These days comedy should be deemed an essential service so I thought I’d give you a socially-distanced laugh today!
Its an excerpt from the book, Windowshopping For God, that I’ve been working on for the past two years.
A monk, a Rabbi and a Comic walk into a temple…
I had not done anything Buddhistesque, since I got sober. And so I thought I’d give the Zen Buddhist Centre a try. Tibetan Buddhism has a lot more pomp and circumstance, while the Zen Temple is austere: a lot like the first week of a diet: all melba toast and cottage cheese.
I got there early, removed my shoes, and entered the meditation hall, a cavernous open room with many pillows. And after bowing twice, I sat down on a lush purple pillow, adjusted my sit bones, shut my eyes, crossed my legs, and started to breathe. Sometimes when I tried to meditate, all I did was fidget. But this time, it was easy. I watched my breath fall away. I remembered my TM mantra and then booted it to the curb and felt the spaciousness of infinite mind. I felt a complete commitment to the moment. Just this breath. No other breath but this present one.
Suddenly, there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a bald beatific man smiling and motioning to me. He put his hand in front of his mouth and kept shutting and opening it like you do when you want someone to speak louder. He pointed to the Sensai over at the door. Sensei is a teacher-high priest of the Zen Centre. The Big cheese. And Big Cheese’s face was dark and brooding. He looked ashen-like as if he had suddenly taken ill. The bald man pointed once again at Sensei and me and made mouthing gestures with his hands. Then I made mouthing motions with my hands, and he nodded, and I realized that they were asking me to be the speaker. I was new to this particular temple. The only thing I could think of was Sensei was sick, and someone must have found out I was a comic and wanted to spice things up.
Let’s face it, Zen Buddhists could use a laugh.
Maybe it was too soon to testify. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. But I could use the angle that I was once Catholic who got lost in the land of the hungry ghosts, and now I was slowly but surely getting my defilements under control.
I have to say I wasn’t that surprised I was being tapped for this opportunity. I had been waiting for this my whole life. Not at the Buddhist temple per se, but since I was little, I knew my faith would play a big part in my life. I remember waking up my sister, Karen and making her interview me like she was Johnny Carson and I was a famous actor who came on his talk show. I even gave her the questions to ask me.
“So, to what do you attribute your success?” She’d ask, as Johnny, just wanting to go back to sleep.
“Well, Johnny, my talent was God-given. I was called by Jesus Christ our Lord to perform. My faith has held me every step of the way.” Then I’d wipe away a tear.
Even when I got sober, I knew God’s call would come, and it would require great sacrifice. That was one reason I was afraid to pray because I thought something big would be asked of me. I worried I might have to stand on street corners and hand out WatchTower pamphlets or maybe have to go to India like Mother Theresa. In fact, I read Mother Teresa’s autobiography in preparation, and it scared me because I hated flies, and as for lepers, I have a very low gag reflex.
So in the Zen Buddhist temple, when that tap on the shoulder came, my future flashed before my eyes. A small talk today, then a tiny tour of Buddhist temples, then off to foreign lands to give witty and wise interpretations of the Vapassana’s. And yes, I might have to learn to speak Korean, but I could grab a tour guide compendium for twenty bucks and learn enough Korean phrases to get by. If I could pass Grade 11 French, I could learn basic Korean. And with my friendly face, I could see myself laying hands on people across the globe.
And it was terrifying; there was a great deal of relief: I could finally stop clinging to the shallow, self-centred world of acting. ( Of course, I’d have to call my agent to let her know I was quitting the business. I hoped she’d remember me as I never got any of the jobs she sent me out for) But I was finally going to be someone who had taken her hand off the bouncing ball of the material world. Marie would be so proud. In my talks, I would never forget to credit her. In all my Buddhist CDs and every video, I would tell people how her Digestive cookies and love set me on the right path.
So, I stood up and whispered in the monk’s ear.
“Sure, I can speak; how long do I have?”
The man in the orange robes looked confused, leaned in and whispered, “Could you please move to another cushion?”
“You are sitting on the Sensei’s cushion. Could you please move” I looked at Sensai, then I looked back at the man; then back at Sensai who was now glowering at me.
Oh, wipe that sour look off your face. It was an honest mistake, arsehole.
I stood up, and everyone in the hall kept their eyes straight ahead. Not even so much as a smirk, but I could tell they were judging me. I went over and sat on the standard-issue ratty cushion where all the regular Joes sat. Pillows that hurt my butt, I might add. Even though my hips are well padded-inherited from my mother’s side of the family- sitting on these thin pieces of cotton were far from comfortable.
Sensai took his spot and adjusted his sit bones and looked down at the pillow. Though his face never moved, I could see he was shocked at how big the ass dent was in his pillow. I lowered my eyes and focused about three feet ahead of me, and then after twenty minutes, everybody started singing in Korean. I mumbled along, making up words. Sna sna sna. The sounds you make when you don’t know the song. Or when you don’t speak Korean.
How could I ever learn Korean? In fact, I had never passed Grade 11 French! I dropped out so I could smoke with Hal Cederberg. ( and as a sidenote Hal ended up in jail for embezzling money, and because of that criminal, I can now only speak English.)
What is wrong with my head? What on earth possessed me to think they would make me a Buddhist motivational speaker? After all, isn’t grasping like this the antithesis of Buddhism? No hope. No despair. Neutrality was the aim. What kind of egomaniac thinks she would be asked to be the speaker when it was her first time at the Zen Buddhist Centre?
There it was-that crazy mind.
One minute I thought I was a superstar, and the next, I thought I was nobody.
Which reminded me of an old Jewish joke.
Two rabbis stand at the front of the temple.
One rabbi says to the other, “I am nobody.”
And the other rabbi says, “No, I am nobody.”
And then the cleaner whose sweeping at the back begins hitting himself and saying,
“No, I am the one who is really nobody.”
And the first rabbi turns to the second rabbi and says, `
`Look who thinks he’s nobody.”
I sat there cross-legged on this ratty pillow, my teeth chattering because the temple didn’t believe in God or turning up the heat. I breathed in and knew that even a Jewish joke about two rabbis would have killed in a Zen Temple in South Korea.
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