The Sickness

1. Pain eats at the earth.
2. Natural weak spots collapse under the pain.
3. This forms a razor-edged chasm.
4. Pain pours into the chasm.
5. Pain reaches the molten core of the earth.
6. Sizzle.
7. The pits convert pain to thermodynamic energy.
8. They also eat suffering.

1. The ecosystem requires pain pits.
2. Otherwise, the animals wouldn’t be able to live with themselves.
3. They kill and eat one another, you know.

1. Og suffers.
2. Ba suffers.
3. Og and Ba go to the pain pits.
4. Sizzle.
5. Now Og and Ba are happy.

1. People forget.
2. It happens.
3. People forget the glasses on their heads.
4. People forget the pencil behind their ear.
5. People forget basic physics.
6. People forget to be people.
7. It happens.
8. People forget.

1. Minutes pass.
2. Then years.
3. Then centuries.

1. Buddha achieves enlightenment.
2. “Dukkha,” Buddha says.
3. “Yes?” Dukkha answers.
4. “No,” Buddha explains. “I was more in the way of stating a universal truth.”
5. “Ah,” Dukkha says.
6. They laugh and laugh.
7. Then they fight!

1. Ananda asks Buddha, “What is dukkha?”
2. “We cannot rid ourselves of suffering,” Buddha says.
3. “We are chained to the world by our ignorance and desire.”
4. “To live is to suffer.”
5. “Freedom is death.”
6. “This is enlightenment.”
7. “Oh,” Ananda says.
8. He sounds disappointed.
9. He was hoping it was some sort of superpower.

1. Jesus is born.
2. He sees a world of pain.
3. He shoulders that pain.
4. He finds an answer.
5. He takes it onto himself.
6. He dies in agony.

1. A thief asks Jesus, “Why?”
2. “I will suffer,” Jesus says,
3. “Or they will suffer.”
4. “I chose myself.”

1. The monster would say,
2. “That’s a stupid decision.”
3. Then he’d adjust his tie.
4. The monster laughs at God.

1. Somewhere along the way, people forgot.
2. So now they deny the pain.
3. Or they endure it.
4. Or they take it on themselves.
5. Or they put it on others.
6. And they’ve never heard of the pain pits.
7. And the pain pits are lonely.

1. Richard Thornton hikes through the woods.
2. The ground gives way.
3. He rolls down cliffs like razors.
4. He catches himself on a ledge.
5. “Ow,” he says.
6. But it doesn’t hurt.

1. Janet Maysen walks through the city.
2. The street gives way.
3. She falls down cliffs like razors.
4. She plunges into the core of the earth.
5. “This should hurt,” she says.
6. But it doesn’t.

1. “But isn’t it wrong?” says Janet Maysen.
2. “Isn’t it wrong?” asks Richard Thornton.
3. “I mean,” they say,
4. “There’s so much wrong in the world.”
5. “Shouldn’t someone have to hurt?”

The Forest (II/IV)

The tunnels are deep. The tunnels are dark. They have lots of water in them, and giant spiders. They also have a subway. Sometimes, the subway hits one of the giant spiders. Whoosh! Bam! The spider goes flying end over end. Then it scurries off to the side with a horrid shambling gait. It licks its monstrous spindly legs. It meant to do that! That’s what its body language says.

Jenna lives in the tunnels too. She likes to watch the subway train. She’s decided that it can hit anything. She’s seen it hit ruby-studded zeppelins. She’s seen it hit frogs. She’s seen it hit ancient mummies groaning with the weight of years. In December 1981, Jenna watches it hit Dukkha, the principle of universal suffering, the world’s fundamental tendency to include hostility and anguish in everyday life. Dukkha goes flying end over end. Then he scurries around on the tracks, scarring them black with his passage. He licks his left bipedal quality. He meant to do that. Oh, yes. It was all part of his plan. Whoosh! Bam! The subway hits him again. Jenna giggles.

On the landing, not far from Jenna, Ninja Tathagata watches. He’s as still as the mind that knows emptiness. He’s as calm as a placid lake. His expression is flat. It shows no gloating. Ninja Tathagata has freed himself from attachment to material existence. He does not gloat like ordinary men. His smug satisfaction is a flower blooming in nothingness; a diamond shining in the darkness; a perturbation in the nihilistic void that is Nirvana. He is a ninja Buddha, and he does not giggle. Instead, he turns away and slips into the trees.

Jenna shouts, “Hey!”

Dukkha looks up, eyes blazing. He doesn’t see her. Ninja Tathagata’s already taken hold of Jenna’s wrist and dragged her away.

