The Enlightenment Shop
originally appeared in Guru Ratings Forum, thanks to Pete

Author's note: Some objects in this story have metaphorical meaning: An elephant could mean an internet list; a bag, mental baggage; fecal matter, judgmental thought.

As soon as the custom's inspector finished with my bag, I headed for the elephant taxi stand. It was rush hour in Bombay, and elephant taxis were in great demand. The first elephant in line had only one eye, and looked quite old. Relieved to see five elephants standing in line, I tried to hire the one in the middle, but only created a ruckus among the mahouts. The first mahout in line wrestled the bag from my hand and tied it to his elephant's tail. The thought of riding on a one-eyed elephant down the expressway wasn't reassuring, but instead of saying so, I complained about the unusual storage of my bag.

"Wait a minute. Is that safe?"

"Very safe, Sahib."

"But what if the beast needs to...?"

"Needs... what?"

"You know.."

The mahout laughed. "Elephant dung is very good for leather. I'll rub it in with a special cloth. Your bag will get a lovely shine." He helped me to get on the elephant. "Where to?"

"The Enlightenment Shop on Holy Cow Street, please."

"Ah! Yes, I know where that is at. I have taken a few foreigners
there, but I don't recommend the place."

"Why not?"

"I have a better place for you. I know all the gurus in Bombay. I have rated them in my list."

As we merged into the elephant lane of the expressway, he fished out a piece of paper from his red vest's pocket, and turning around, handed it to me . As I grabbed with my fingertips, a gust of wind from a passing truck took it away. It flew over the elephant's head. The beast caught it with its trunk, and promptly ate it.

"I'm so sorry. Was that your only list?"

"Yes, but don't worry, I have memorized all the gurus in the world. I'm Sarlo."

"No! You are the famous guru rater?"

"Yes." Turning, he spread his arms as if to display his splendor.

"Imagine that! What good luck!"

"Yes, and you wanted to take the middle elephant. But, I forgive you. And for you, I recommend, Gungha, the massage guru. She is very good. She gives you a good rubdown all over your body. She concentrates on the sex chakra. You'll reach big enlightenment in no time. Have you ever been enlightened by a woman?"

"Yes, my wife has done that, on occasion. How often does one need to be enlightened by a woman?"

"Well, that depends. A gentleman your age, probably twice a week."

"Hmm! That often! No wonder I haven't been feeling myself lately."

"No, no. You're not suppose to feel like yourself when enlightened. You feel like the whole."

"The whole of what?"

"The whole enchilada."

"Is that a popular expression here?"

"No, here we say the whole tandori, but you look like you come from California. Most American enlightenment tourists come from California."

We had left the expressway, and he stopped the elephant. "Well, you have to decide now. Which way? To Gungha's Massage Parlor, or to the Enlightenment Shop?"

"Hell, I don't know. You have filled me with doubt. This uncertainty is coming off your tip, Sarlo."

"No, no. Doubts are good for one seeking enlightenment. Reality is not what it seems."

"What other choices are there?"

"Well, some gurus offer riddles, others offer sadhanas, like breathing exercises and other sundry concentration tricks; some explain reality in such abstruse language, that at first you think they are enlightened. But then, after a while, you notice they themselves are prisoners of their own explanations. Then, you feel enlightened yourself, and become a troll who tries to prove all other gurus are idiots. So, where to?"

"Take me to the Enlightenment Shop. That's the nearest one. This elephant is full of fleas."

"Yes, Sahib, five hundred to be exact, but only a few are out for blood, most are here just for the ride."

The man behind the counter resembled Ben Kingsley playing Ghandi. He smiled a toothless grin and joined his palms in greeting.

"How can I be of service, noble seeker?"

"I want to buy an enlightenment pill."

He looked at me with shrewd little eyes. He shook his head sideways in silence.


"We are out of them."

"Can you make one for me?"

"I could for the right price." He leaned over the counter to appraise my bag. "Hmm, your bag has been treated with elephant dung. Nice aroma. That's very good for an expensive bag like yours. I'll charge you a thousand rupees for a pill."

"How much is that in dollars?"

"I have no idea."

"I have no rupees. So I must pay you in dollars."

"Make it a thousand dollars, then."

"No way! A rupee is not worth a dollar."

"Well, a hundred, then."


"Okay. I'll start preparing it right away."

He moved to a bookshelf in the back and selected two thin books. He hobbled back. "These are the main ingredients."


"Yes, `The Zen teachings Of Huang Po' and `Prior to Consciousness' by Nisargadatta. I'll tear up one page from each, and grind them in this magic machine."

"That looks like a paper shredder."

He placed a plastic bowl in front of the machine and inserted the two pages. A fine paper dust came out. He reached under the counter and came up with a tiny box.

"Hairs from a dragon," he announced.

"Let me see."

He opened the box with great flair.

"That box is empty!"

"They are invisible to you, of course. Takes an enlightened eye to see them." With a pair of tweezers he pretended to take two out and dropped them in the plastic bowl.

"Now some resin from a bo tree under which a sage received realization."

This time I could see the bottle was full of something resembling maple syrup.

"This will mold the powder into a pill. And now, two drops of water from the Ganges."

"Wait a second. That water looks filthy. That's going to give me diarrhea."

"Exactly. That's part of the process. A bad case of diarrhea clears the mind. Just wait till you get to your hotel room to take the pill. Sarlo hates people shitting on his elephant. That's the reason he doesn't recommend my shop."

"How will I know the pill has worked?"

"You'll feel no fear."

"But I generally feel no fear... unless there is something fearful happening at the time."

"Hmm! Feeling fear when fear is needed, is wise. Well, you'll feel happy all the time."

"But, I feel happy all the time... unless something pisses me off. But that doesn't last long."

"Well, everything will look beautiful."

"But everything looks beautiful now. Even this dismal shop, even you. And you are hideous!"

He laughed, and shook his head sideways. "My wife thinks I have certain hidden charms. After you go back to California go see Pete Seesaw. He claims he can tell who is realized or not." He made a dismissive geature.

"Do you think that's true?"

"Some think he is a charlatan."

"Well sir, I happen to be Pete, and I'm a story teller, not a charlatan."

"What's the difference?"

"A charlatan tells a story to deceive, a storyteller to entertain."

"Hmm. Maybe so, but you don't look like him."

"Have you seem him, before?"

"No. But that's irrelevant, you don't look like him anyway. Are you sure that you are Pete?"

"Let's forget about me."

He laughed a wheezing laugh. "Good! If you could do that, you'd be enlightened."

Pete is a moderator of Advaita to Zen. More of his stories appear in the Files section of that group.

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