March 28, 2011

A Sutra Noir: The Big Awakening

Nearly thirty years ago, Tricycle’s features editor, Andrew Cooper, wrote a fine piece of Buddhist humor that made the rounds in various Buddhist publications. It is an imagined Buddhist sutra told in the voice of a hard-boiled detective of the Sam Spade style—a sutra noir, if you will. It first appeared in the Zen Center of Los Angeles journal The Ten Directions, and a revised version was published about six years back in Inquiring Mind, and more recently in the anthology The Best of Inquiring Mind. We figured the time had come to post it here for members of the Tricycle community.

The Big Awakening

By Andrew Cooper

According to tradition, after the Buddha’s death, his disciples gathered for the purpose of, among other things, hearing Ananda’s recounting of the Enlightened One’s life and teaching. These accounts, or sutras, were transmitted orally for close to 150 years, at which time they were written down. Almost all we know about Shakyamuni Buddha is drawn from these accounts, and Ananda, being the Tathagata’s attendant, disciple, cousin, and friend, is always the narrator.

There are, of course, many questions among scholars, and debates among Buddhists, about the historical accuracy of much of this body of scripture. But even if one accepts the legend at face value, an intriguing question remains: If all the sutras are told by Ananda, might not our picture of the Buddha’s life and times and teachings be very different had somebody else done the telling?

Right about now you are probably wondering to yourself: What would the sutras be like if, instead of Ananda, they were recounted by someone like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe—the kind of hard-boiled private eye portrayed in the stories of writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and brought to life by Humphrey Bogart in great films like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep”? 

The following article was written in answer to that very question.

Paranasi. A dirty little burg on the Indian plains. Sometimes it rains so hard you’d think it was time to put a rudder on your house. Sometimes a hot, dry wind comes barreling across the parched grasslands, curling the hair on your neck and making your skin crawl. It was a day like that, when even Vedic chanting parties end up in fights, and the most devout Brahmans eye their cattle and lick their lips.

Sara’s the name, Sam Sara. I’d been traveling with my boss, the Great Shamus Shakyamuni Buddha, for twenty years, and I’d seen a lot of tough towns before. I’m not one to complain: preaching the Dharma’s what I do and it’s what I like. But on days like this, in towns like this, it’s best just to make your pitch quick and pretty, grab some Z’s, and get out real quiet-like the next morning.

Read the rest here.

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wtompepper's picture

This is wonderfully funny. I've passed it on to several of my friends. It really captures the spirit of the Buddha--some of the Pali sutras are also parodies, and very funny.

Monty McKeever's picture

I just fixed the link, it was a bit off. Works now.


Alan Shusterman's picture

What a great read, or would have been. Read the rest "here" is broken. I get "Access denied".

wtompepper's picture

This is hysterical. I'd love to read the rest of it. I also got and "access denied" message.