“You shouldn’t shout around Dukkha,” Ninja Tathagata says. “It’ll only attract his attention.”

Jenna puts her foot down. “There shouldn’t be any trees here. Tunnels are a subterranean environment. Trees are superterranean! Down here we only have their roots. You’re hiding in an illicit forest!”

Ninja Tathagata smiles. “Your anger stems from an irrational attachment to the prevailing conditions of your home. It’s natural, but the key to happiness is understanding that all things change.” Wisps of enlightenment rise from Ninja Tathagata like the steam from a fresh-baked pie.

Jenna pokes his chest. “You’re the Buddha,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want and blame it on other peoples’ irrational attachment!”

“That’s a fair cop,” admits Ninja Tathagata.

“Good,” says Jenna. She sits down with her back against a tree. “I suppose that the trees aren’t so bad. It’s really only because of the character of suffering and torment pervading the universe that I mind.”

On the track, the subway hits the pervasive universal character of torment and suffering. He shrieks. Then he narrows his eyes. “If I get off the track now,” he murmurs softly, “everyone will know I didn’t really plan to get hit three times. I’d better just lounge here, bitter and languid, until I hear a Dukkha Call.”

“It’s difficult waging a constant shadow war against Dukkha,” Ninja Tathagata explains. “Sometimes I need a break. That’s why I carry a forested glen with me everywhere I go. It’s relaxing to sit under the green and watch the shadows drift by.”

Ninja Tathagata sits under the green. The light of the subway train washes across the branches. Shadows race by. There’s a thump.

“You’re deliberately not looking smug,” Jenna observes.

Ninja Tathagata winks.

The light of the subway train washes across the branches. Shadows race by. There’s a thump.

Jenna sighs and pats the tree. “I get tired of pain, too,” she says. “I suppose you’d say that I should cultivate enlightenment?”

“In the long term,” Ninja Tathagata agrees. “In the short term, if you’d like, I could leave the forested glen here.”

The light of the subway train washes across the branches. Shadows race by. Someone shouts, “What’s that? Is that a Dukkha Call I hear in the distance?” There’s no thump.

“Oh!” Jenna says, disappointed. “He must have swirled his cloak around himself and become a nonlocalized phenomenon before it hit.”

“I didn’t hear a Dukkha Call,” says Ninja Tathagata. “I think he made that part up.”

“What’s a Dukkha Call?”

Ninja Tathagata doesn’t get a wicked grin. His sudden, mischevious impulse is a blind man’s sunrise; a fire without fuel; a warmth and a heat rising in and filling and falling in the emptiness of Ninja Nirvana. He stands and walks over to a pile of leaves. “Help, help,” he says. “The placidity in my heart is stifling my potential for growth.”

With a swirl of his cape, Dukkha localizes. “Then face the malevolent wrath of Dukkha!” he shouts. Under his feet, the leaves give way.

“The covered pit is a nice touch,” Jenna admits.

Dumping Glue on a Log1

1 presupposes familiarity with Pokémon.

Gautama meditates in the tall grass.

Jane runs up.

Gautama smiles. “Jane, ” he says, “I meditate in pursuit of enlightenment, so that I can free all sentient beings from desire and suffering.”

Jane thinks on Gautama’s words. “Cool!” She throws a red and white ball at him. It opens and sucks him in. The ball wiggles, then subsides. Success! Jane has captured Gautama.

Jane beams. “I knew I’d find a good use for my ENLIGHTENMENT BALL.”

Jane runs through the grass. She can see Martin up ahead. He’s blocking the only path past the bo tree.

Martin sees Jane. “!”

Martin runs up to Jane. “Let’s battle!”

“Gautama,” cries Jane. “I choose you!”

Martin thinks. “I’ll choose Mara!”

Martin throws his DESIRE BALL. It unleashes Mara, the demon of the illusions of material existence.

First round!

Gautama assumes LOTUS STANCE under the bo tree.
Mara uses his special VOLUPTUOUS WOMEN move.

“These women are very bountiful,” agrees Gautama. “But the pleasures of the flesh do not last. Succumbing to this temptation would bring me immediate happiness. Over the years, though, sickness, old age, and death would take their toll. I would come to regret my indulgence.”

Gautama takes ten points of damage. The women weren’t a temptation. They were an attack! Mara’s tricky that way.

Second round!

Gautama uses LOTUS STANCE.

Martin frowns at Jane. “You shouldn’t use the same move over and over!”

