“Because at the end of life – lights out! You’ll hear a voice.” The 27-year-old seated before us said, a cup of tea on the table, a cigarette in hand, as the five of us listened intently. “And the voice says..”
He mimics someone whispering in the darkness, “Hey, did you get the joke?”
Mohamed grinned while Sid broke into a laughter leading Joshua to follow suit. All five including the 27-year-old laughed their lungs out.
Sid banged the table several times, leading the tea to spill on the table. Mohamed hugged Joshua and the both laughed hysterically while the 27-year-old tried drinking his tea, only to snort it out from his nose after not being able to prevent himself from laughing as well.
Only I remained, unable to join in the fun. I did not get the joke. The youthful fellow slaps his thighs, and repeats the punchline, “Hey, did you get the joke?” The group broke out into an even larger laughter with Sid falling off his chair, clutching his stomach and laughing.
“Stop! Stop! I can’t help it!” He cried as Joshua held on to his stomach tight. Mohamed, the Iranian, unable to bear it anymore gets up and tries to balance himself against the pillar while Adam clapped his hands, laughing like a madcap.
What joke? I asked myself. I mean, what is so funny?
“Don’t you get it?” Adam said, trying his best to control his laughter.
I shook my head.
“It’s pointless!” Sid laughed even harder.
This was the first time I saw the group laughing hysterically without any substance. The five of us were chilling out, eating durians at the 27-year-old’s rented room after attending this six day spiritual retreat in Sabah, where many Truth and Spiritual seekers gathered and held a congregation of sorts.
They had invited several religious speakers, New Age gurus and Masters, channelers, folks claiming they’re Enlightened to come and to not only share their ideas and thoughts about the mysteries of Life and the Universe, but to also express the Divine residing in every being regardless of their background or creed.
Massive Awakening stuff.
There were artists who drew profound paintings, while writers, poets and literary artists conducted book readings and written performance to an open minded crowd. Various theatre and music performers showcased their talents and belted out tunes. It was a festival of spiritual art aptly dubbed, “Celebrating Consciousness.”
And it was at this event, the five of us bumped into Iklak, a totally Awakened 27-year-old.
Or so he appeared.
To be honest, all he does is crack a joke and everyone starts laughing. It was here we learnt from hearsay that apparently he is dubbed the 21st Century Buddha.
“Are you really the 21st Century Buddha?” I asked as the laughter subsided.
He stopped laughing and looks at me intently. There was a moment of silence.
He broke it, “I don’t know. That’s what they claim.”
Boom! Everyone starts laughing including me, who managed a pretentious laugh or two.
I still did not get the joke.
He repeated, “That’s what they call me. I don’t know. I mean..” He takes a quick puff of his cigarette and runs his hands on his t-shirt, which had the words, “F*ck it!” in bold. He wore a top hat, and shorts with sneakers. Unlike everyone else who came dressed in Kurtas and Sarees and Punjabi Suits, he was the only one who appeared… genuine. Truly original.
“Look at me. Do I look like one?”
Again, everyone broke into even more hysterical laughter.
“That’s the joke.” He nods at me and then sips his tea while the rest continued banging the table, laughing ofcourse.
I am well versed in the Bhagavath Geeta and know the conversation between Krsna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata by hard. I have also studied the Bible, courtesy of my uncle who is a staunch Christian and I also have some knowledge about Islam through my Muslim friends.
I was also taught about my religion, Sikhism, by my very devout and traditional minded parents who had various superstitions on life.
“Why aren’t you wearing your Karaa (Sikh bangle)?” My father asked me once when I was 19.
“I don’t see the requirement for it.” I remember replying to my father.
You see, unfortunately for my parents but fortunately for me, I chose not to obey the Sikh faith. My standard answer would always be, “Religion is just an institution. What matters is the heart.” I was beyond religion.
My father shook his head and replied, “I know all that. But how are we to cremate you if let’s say you died in a terrible road accident, your body burnt to ashes along with the car? The only way we can identify and cremate you in Sikhi fashion is through the bangle, no?”
My father made sense. That day, I wore the bangle again.
When I told Iklak this, he snorted tea out of his nose again and banged the table hard laughing much to my annoyance.
The five of us stared at him. Adam laughed nervously. I observed Iklak’s reaction, who had a tough time controlling his laughter, breathing in air and swallowing the tea full to explain.
“Don’t you get it?” He said, in between the giggles. “If that ever happened, you’re already cremated in the burning car!”
Everyone broke into a laughter. Including me.
