photo by Chris Watk


Linji says, “‘He did not attain buddhahood’ means that being buddha originally, he does not become buddha again.” It is difficult to appreciate the fact that we are already perfect and complete, that there is nothing to be given, nothing to receive, nothing to be added, nothing to be attained. It’s difficult to see this truth because our lives don’t feel that way at all, do they? If we’re perfect and complete, why is our experience one of pain and confusion? While preparing my talk on this koan I came across an interesting short story by a science fiction writer named Terry Bison. It tickled me, but I also recognized it had something to say about this Dadong Zhisheng Buddha, so here it is, somewhat paraphrased:

“They are made out of meat.”
“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet and took them aboard our recon vessels and probed them all the way through, and they are completely meat.”
“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals, the message to the stars?”
“They use radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them, the signals come from machines.”"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
“They made the machines. That’s what I am trying to tell you—meat made the machines.
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You are asking me to believe in sentient meat?”
“I am not asking you, I am telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they are made out of meat.”
“Maybe they are like the orpholia—you know, the carbon based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”
“Nope. They are born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans—which doesn’t take too long. Do you have any idea, the life span of meat?”
“Spare me. Okay, maybe they are part meat, you know, like the werdelie, a meathead with an electron plasma brain inside?”
“Nope. We thought of that. They do have meatheads, like the werdelie, but I told you, we probed them, they are all meat, all the way through.”
“No brain?”
“Oh, there’s a brain, it’s just that the brain is made out of meat.”
“Thinking meat? You are asking me to believe in thinking meat?”
“Yes, thinking meat. Conscious meat. Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal. Are you beginning to get the picture?”
“Oh, my God! You are serious, then? They are really made out of meat?”

Here I added another piece to the story:

“What else do we know about them?”
“Well, it seems they’re convinced they have meat boundaries, that their skinbag separates them from each other and the universe.”
“Wow, that can get hairy!”
“Yup, they kill each other off at the rate of 100,000 a day —a solar day, not a cosmic day, mind you. They are even killing their environment, the very thing that sustains them.”
“What about the brain? They are intelligent, aren’t they? Do they have any wisdom?”
“It seems so, but it is buried.”
“Yes, buried under layers of conditioning.”
“What’s conditioning?”
“It’s like programming, except that it is not conscious or deliberate; it’s rather arbitrary. And everything in the planet is involved in this conditioning: parents, teachers, cultures, governments, religions—all of it based on the belief that their bag of skin is separate from everything else. It’s all dualistic.”
“That’s pretty hopeless.”
“Not really. They just haven’t seen their true nature. Their conditioning seems to obscure it.”

Back to the story:

“Finally! Yes, they are indeed made out of meat, and they have been trying to get in touch with us for almost one hundred of their years.”
“So what does this meat have in mind?”
“Well, first it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the universe, contact other sentients, swap ideas and information, the usual.”
“We’re supposed to talk to meat?”
“That’s the idea. That’s the message they are sending out by radio, ‘Hello, anyone out there, anybody home?’ That sort of thing.”
“They actually do talk then? They use words, ideas, and concepts?”
“Oh yes, but they do it with meat.”
“Oh my God, speaking meat! This is altogether too much.”
“So what do you advise?”
“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, log in, any and all sentient races, multi-beings, in this quadrant, without any prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”
“I was hoping you would say that.”
“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”
“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat, how’s it going?’”
“I know. Too much.”
“So how many planets are we dealing with?”
“Just one.”
“Do we just pretend there is no one home in the universe?”
“That’s it.”
“Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”
“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster in Class 9 Star G45 that was in contact two galactic rotations ago wants to be friendly again.”
“They always come around, don’t they?”

And my line: “Why not? Imagine how unbearable, how cold the universe would be if we were really separated from the whole beautiful catastrophe."