Dialogue in the Lift

The lift door was open. Quickening my steps, I hurried over and put my hands against the door to stop it from closing. There was a young man, about my age, standing inside.


“Down or up?” I asked.




Stepping inside, I exchanged a quick smile with him. The lift started moving.


“Finished with your stuff there?” he asked, by way of conversation.


“Nah, I was just bringing some friends up there.” He gave a brief, surprised nod. Wondering at his surprise, I sent a probing question:


“Not going for their dinner?”


He quickly shook his hands and head, as if in some attempt at denial. “I’m waiting for my sister to get off work.”


The lift bell sounded its arrival at the ground floor and the door opened. As we both stepped out into the reception lobby, he asked, “So who’s that ‘Soccaco’ guy?”


“ ‘Soracco’? I think it’s a Buddhist performance group, a band or something like that. They’re performing for the Buddhist Fellowship Gala dinner up there…”


At the mention of the word ‘Buddhist’, he raised his eyebrows. Just slightly.


“So you’re a Buddhist?” he asked. Hum-hawing a little, I replied. “Yeah, I guess you could call me that.”


“So you take part in their rituals and all that stuff?” he followed up with a questioning frown.


“Rituals? No, we don’t do rituals in Buddhism. We do meditation.”


He stopped walking. “So what’s the purpose of your meditation?” Hurriedly, he added, “Am I taking up your time or something? Are you in a hurry?”


“No, no, it’s ok,” I quickly replied.


I sized him up mentally. He certainly wasn’t a believer in Buddhism. I braced myself for a religious debate.


“In meditation, we aim to cultivate a clear state of mind to contemplate ourselves, and the true nature of our existence,” I floundered around trying to put together an answer. “And the cause of our suffering–”

“So what’s your ultimate goal?” He cut me off. I grinned. This answer should surprise him.


“To become a Buddha. You see–”


“And how do you manage to do that?"


“Well, all of us are afflicted with the Three Poisons of Greed, Hatred and Delusion. So Meditation aims to let us be aware of–”


“So what happens when you don’t manage to achieve that goal?” He cut me off. Again.


Fumbling around from this unexpected, unruly method of questioning, I replied, “Well, that’s why for us, there’s this thing about past lives. Buddhist – most Buddhists–” I quickly added that qualification, my own doubts about reincarnation floating up to my mind. “–believe in multiple rebirths–”


“Yeah, I know, ‘Nirvana’, right?”


“Er no, Nirvana is the end of this cyclic existence. There are multiple rebirths before your present life, and you have multiple rebirths in the future. So in theory, you have an unlimited number of lifetimes to practice to achieve that goal.”


“How is that possible?”


Growing in confidence, I explained. “Buddhist cosmology, as in Science, states that there are an infinite number of Universes. Your life can take place in any of these Universes. This is in agreement with Quantum Physics,” I took the chance to inject my favourite scientific theory.


He certainly wasn’t impressed.


“So how can you prove that?”


“Well, you see, Quantum Theory states that there are an infinite number of possibilities in the beginning, so each possibility gives–”


“So are you telling me this is all based on Science?” He shot through my reply like a shotgun bullet.


This man isn’t really interested in hearing an explanation, I thought. He’s just trying to find a weak point in what I know about my religion. Carefully, I framed my next reply.


“There are many parallels between Science and Buddhism. Buddhism is in agreement with Science. But I wouldn’t say that Buddhism is based on Science.”


“So when did Buddhism start?”


“2500 years ago. It started when the founder of the Buddhism, the Buddha, was enlightened 2500 years ago.”


“Where was all of this? In India? Or China?”


“India. Northeast India.”


“So the Buddha was an Indian?”


“Yes,” I replied firmly. “He was an Indian.”


“So who says so? Who says it started 2500 years ago?”


“Well, the historical Buddha actually lived 2500 years ago. Of course, the Buddha isn’t here now, so you can’t see Him for yourself, but his teachings were–”


“So where did he go after that? He died right?”


“Yeah, you could say that. He passed away–”


“So, what, he’s going to be reborn again right?” He laughed.