If there was an action that shattered that layer of my Ego, it was laughter. And that was when I realised he was indeed the 21st Century Buddha. Or rather, why they called him the 21st Century Buddha.
You see, Buddhist believe in the second coming of the Buddha, the last reincarnation. He would be known as the laughing Buddha.
“But why aren’t you fat?” I asked as Iklak sipped his tea.
“Why am I not fat? Because I don’t want to!” He laughed.
“But isn’t the next incarnation of the Buddha supposed to be the Laughing Buddha? Isn’t he fat?”
His answer tore another layer of my Ego, “So, are you saying that laughter is only exclusive to fat people, now?”
Everyone broke into another round of endless laughter, much to my annoyance. Sid clapped his hands wildly, a habit he adopted and applied whenever he laughed hard.
But what bugged me more than anything was the first question. And I’m sure, you must be wondering the same.
“I didn’t get the first joke.” I said.
“The one about the voice whispering, “Hey, did you get the joke?”” I reminded him. “What joke?”
He sniggered again, rubbed his teary eyes, breathes a sigh and then says, “That never gets old when you truly get it.”
“I want to get it!” I demanded. The group fell silent. Iklak stopped laughing and stared at me.
A smile broke on his face, “Stop taking Life seriously.”
“Surely you can’t be serious when you said that.” I said.
There was silence. Iklak observed me.
Realising the stupidity in my sentence, I broke into a laughter. The group joined in, while Iklak pointed a finger and said, “He’s got it. Good one!”
We laughed in the tiny rented room. The event had ended three hours ago, and from the window we could see everyone unpacking their things from the hill, while some remained on the grassy field, singing songs and dancing.
At one glance, it would have appeared like a Malaysian version of Woodstock. The only difference was; there were no alcohol or drugs involved. Although, I would admit I do remember seeing several joints being passed about in the wee hours of the morning when musicians played on until 3 on the second day of the festival.
Iklak performed standup comedy on the third day. He was truly an Enlightened comical genius. His jokes, are so simple, offensive, in your face but absolutely spot on and genuine.
One of my personal favorite was the part where he asked the audience, “If you die now and meet God, what would you say to Him?
Several hands shot up and someone screamed, “I’ll ask him, can I merge with you?”
“I don’t know about that.” He said as he paced slightly, pausing to give his punch line an added effect. Someone screamed another answer, but he brushed it away.
“I also highly doubt you’ll be able to speak.”
He stared at the audience point blank, and then says, “You’re already dead, remember?”
The crowd goes wild.
I got that joke. I mean, it makes sense. Here we are, religiously and diligently worrying about death and God and happiness that we forget to live in the present moment. How foolish can we get?
To someone who has a tough time with such wit, they would be easily offended. But it’s spot on, no?
So I got this joke. But not the first one.
Hear me out, I am well versed in all spiritual matters. I have also read about the prophecies explaining the second coming of various prophets and saints. I have also read about the Evolution of the Human Conscious, the Awakening, the Golden Age etc etc.
I have studied the methods involved in opening all the seven Chakras, the meditation and breathing techniques, and I am well versed in the Yoga positions required. Infact, I’ve watched countless videos of Alan Watts and Adyashanti breaking down the Ego to simpler terms, diligently recalling quotes of Ramana Maharshi and remember re watching Osho’s and Sai Baba’s discourses on Youtube.
But why the fuck don’t I get this joke?
“I still don’t get the joke.”
Iklak took a puff and patted me, “Don’t worry. You will never get the joke.”
That made me weirdly fearful and yet, curious. He pauses to observe me. And then he says;
“The joke gets you.”
Another fucking round of spontaneous laughter. Except me.
I have understood that the key to Enlightenment is peeling off layers after layers of the Ego, of ideologies and beliefs. Of deprogramming oneself, going back to the state of the mind of an adolescent. Being excited, curious, at awe with everything. The word “Me” or “I” plays an integral role in this quest.
The Buddha’s quote, “An Enlightened being is constantly at awe with everything” comes to mind. Then why am I not at awe?
“Give up.” Iklak finally said. “Seriously, just give up.” He took a sip of his tea, Teh O Kurang Manis at the Mamak restaurant below the hill, an hour later for supper. He had been observing me – who was still mum and silent – all the way from our drive down from the hill to the nearby town.
“I can’t give up.” I said, through my clenched teeth.
“Because it is about me.”
He nodded his head in silence. “Ofcourse it is about the “Me”. Which is why I said, give up. Surrender, roll back and fucking laugh it off. What else can you really do but laugh?”
