The Thousand Buddhas

The other day, my wife Alexis and I visited the Musée Guimet in Paris. It was a special outing, as we were celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first meeting. The Musée Guimet is a world-class collection of Asian art. It’s spectacular, gorgeous, fantastic, and marvelous, to pluck a quaternity from the Thesaurus (with a capital “T,” of course).

The Musée is off the average tourist’s radar, and at the height of the season you can find yourself alone in there. Just you, the thousand Buddhas, and no one else.

Yes. The thousand Buddhas, also known as the 144,000 Buddhas, the 432,000 Buddhas, the Seven Buddhas, the 12 Buddhas, and the Many-who-are-One. I’m making all of this up, but this proves the very point I’m trying to share with you: We each have our own subjective reality, composed of our perceptions, our filters and blockages, our family histories, our DNA, our Zodiac signs, and our diet among other variables. Alexis and I, together for 25 years and generally attuned to each other, undoubtedly saw two completely different Musées Guimet, two completely different sets of a thousand Buddhas. And my very informal and ignorant Buddhism—the one I’m making up right now—is totally unlike the Dalai Lama’s, for example. Which is totally unlike the Buddhism of any other བླ་མ་. (That’s Tibetan for Lama, but you knew that already, didn’t you?) (You didn’t?)

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Indeed, no two people have ever seen the same Buddha. And if a hundred readers read this blog post, there’ll be a hundred head trips with a hundred minds and hearts making up their own stuff. If you doubt me, share the post with a friend and then get together for drinks, and pick a fight over what the hell this post means.

Acceptance of the subjective dimension—yours and everyone else’s—is a healing process, a coming-to-terms, a letting-go. Since the subjective dimension is the stuff of your daily life, to accept it allows you to inhabit your life more comfortably. Believe it or not, other people are different from you, and they don’t see the world the way you see it, even when they’re standing on the same spot as you, and looking in the same direction. Accept the subjective dimension, and you’ll understand people more easily.

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Also, much as there are a thousand Buddhas, there are a thousand Pedros, a thousand Alexis or Alexises or Alexii, and a thousand of every person. Do your mother and your banker really see the same “you”? Does your mother see the same “you” before and after she takes her meds? As a matter of fact, do you see your own self the same way on Monday morning and on Friday evening?

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At the Musée Guimet, there was a temporary show on the life of the Buddha. Imagine a vast Wikipedia page illustrated with sculptures, freezes, lithographs, parchments, maps, all of it beautifully lit and displayed. You’ll travel in space and time, to north India 2500 years ago. You’ll visit Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, and all points in between. You’ll dwell in princely realms, and you’ll also meet beggars, devils, and The Temptations. Also elephants, and whenever you see elephants they inevitably go pink and on parade. You’ll learn that the Buddha lived 527 lives before he achieved ultimate enlightenment, the containment-that-is-a-propagation, the delightful death.

Here’s a theory: Enlightenment is the recognition that the subjective reality you swear by isn’t Reality. In enlightenment, filters and assumptions and judgments dissipate, and then “you see.” 527 lives at an average of 40 years per life, give or take a month or two? It’s roughly 20,000 years. Start immediately, and you might reduce your sentence by several weeks!

Below is a police lineup of Buddha suspects. Which of these is the actual Buddha, good ol’ Siddhārta Gautama, the flesh-and-bones human being who “committed” Buddhism 2500 years ago?


 ©2019, Pedro de Alcantara. 


The Buddha and the Shadow met in a bar. One of them was resplendent, the other stank of sulfur. Jack, the bartender, knew them well. “The usual?” he asked.

“Yes,” they answered in unison. A Bloody Mary for the hairy one. And a shot of nothing, with a prāna chase, for the other fellow. Plenty of peanuts. The Buddha had a thing for crunchy-salty-nutty.

“What’s that smile about?” the Shadow asked.

“Unconditional love,” the Buddha answered. “I feel good.”

“Oh yeah? Have a look at yourself in that mirror behind the bar. You’re as fat as a Buddha, and you’re 2500 years old.”

The Buddha chuckled. “You’re right, I should lose some weight. But these peanuts . . .”

“It’s not the peanuts, Fatso. That smile of yours is just phony.”

The Buddha chucked again. It’s what he did—smile, chuckle, laugh, smile, chuckle, laugh. It drove the Shadow insane.

“Dimples are for little kids,” the Shadow said. “On you they look like leprosy.”

“Marvelous,” the Buddha chanted, beaming. “Did you know that the word ‘leprosy’ comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ‘lep’? Back then it meant ‘to peel.’”

The Shadow finished his Bloody Mary in one gulp. He banged his glass on the counter, and Jack heard it loud and clear. “You and your stupid Proto roots,” the Shadow said. “I have a PhD in linguistics. I happen to know that ‘lep’ also evolved towards the Lithuanian ‘lepus,’ which means ‘soft, weak, effeminate.’ Google it if you don’t believe me.”

“Here it is, buddy.” Jack served the Shadow his second Bloody Mary. It wasn’t going to be his last.

The Buddha smiled again. “Jack, let me have another shot of nothing.”

Nothing!” the Shadow shouted. “That’s what’s wrong with you! You believe in nothing, you feel nothing, you do nothing! You’re dead inside!”

The Lord Buddha laughed silently, and his rolls of fat wiggled and jiggled. “Shady, I love you just so.”

The Shadow couldn’t take it any longer. “You—you—you—” He lunged at the Buddha and grabbed his throat, having temporarily forgotten that Fatso had learned karate when he dwelled in Japan.

The Buddha shoved a knee into the Shadow’s groin. He collapsed on the floor, writhing in pain. Fatso stomped on his head and—well, he killed the guy.

The bar fell into a deep silence. In the distance, the church bells sounded midnight.

Jack knew the drill. He put another Bloody Mary on the counter, plus a big bowl of peanuts. In walked the resplendent Lord Buddha, smelling of sandalwood and patchouli. “Shady!” he said. “You started drinking without me. What’s bothering you?”

“Don’t even ask,” the Shadow replied, sipping his Bloody Mary. “Tonight I could murder somebody.”

©2019, Pedro de Alcantara