Zen bootyism and the case of the disappearing cheese

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There once was a monk who taught exclusively by way of flatulence.

“Master, what do I do when the mind overwhelms the heart?,” one of his students would ask him, and a toot would be the reply.

“Master, why does the mind create suffering?” Toot-toot.

“Master, what do I do when the longing for sex arises?” A rippling, roiling fart.

These responses were effective for two reasons:

1) They silenced the disciples’ worry by means of humor, instantly dispersing their concerns. In the world of the scatological, the mind’s infinitude of complaints could not survive.

2) Even if a strand of such complaints did endure the master’s missive, the student themselves could not; by virtue of the smell, they would be driven from the room, and in isolation their mind would unwork its kinks. Reflecting on the master’s response–and divorced from that response’s olfactory accompaniment–their spirits would lift and they would smile upon the master’s wisdom.

Except that within the master’s own heart, there lived a pair of insecurities the students could not know.

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The first is that the master’s teaching depended entirely on cheese, without which he could not pass gas. As a child, he had been raised in the country and as such had experienced a simple, mostly vegan diet; as a result, it wasn’t until he entered the monastery himself that he discovered this magical substance, and with it his squelching digestion.

More problematic, the master’s second insecurity was that without his farts–and therefore without his cheese–he wouldn’t know what to say in response to his students’ vital questions. How to prevent the mind from overwhelming the heart? He hadn’t the slightest clue. Why suffering existed? Each student’s guess was as good as the master’s. And so on, so forth. The first time a student had confronted the master with one of these lines of interrogation, a small toot had escaped the master in nervousness, and that is how his teaching method was born. Thus it was that within the master there stirred a deep contradiction, and each day he arose and met his students with fear.

Worse yet–indeed, most concerning of all–of late the master had been losing his taste for cheese. At first, the substance had been experienced by him as a transformative elixir, something which not only fulfilled a lack in his childhood, but instantly erected him an exalted, indisputable sage. Now, the substance met his body as though a poison; he worried he was developing what he’d heard the moderns refer to as “lactose intolerance,” and that in time either the substance would kill him, or he would find it unpalatable and be exposed a fraud.

In this state of consternation, one day one of the master’s students asked him the question which haunted his very own mind: “Master, what do I do when I fear I’m on the wrong path?”

Having been able to eat very little cheese that day owing to his rising condition, the master strained to produce a sound. He gritted his teeth, he clenched his buttocks, he pushed–to no avail. Then, something did emerge–but it was not a fart. In shame, the master told the student he did not feel well and decided to close his teachings for the day. 

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All night, the master’s mind spun with the realities of his situation. He could not tolerate a single crumb more of cheese–his body simply wouldn’t allow it. That being the case, he’d have to either haltingly, verbally address his students’ questions, or confess to them that he was an impostor; perhaps there was a third option, that of committing suicide. Or he could escape! Yes, he could flee to the hills, find a new monastery where he was unknown… Perhaps there he could cultivate a new method, such as farting with his armpit or clapping both hands over his face and blowing into his palms. Need the sound of gas emanate from a true fart?

At daybreak, the master’s mind was quieted by a single, relieving truth: this life was not for him; he had fallen into teaching by mistake. And with that, he achieved a few merciful hours of sleep.

Waking past the typical morning bell, the master donned his garb and left his room only to find a surprise: his students awaited him outside his room, encircled at the door.

“Master, we were worried about you.”

“We have never known you to leave off teaching; is everything alright?”

“Master, how can we help?”

Perceiving his students’ genuine concern and love for him, the master could only break down in tears, and his students swaddled him in a group embrace. As though expelled from him by their grip, a single, sheepish fart descended his anus.

After both gas and tears had dissipated, and still standing at his door, the master quaveringly told all to his students. He told them of growing up in the country, of the monotony of his diet, broken by cheese when he entered the monastery. He told them of his happenstance discovery, how in nervousness he had farted, and this had been mistaken for genius and knowledge projected in his mind that truly did not lie there. Ultimately, he told his students he was a fraud.

Summoning all his courage, the master looked up from the floor to behold his students’ reaction, only to encounter something unanticipated: they were all smiling! More than that, tears crept into the corners of his students’ own eyes!

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“Master,” spoke up one of the master’s most celebrated students, a man who had entered the monastery as a little boy, “The reason we’ve all flocked to your teaching isn’t that you’re an inaccessible sage, answering our questions from on high. It’s that you allow us to answer our own questions, ruminating long after we have left your presence. That way, we come to more greatly trust ourselves.”

The master stood in shock. What could he say in response to this radiant, accidental fact?

“Your gas itself is irrelevant,” the student continued, then looked around at his peers, “However, if you’d like to keep farting, you should try some other foods. Beans and other legumes work well; so does broccoli.”

At that, the student unleashed a tremendous, reverberating peal of flatulence, and the students’ own laughter chased it as echoes. The master laughed too. In their collective laughter, the question of a “teacher” was dissolved… and so were several nose-hairs.

The End

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