being an account of the enlightenment of Wei San
After many years of study, the Earthling who would become Wei San learned of the Great Bodhisattva of Mars.
The Bodhisattva was the last work of the Venerable Hui Re, an extraordinary engineer lauded for his automata and writings on the nature of the mechanical mind. It was his philosophical investigations that led Hui Re to take precepts and shave his head. After he attained enlightenment, Hui Re focused all of his insight into building the Great Bodhisattva, an automaton like no other; an automaton whose source code was rumoured to capture the essence of enlightenment.
The Earthling resolved to learn the mysteries of the Great Bodhisattva, and so boarded a shuttle to the red planet.
The Great Bodhisattva sat in a small monastery, three days south of the city by rambler. Despite the long journey, when the Earthling arrived at the monastery’s airlocks, he asked to be taken directly to the abbess.
“I wish to learn the mysteries of the Great Bodhisattva,” he said. “I have studied, deeply, the writings of Venerable Hui Re. I have immersed myself in the sciences of computation and the arts of programming. I am ready; let me examine the machine.”
The abbess, Master Hui Feng, was still young but already regarded as one of the brightest minds in the order.
“I need to consider your request,” said Hui Feng. “Return in 24 and a half hours.”
The next day, the Earthling appeared before the abbess at the appointed time.
“I will take you to see the Bodhisattva” she said, and led him to the deeper parts of the monastery. They heard the machine before they saw it—a low, droning chant.
The Great Bodhisattva of Mars was no taller than an ordinary man. It sat atop ancient rags that were once a gilded meditation mat. Its legs were crossed with its feet resting on its thighs.
“Namo Amitofo. Namo Amitofo. Namo Amitofo,” it chanted, over and over, invoking the name of the Buddha of the Pure Land.
“You may look upon the Great Bodhisattva,” the abbess said. “You may meditate upon its chanting, and you may prostrate if you wish. But I cannot allow you to touch the machine.”
“Whyever not?” cried the Earthling.
“Very few monks are allowed to touch the Great Bodhisattva, and even then, only in accordance with Hui Re’s written instructions.”
“Then I shall become a monk!” declared the Earthling.
The abbess regarded him for a moment, and then said, “Our lives at the monastery are simple. We sweep, we eat, and we sit in silence. Every day, the same. We know very little of the sciences of computation and the art of programming.”
“So be it,” he said. “I must learn the mysteries of the Great Bodhisattva.”
And so the Earthling took precepts, shaved his head, and entered into the order as a novice, taking the Dharma name Wei San.
After his first year, Wei San came before the abbess, prostrated three times and said, “Venerable Hui Feng. I sweep the floor, I eat my meal, and I sit in silence. Every day, the same. I am ready. Let me examine the machine.”
“Wei San,” said the abbess, “where you sweep, I still see long tracks of dirt. When you eat, I can hear you chewing from across the hall. When you sit, I can see you fidgeting. You are not yet ready.”
Wei San left the abbess, disappointed.
After five years, Wei San came before the abbess.
“I sweep the floor, I eat my meal, and I sit in silence. Every day, the same. Surely I am ready?”
“Wei San, where you sweep, there are still specks of dust. When you eat, there are still grains of rice. When you sit, your mind still wanders. You are not yet ready.”
Wei San left the abbess, frustrated.
After ten years Wei San approached the abbess.
“I sweep the floor. I eat my meal. I sit in silence. Every day. Let me examine the machine,” he demanded.
“Where you sweep, there is still the floor. When you eat, there is still the bowl. When you sit, there is still the mind. You are not yet ready,” she replied.
Wei San left the abbess, furious.
That night, Wei San retrieved his tools and console from his rambler and went in search of answers.
It was the absence of the Great Bodhisattva’s familiar drone that woke the monks. They roused the abbess, who went directly to the Bodhisattva hall.
Wei San sat on the floor, head in hands. About him lay the innards of Hui Re’s automaton.
The abbess placed her hand gently on Wei San’s shoulder. He looked to her with tears fresh on his cheeks.
“What is the matter, Wei San?” she asked.
“Venerable Hui Feng, I have waited these many years to learn the secrets of the Great Bodhisattva, but now…” he gestured to the mess of wires and cogs and controllers strewn about the floor.
“I’m sorry, abbess.”
“What have you learnt from this destruction?” she asked, not unkindly.
“Nothing, Venerable. I’ve learnt nothing. I thought that by reading the Bodhisattva’s source code I would see the essence of enlightenment. But all I’ve found is a single line of code, written in the ancient BASIC language.” He handed his console to the abbess.
“I cannot decipher this, Wei San. What does it say?” she asked.
“It is a simple instruction that makes the machine speak the Buddha’s name, over and over. Forever. An infinite loop. It is something a child might have written.”
Without hesitation, the Venerable Hui Feng responded.
“Here we sweep, we eat, we sit. Every day, the same. Is this not a profound truth?”
—Blaize M. Kaye is a programmer from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where he lives on the Sapphire Coast with his wife, daughter, and cat. He holds graduate degrees in philosophy and cognitive science and has studied with the good folks of Chan Lin, the meditation centre at Nan Hua Temple, Bronkhorstspruit.
Ha! so you remember. 😉