engage themselves in the hard work of reaching a new level of consciousness, from which they could understand and benefit from something that is both physically incongruous and cosmically complicated!

“If a master makes the practices, truths, and discussions of enlightenment simple, keeps them linear and easy to grasp intellectually, and behaves according to people’s preconceived ideas of how ‘holy’ people should act, they are applauded and warmly accepted. But in reality almost all enlightened masters act and speak in ways that contradict the stereotypical ideas your average person has. As you may get to see in this incarnation, enlightenment itself is not at all like what you currently imagine it to be. Being an enlightened master will not be anything like you currently imagine it to be either.”

“Explain this just a little more for me, would you, Master Fwap? I’m still a little confused by all of this.”

“Look at it this way,” he replied, “Most people think enlightened masters aren’t human. They think we sit around in meditation all day, that we are extremely passive and always willing to turn the other cheek instead of being the strong and aggressive beings that we truly are. The mass of humanity believes our outer behavior should be ‘religious’ in nature, and that all of our discussions about enlightenment should be logical and clear.

“But most real enlightened masters are exactly the opposite,” Master Fwap continued to explain. “They are all true characters! They often appear to be half crazy, speak in riddles, and engage in pursuits that are not particularly puritanical. That is part and parcel of being enlightened; you have transcended space and time, and gone beyond the stereotypical trap of ‘masterhood.’”

“What is this trap of masterhood?” I inquired.

“When an individual reaches a certain level in the advanced practice of yoga, he normally attains powers, understandings, and abilities that are far beyond those of mortal men and women. When average people see an advanced practitioner of yoga displaying their knowledge and powers, or intellectually sharing some of their advanced understandings of life, they immediately bow, scrape, and prostrate themselves before them.

“Power and ego are the primary obstacles to enlightenment. It’s another one of our Buddhist riddles. You need occult power in order to attain enlightenment, but you can easily become addicted to occult power and the boost it gives to your ego. If that happens, instead of transcending your ego, you get even more stuck in it than you were before you began to meditate. You willfully exchange the admiration and applause of others for your accomplishments in the advanced practices and stop advancing along the path to true enlightenment. Trust me, this happens to yogis and yoginis all of the time, isn’t that right, Master Oracle?” The Oracle nodded his head vigorously in agreement with what Master Fwap had said.

“So, most persons who reach the verge of true enlightenment get stuck in this trap of masterhood. It is a tough trap to overcome. You can’t understand any of this until you have the ability to perform miracles and know how the admiration of the crowd after you perform such a deed can be so seductive.

“It takes a great amount of willpower and purity to overcome the trap of masterhood. It’s similar to the trap of wealth. If you have always been poor and have come to accept poverty as your lot in life, it is, as you would say, no big deal. But once you have become rich, powerful, or famous, even though these things in and of themselves do not create happiness, once you’ve had or experienced them, you will cling to any of those traps as if your life depended on them.

“The trap of masterhood is ego. It is your ego that is the cause of unhappiness and suffering in your life. It creates a partition between you and the joy and ecstasy of enlightenment. In the beginning, a seeker on the pathway to enlightenment realizes this truth and practices meditation to rise above the ego or false sense of self so they can experience the freedom and ecstasy of enlightened states of consciousness.

“As most seekers of the truth become more powerful in their yoga, they transcend their old human egos and trade them in for the egos of masterhood. They will say and do what the crowds want, because they have become addicted to admiration. Their new ‘master’s’ ego blossoms, and suddenly instead of their egos becoming transparent, they think they know more than most of the people around them do about the inner workings of the cosmos. They come to think, now that they can impress the crowds with their erudite explanations of the meaning of life and enlightenment, and can also perform a few siddhas—what you would call miracles—that they have become better than the people around them.

“They now become stuck in the quicksand of their attachment to their new powers, understandings, and the approval of the crowds. As a consequence, they will not evolve any further toward enlightenment.”

“You must try to understand, hard though it may be, that from our point of view we don’t consider becoming enlightened a special attainment; it is simply an unusual attainment,” the Oracle added.

“We don’t feel that an enlightened person is better or worse than anyone else: They are everyone else. Through their countless births and deaths, they have walked through the infinite corridors of existence, experiencing every different aspect of existence. For whatever reason, one day they wanted to go beyond experiencing existence, to becoming existence itself.

“The potentially enlightened one started to walk down the corridors of the inner world that lead to enlightenment, engaging in the proper meditation practices and studying with enlightened masters. They purified themselves through contemplation, hard work, and selfless giving. They made their minds as hard and bright and multifaceted as a diamond, through hundreds of incarnations of yogic practice. They fought and won the long, hard, and silent battles to overcome their ego, attachments, and aversions. It is only a rare soul who has this degree of perseverance.