“Well, no. You see, after reaching enlightenment, he was supposed to be cleared of the defilements that led to suffering and rebirth. So after attaining Nirvana, he won’t be reborn again–”


“Who said that he was enlightened?”


“Himself. He verified himself to be enlightened.”


“He claimed his own enlightenment? So what makes him so sure he’s enlightened? What happens when you’re enlightened?”


“You attain a Perfect Understanding of the nature of existence and reality, of our lives and–”


“And how are you supposed to do that?”


Inwardly, I sighed. We seemed to be going in circles. Samsara.


“The Buddha taught a structured path to enlightenment. Right Understanding is the result of this path, called the Noble Eightfold Path. It begins with Right Speech, where you do not slander, lie and all that, and leads to Right Action–”


This time, the security guard cut me off. He motioned us to step to the side. We had been carrying out our Question And Answer Session in the middle of the reception lobby.


“So what’s the other two to seven ‘folds’?” He asked as we moved to the side.


“Right Speech leads to Right Action in our behaviour, which leads to a Right Livelihood in our occupation, putting in Right Effort in our daily lives, leading to Right Concentration which is the practice of meditation, that can let us have Right Mindfulness of our actions and thoughts, which leads to Right View and then finally Right Understanding–”


“So how come there’s Three Posions? I thought there’s supposed to be Seven Deadly Sins[1]?”


“Seven Deadly Sins is a Christian idea–”


“No, it’s not. It’s not just a Christian idea.”


“Okay, but if you liked, you could reclassify the Seven Deadly Sins into the Three Poisons.”


“So am I right to say that Buddhism is about Love?”


A little taken aback at the first positive thing he had said about Buddhism this evening, I fumbled around again. “Well, you could say that, but for me, Buddhism has two sides, Wisdom and Compassion. Wisdom to realize the true nature of existence, and Compassion for all beings that are suffering.”


Suddenly I realized what Love he was going to steer me towards.


God’s love.


This man is a Christian.


Continuing on, I added, “the Dalai Lama did once say that his religion was a religion of Love.”


“So Buddhism is about others, right? About caring for everyone around you.”


“Actually, Buddhism is also about ourselves–”


A young lady marched up to us. “Let’s go already,” she pouted at him.


“Yeah, gimme five minutes. I’ll be done soon.”


“Hurry up, you know. We’re late already.”


“Go outside and wait for me, okay? I’ll be done in three minutes.” He waved her away.


Turning to the door, she strutted off.


“So all of this is true? Can it be verified?”


“Well the arguments in Buddhism are based on logic and reasoning. The first premise is that there is suffering in life. Don’t you agree that there is suffering in life?” I asked my first question of the debate. Seeing not much of a response, I followed, “all of Buddhist thinking starts from that life has its unsatisfactoriness, and rational arguments follow.”


He looked up. “All right, thanks for the sharing. Let me tell you, I was once a Buddhist,” he grinned.


I grinned back. “And you converted right? To Christianity.”


“Yeah, I converted, but it’s okay,” he added, almost as if he felt I was going to be embarrassed about trying to preach to him.


“Yeah I could tell you were a Christian convert. There’s a lot of people that converted away from Buddhism–”


Cutting me off, for the last time, he said, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m a Christian, and Christianity is based on the Book of Isaiah, which is a real book. They dug it up in Israel.” He stared into my eyes in genuine earnest.


A real book? Is that all he had to say?[2] After all his impressive offensives which were launched from an admiringly logical and rational questioning attitude, all he could tell me is that Christianity is based on a book?


He carried on, “in your religion, it’s about love, and when it comes to love, you have to find that special relationship.” He patted my shoulder. “Go find that relationship.”


With that, he scooted off after his sister.


“Yeah thanks! And good luck!” I called after him.


For a while, I stood there, wondering why he turned romantic all of a sudden. Then I realized what relationship he was talking about.


That special relationship with God[3].

[1] The Seven Deadly Sins are Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony and goodness knows what else. I forgot.

[2] Somewhere in the Kalama Sutta (Charter of Free Inquiry) the Buddha advises not to believe in something simply because it’s written in a holy book. It also says don’t believe in something because someone else said so, a famous person says so, or because everyone believes in it.

[3] Christians believe in cultivating a special and personal relationship of love with God.


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