I felt a cold breeze hit me. Calming and reassuring. Is this guy for real? Am I sitting next to THE Buddha reincarnate?
I wouldn’t be surprised. The Hindus believed Buddha was another reincarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver, one of the three from the Holy Trinity.
When I ponder on the Holy Trinity, I can’t help but ponder on the same concept the Bible mentions; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It makes perfect sense.
Back to Iklak, somewhere, someone got the predictions incorrect about the next coming of the Buddha.
Such was the case with Shirdi Sai, a holy man from the 19th century. He was recorded saying he would come back as an eight-year-old child before he passed on.
Some eight-years-later in 1926, Sai Baba was born. He later clarified this error during one of his discourses. It makes sense! How can an eight-year-old just arrive like that? If he does, it would just be an apparition of some sort.
So, probably the second coming – in our case, the Laughing Buddha – was not supposed to be fat. What does fat really translate to if we put it to the context of living? It means being healthy! Full to give! Which also explains why-
Iklak tapped my left shoulder, bringing me back from my reverie. “Are you aware of this Koan?”
“What Koan?” I asked with irritation, annoyed to be shook from my thoughts.
He coughed slightly and said, “If you see Buddha down the path, kill him.”
“No! I have never heard such a thing!” I was too shocked at the idea. How can someone kill an Enlightened being? It’s a sin of the highest order!
How can you kill God? I was too horrified.
“It’s a famous Zen koan. I’m surprised you never came across it.”
“But why kill the Buddha?”
“Why not? Buddha is just a name. A name to a character. Fiction.”
“I’m a character too! If I kill the Buddha, who am I to follow and learn from?”
He stared at me in amusement. He picked his cup of tea and sheepishly said, “Relax, he is already dead anyway” and slurped it.
I have read many accounts claiming that once someone is Enlightened, that person breaks out into a fit of laughter. It happens so spontaneously.
I was in a table with five of them who were having a hearty good laugh. And try as I could, I still never got the joke. I’m not Enlightened!
And so I asked Iklak, “Once my Ego is gone, how am I to know I am Enlightened?”
He chuckled and replied, “That is like asking, “What do I do when I have a question?””
I never got it.
The joke bugged me day and night even after the retreat. I had sleepless nights. Endless thoughts. Nothing helped.
It felt as though I would never get the joke.
“But it is just a joke!” I remember saying to myself while looking at myself in the mirror one morning.
It was a joke. I had no idea why, or how, but I honestly felt as though my life depended on it. I have to get the joke!
And so, last week, when I was waiting for the bus at the Bangsar LRT station after work, poring into a book by Alan Watts, “The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” I chanced upon a dog chasing after its own tail a few metres from where I sat.
I observed it, stupidly chasing after its own tail, which really, had always been attached to its body. It kept running around in circles trying to catch its tail. Often times it did, only to see its tail get away and the whole bloody process goes on and on.
It struck me, the dog and tail were never separate entities. They were in fact, the whole damn thing! So, why the fuck chase after it?
And that’s when I got the joke.
I closed the book shut, chucked it into my bag and started laughing at myself silly while onlooking commuters gave me awkward glances.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I got the joke! And by God! The answer had always been staring directly!
I broke out into a majestic laugh that seemed to illuminate my whole being. I laughed for a good three minutes, not bothering what people thought about me. I may have seemed like a mad cap, but really, I got the joke! And it didn’t matter if I was mad or not. I now know!
I didn’t take the bus that day. Instead I chose to take a cab, not before treating myself to a deserving cup of coffee at the cafe below the station.
I texted Iklak. We had swapped numbers and Facebook accounts before we departed.
“Hey bro! I got the joke!”
A minute later he replied, “Nah bro, the joke got you :o)”
I sat outside the cafe, sipping on the hot coffee while observing life taking place. I closed my eyes taking in the sound of the bustling evening traffic, sighing with relief while feeling the heaviness in my heart evaporating. In the end, everyone is but a reflection of each other. Mirrors!
The joke got me, I thought to myself and chuckled. And before I realised, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.
I always thought of Enlightenment as a moment where the sky parted, angels would fly trumpeting in and throwing confetti into the air and singing, “Well done, Krishna! You’re Enlightened! Take this stairway to Heaven!”
But really, the genuineness of it all was remarkable. It was a fucking dog chasing after its own tail that made me snap out of it.
I wiped away the tears and sipped the coffee, feeling it run over on my tongue. Felt everything about the coffee from its smell to the way it tasted and felt in my mouth, right to the point of me swallowing it and landing into my tummy.
I was whole.
Enough about me. Did you get the joke, though?