“And once they have reached the border of enlightenment, they encounter a series of very subtle traps that all of us must overcome to reach the shores of nirvanic enlightenment. The most difficult of these traps is the trap of masterhood. These are the same obstacles every practitioner of the pathway to enlightenment successfully dealt with and overcame in their previous struggles, but now they have to deal with the same traps of ego, attachment, and aversion but in much more subtle and sophisticated forms. The trap of masterhood is one of those forms, but there are several others.

“So,” the Oracle said in summation, “the trick is to keep your eye on enlightenment, and, once you have found a truly enlightened master, always to do what they say—particularly when it doesn’t make any sense to you.”

“Why particularly then, Master Oracle?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied with a laugh, “since enlightenment and the advanced practices that lead to it lie beyond logic, you have to stop making sense in order to start making sense on a more advanced level. Now as an enlightened master, what might appear sensible to you may seem completely contradictory to someone who has not yet attained enlightenment.

“Enlightened masters live in a world of complete innocence; they have transcended their egos and have gone beyond dimensionality. While they may still incarnate and have physical bodies, their inner attention is always focused on nirvana. This world as we know it is simply a playground for them.”

“Let me see if I understand by putting it into snowboarding terms. When you start to study snowboarding, you learn and practice all of the techniques from the best boarders, until you have them down. If you then get good enough, you can break a lot of the rules you had to follow at the beginning. You move up to a higher level of snowboarding—where the old rules simply don’t apply to you anymore, and new ones do. Beginning and intermediate snowboarders at that point would look at what you were doing and think you were nuts and out of control, because your control becomes so excellent that it is undetectable except to another world-class snowboarder’s eyes. You can pull off radical things that would be unsafe for others, just because you are a world-class snowboarder. Is that more or less right?” I asked.

“The boy has a basic understanding, Fwap,” the Oracle dryly remarked. “Perhaps he’s not completely unteachable.”

Master Fwap and the Oracle then laughed together, sharing some private joke I didn’t get, after which they were silent for several minutes.

Master Fwap then asked me, “So now do you understand our Buddhist sense of humor? Naturally, like anything in advanced Buddhist practice, it cannot be explained, but you can draw inferences and come to deeper understandings, if you allow your mind to absorb what we tell you without analyzing it to death or trying to make it into an all-encompassing, logical paradigm, which somehow must always work and be true in all places, in all cases, and at all times.

“Here in the East,” he continued, “we see the seekers of enlightenment gather by the tens of thousands around the unenlightened teachers who have only a conceptual understanding of enlightenment and who act and speak in a way that fits into the Eastern people’s preconceived notions of how masters should act and speak.

“The Oracle and I, and other enlightened masters, are generally ignored. It should be this way. There is nothing wrong with it. If the seekers of enlightenment were truly ready for the actual training and experience of enlightenment, they would leave the masters who have only an intellectual understanding and not rest until they found us, or someone like us who is truly enlightened and could show them the more advanced mysteries of the path.

“This is our Buddhist sense of humor,” Master Fwap said in summation. “It is a happy humor, it is not based on meanness. We do not find the pain and misfortune of others funny, although we do find our own pain and misfortunes funny.

“We watch the seekers of enlightenment run to their ‘spiritual’ Santa Clauses, because that is what they really need at this point in their evolution. We deal with the few who are ready to go beyond the support structures and illusions of basic Buddhism, who are mentally prepared to embrace the more incongruous advanced teachings and practices of Tantric Buddhism. Those are the few who progress beyond samsara—illusion—and on to enlightenment. Everything is as it should be.

“In our Buddhist sense of humor we have a happy sense of the ironic sides of life. Everything is an illusion, and all illusions have their purposes. From our complex Tantric Buddhist viewpoint, therefore, there are no real illusions at all. Illusions are steps along the path, if you see what I mean.”

I could think of nothing to say.

The Oracle suddenly stood up, bowed to me, and said, “O future enlightened one, know that all of this means nothing. There is nothing to mean, nothing to know, no one to mean it, and no one to know it. And,” he said with a chuckle, “if you believe this one, we’ll tell you another!”

The Oracle then collapsed on the floor in spasms of laughter. I looked nervously over at Master Fwap, only to see that he was cracking up too. At first I felt totally frustrated because I assumed they were laughing at my lack of understanding, but after a few minutes of their happy laughter, my sense of frustration, much to my surprise, suddenly vanished.

Their laughter became infectious. After a few more minutes, I was laughing along with the both of them, as hard as they were! Suddenly everything seemed funny to me, and I felt happy and free. It was as if I had suddenly—without knowing how or why—been liberated from some kind of internal heaviness I had been carrying around deep inside of myself, without even knowing that I was carrying it around.

As I was laughing along with Master Fwap and the Oracle I had no idea why I was really laughing. It didn’t seem to matter, though, so I just kept laughing on and on until tears were streaming down my face.

After our laughter had subsided, I looked at Master Fwap and the Oracle. Both of their eyes were shining with an intensity that was so bright that I could hardly look back at them. They didn’t have to explain anything more to me, though; I was content with the knowledge that I didn’t understand their intellectual explanations, or need to.