The Spiritual Materialist

dscf1854 I went to a Tibetan Fair. There were all sorts of Tibetan rugs, scarves, sweaters, ornaments and jewelry for sale. There was Tibetan music and “Save Tibet” booths, along with booths trying to bring attention to various imprisoned Tibetan activists. However, I was not there for any of these things. What I was looking for was enlightenment. I had been asking around about enlightenment. A co-worker told me to check out the Tibetan fair because they might sell it there. Since I was in desperate need of enlightenment I figured I had nothing to loose. I paid the $10 entry fee and was overwhelmed by the amount of people, vendors and music that sprawled all over the three acre park. With so many booths to choose from I started going up to various vendors to see what they were selling. Most seemed to offer material goods but I asked anyways if they sold enlightenment. The response was always the same “no” and the degree of the laughter depended upon how well the vendor understood me. There were also booths for acupuncture, massage and psychic readings. There where even meditation booths. Since I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, and a pocket filled with three hundred dollars- I decided I would take my time and look around.

An acupuncturist told me that he did not sell enlightenment but that he could help me find it. I only let him put three small needles into me and after ten or so minutes of lying still on his table I had to ask him to please take out the needles because I was feeling anxious. I had a massage from an old Tibetan woman who told me that her hands could bring me close to enlightenment but she had none for sale. I gave her ten bucks for ten minutes- but half way through the massage I felt so uncomfortable being rubbed in public that I had to ask her to stop. “Maybe you try more meditation,” she told me as I thanked her for taking some of the stiffness out from my neck and upper back. I paid a psychic fifteen bucks because she told me that she could not sell me enlightenment but she may be able to guide me in the right direction. After fifteen minutes of her sitting still without saying a word she opened up a flood gate of prognostications, that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. She told me of my bad luck and the various ways that my impatience has caused me to make several bad decisions. She told me that soon I would make a career change and that the reason that I have so much stress and tension in my body and life is because I am not getting the recognition in my life that I feel I deserve. She also told me that I am smart and posses an analytical mind which causes me to be unhappy because I am angry at all the less intelligent people who get ahead in life while I remain behind. All of it was too much for me to take. I stopped her in mid sentence as she was saying, “you are getting older and you are afraid that……” I thanked her for her revelations but told her that I felt no closer to finding enlightenment than when I began. She smiled, shut her eyes and I went on my way.

I continued to travel around the fair looking at all the wide eyed Buddhists. In the background music played from the main stage but was muddled by the multiplicity of various voices that traveled through the fair. It felt like the entire city of Berkeley was making their way through those two acres of land. I had to squeeze my way up to booths that seemed like they could be potential sellers of enlightenment. “Do you sell enlightenment here?” I would shout so that the vendor would hear loud and clear what I was trying to say. People would look at me in disbelief as I was told again and again, “no, no enlightenment here.” The afternoon was ending and I could feel the heat being put off by the sun begin to decrease as the sun made way for the moon. Relentlessly, I traveled around from booth to booth determined to find the object of my search. If I could not find enlightenment here where else would I find it? Some vendors who could not sell me enlightenment offered me a good deal on items that may bring me close. I purchased some sandalwood prayer beads and a t-shirt with the “OM” symbol on it. I also purchased some incense and a new meditation cushion, but I knew when I bought these material goods that they were only steps to enlightenment, and not enlightenment itself. With bags containing my new purchases I asked old Tibetan women, sexy Tibetan women, young Tibetan men and older Tibetan men if they knew where I could purchase enlightenment. None did, except one. She pointed her decaying finger callused by such a long life at a lone booth that sat on the top of a hill. The woman without any teeth in her mouth and more wrinkles on her face that that of a redwood tree said, “Up there…he may find it for you.”

I walked toward that booth like a man making his way towards a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. A lone, middle aged Tibetan vendor stood contentedly behind a pile of beautiful Tibetan rugs that had intricate patterns hand woven into them. An array of colorful Tibetan scarves blew in the wind above his head. He stared eagerly at me and I could tell that his eyes had achieved some semblance of nirvana. “Do you sell enlightenment here?” I asked him like an eager pupil. Since he was a little hard of hearing I had to repeat my question. “Enlightenment, do you sell it here?” I asked again. He did not laugh like all the rest. Nor did he look at me with dumbfounded disdain. Instead he opened up the doors of communication by saying, “oooooooh enlightenment, you looking for it here?” “I have been looking for it everywhere,” I replied, feeling some sense of relief overcoming me. Maybe I had finally found a man who can sell it to me, I thought. “You know why you no find enlightenment?” he asked me. “Why?” I replied. “Because you look for it. You need to stop looking for enlightenment and then you will find that it is everywhere….all around you, all the time” I had a brief “aha!” moment, where time stood still and it felt as if I was the center of the universe. I listened to the sounds, smelled the scents and looked around me. For the first time in years  I was free from my desire to find something I did not have. Instead I simply let go and for a brief moment or two I felt something akin to enlightenment. “You not need what is in your bags or on your shelves, just remember the breathing,” the man said in a calm tone as I smiled at him and took a deep inhalation. “Thank you,” I told him, “you have helped me find exactly what I was looking for.” “And it’s even free,” he said and then let out a little laugh.


  1. This is the kind of writing the reinvigorates my love for literature!

    You are a master of narrative form and philosophical revelations.

    I will share this brilliant post with as many as I can.

    Thank you.


  2. I notice Randall that I feel enlightened after reading anything you write, whether it is wickedly funny or a beautiful story. You make me feel free and light and like I have just dropped a very heavy bag. I always feel fresher Randall and it is because of your writing.

    Love Renee xoxoxo

  3. …”For the first time in years I was free from my desire to find something I did not have. Instead I simply let go and for a brief moment or two I felt something akin to enlightenment.”

    …maybe then “enlightenment” could mean lightness of spiritual self achieved from releasing the burden self-limiting inhibition?

    …I wonder if you compensated the old man in some tangible way to help him stay alive and thus guide more questing souls?

    I googled “meditation booths” wondering if others might have insights into what would constitute a “good” commercial meditation booth. Any ideas?

    Thank you.

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