“It increases his defense against the torments of existence,” explains Jane. “That makes him a tragically powerful battler!”

“Oh,” said Martin, thinking. “That’s a good strategy, then. I’ll have to damage him fast!”

Mara uses his FLAMING ROCKS move.

A fiery torrent descends on Gautama!

“These rocks are very much on fire,” agrees Gautama. “But the pleasures of the flesh do not last. Succumbing to this temptation would bring me immediate happiness. Over the years, though, sickness, old age, and death would take their toll. I would come to regret my indulgence.”

“They’re FLAMING ROCKS,” says Mara blankly.

“Oh,” says Gautama. “They’re not a temptation?”

“A temptation to do what?”

“I’d collect them,” says Gautama, dreamily. “And dress them up in cute flame-retardant outfits. Then I’d sell them on eBay.” He shivers. Oh! Such sweet temptation. But the flaming rocks turn into blossom petals when they reach Gautama. That’s how powerful his dedication to help all people is!

Gautama takes five points of damage. Jane looks worried. He doesn’t have many left!

Third round!

Gautama uses LOTUS STANCE.

“You don’t have the right to seek enlightenment,” Mara cries. “You’re a washed-up bald monk who lives in a ball! Who are you to seek the freedom of all people from suffering and desire?”

Gautama touches the earth with one finger. The earth shouts, “He’s a washed-up bald monk who lives in an ENLIGHTENMENT BALL.”

Mara could not argue with that.

Fourth round!

The battle ends.

There’s no more Mara. There’s no more Gautama! There’s only Ninja Tathagata.

“I win!” cries Jane.

“Hey!” says Martin. “He didn’t survive enlightenment! He extinguished his ego and now he exists as a compassionate impulse in the void of nirvana! I think that should be a draw.”

“Oh, Martin!” laughs Jane. “You can’t blame a Buddha for achieving nonexistence! That’s like dumping glue on a log.”

The River at the Edge of the World1

1 which is to say, the sky.

Once upon a time, there were the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rooster (but not Hen, since girls are a different animal), Rabbit, Monkey, Dragon, Horse, Hopping Vampire, Snake, Goat, and Alien. They could not decide what order the zodiac years would go in. So they held a contest: they would order the cycle based on the order the various animals reached the far side of a river.

“Hey!” said Hopping Vampire. “Why is this river made of sanctified rice?”

“Purely a coincidence,” said Rat, ruffling whiskers.

“And patrolled by Ninja Tathagata, with his kung-fu grip?” asked Monkey, who had had unfortunate encounters with Tathagata before.

“Look,” explained Rat. “I am not responsible for the condition of this river, which we have chosen at random.”

“But there’s a billboard,” said Ox. “River by Rat.”

“Calvin Klein,” said Rat. “It’s River by Calvin Klein. Abbreviated Rat.”

“Ah,” said Ox. “That makes sense, then.”

“Besides, what are you worried about?” asked Rat. “It’s not like you have anything to fear from rice or Ninja Tathagata.”

“This is true,” allowed Ox. “My anti-enlightenment stare defeats all Buddhas!”

“It’s a NINJA BUDDHA,” said Monkey, in frustration.

“Okay, look,” said Ox. “Just in case, we’ll distract Ninja Tathagata with the goat’s Buddha Call.”

Monkey looked hopefully at Goat.

Resignedly, Goat trudged a ways down the river. “Help, help,” he said. “I am suffering the pangs of desire brought on by ignorance of the true nature of reality. Can anyone save me from the burdens of the skandhas?”

Ninja Tathagata’s ears sprang straight up. “Someone’s in trouble!” He threw down a Ninja Buddha Ball and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“RUN!” said Rat. “Before he returns from Ninja Nirvana!”

They all bolted for the river, save for Hopping Vampire, who could not touch sanctified rice.

Ox was the strongest swimmer, so pretty soon Ox was almost to the far edge. But secretly, Rat was riding on Ox’s head!

“I’m so clever!” laughed Rat. “Soon I’ll rule the zodiac!”

“What’s that?” asked Ox.

“I mean, look out, Enlightenment Shuriken!”

Ox weaved from side to side in the river, dodging the hail of shuriken manifested by Ninja Tathagata’s magnificent beneficence towards all living things. He was almost to the far edge, when Rat LEAPT for the shore!

Suddenly, Rat’s chest burst open and Alien jumped out! That’s how Alien won the zodiac, and why so few people are born in the year of the Hopping Vampire.

Darn it, Ninja Tathagata!

Somehow, it’s all your fault.