Obama, Nagarjuna, and Invisibility

Last week the Republicans treated us to the spectacle of Clint Eastwood interviewing President Obama in an empty chair. Not Eastwood’s best performance by a long shot. It’s led to a nearly endless series of “Invisible Obama” jokes, but I, for one, feel we should take this matter seriously.

Now that this previously unknown power of Barack Obama to become invisible has been revealed, I have reached the conclusion that far from being a “secret Muslim”, or openly Christian, the President is actually a Buddhist and he probably doesn’t even know it. In fact, I believe that Barack Hussein Obama is the reincarnation of Nagarjuna, considered by many to be the Second Buddha. Why? Because Nagarjuna, too, had the power to become invisible.

Don’t laugh. Obama as the reincarnated Nagarjuna is as plausible as some of the other things said about the President, like he was born in Kenya, or that he’s a communist.

I don’t know how President Obama learned how to become invisible, but I know how Nagarjuna did. The story, culled from Chinese texts by Kumarajiva in the 5th century*, goes like this (more or less):

Acharya (teacher) Nagarjuna was from south India and belonged to the Brahman caste. At an early age he was taken to Nalanda, the famed Buddhist university, and his life became one of intense study. By the time he became a teenager, though, he found studying all the time to be rather boring. One day he got together with three of his friends and he said to them, “Are you guys as bored as I am? Haven’t we studied enough? We need some fun. Let’s go find a magician and learn the art of making ourselves invisible.” Everyone was agreed that this was a cool idea.

They found a magician and asked him to give them a formula for invisibility. This magician, however, had years of business experience, and he didn’t do magic for any altruistic reasons, he wanted to make a profit. He’d acquired a number of formulas from another magician who went out of business, and he knew if he just sold the formulas out right, he’d lose a lot of repeat business. So he bottled the formulas, and marketed his product as “Dr. Bain’s Magic Elixirs.”

Even though the four boys were very learned, the magician still pegged them each for a sucker. After all, there was one was reborn every minute. He said, “Here you are. The first one’s free. Of course, if you run out and need some more, you’ll have to pay. I’m trying to make a living here, you know.”

Nagarjuna said, “I see, you want our money but don’t want to tell us how you make this stuff.” He then unscrewed the cap on his bottle, took one sniff, and read off to the magician each of the seventy ingredients in the elixir. The magician was flabbergasted. He said, “How did you figure it out?” Nagarjuna replied, “I’m no longer just a customer. I’m the Acharya.” The magician thought to himself, “I gotta get better elixirs.”

Ancient painting of Nagarjuna and his friends climbing the palace stairs.

Nagarjuna and his friends, having obtained bottles of the elixir and the knowledge of how to make more, indulged themselves. They started going over to the king’s palace each night and having their way with women in the king’s harem. This went on for about three months and then some of the women became pregnant. The king was mystified. His security was very tight and he thought it impossible for anyone to sneak in and fool around with his harem girls. He brought all his advisers together and asked, “What the hell is going on? Is this the work of demons or is it magic?”

One of the advisers said, “Your majesty, a few months ago there was a magician around town selling various magic elixirs. Personally, I thought he was little more than a snake-oil salesman, but you never know, he might have some magic formulas that work. Perhaps he had one for invisibility and he sold the formula to someone who’s been using it to get in and screw around with your girls.”

The king said, “Okay. That sounds plausible. How do we catch this person or persons?”

The advisor replied, “Easy. We just sprinkle some dirt around the doors and on the floor beneath the windows. They are bound to leave some footprints behind.” And the king said, “Sounds like a plan,” and that’s what they did.

The next night, a guard noticed the footprints and alerted the king who called out all the guards and ordered them to storm the harem rooms waving their swords in every direction. Nagarjuna’s three friends were thus beheaded. Nagarjuna only escaped by standing next to the king, as he knew no one would wield their sword anywhere near his head. In this way, he managed to get away unharmed.

Naturally, Nagarjuna was bummed out. The death of his three friends took all the fun out of becoming invisible and shagging harem girls. In his sadness, Nagarjuna awoke to the ultimate truth about suffering, and realized that one of its causes is the pursuit of earthly desires. He resolved then to formally join the Buddhist Order.

Now, I don’t need to tell you there’s about as much truth in this story as you’ll find in a speech by Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It’s just one of the many legends that surround Nagarjuna’s life. Nor should I have to say that Buddhism does not teach reincarnation but rebirth, which is very different. And I probably don’t need to point out that it is highly unlikely President Obama has the power to become invisible.

However, I would like to mention, in case you are an undecided voter, that I like the power of the argument in favor of President Obama’s reelection. As former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday night, “Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good, new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for innovators.”

And because I am a Buddhist who reveres the ideal of the Bodhisattva, I agree with Clinton that “We’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “You’re on your own.”

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan scare me. For the first time in my life, this election is extremely personal. Because I had a pre-existing medical condition, I couldn’t get health insurance. I’m relying on Medicare to help me afford cancer treatment and a liver transplant. Without a transplant, I’m dead.

Receiving a new liver could take a year or a year and a half. Because Romney wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and turn Medicare into Vouchercare, I’m afraid his election will have an adverse effect on my life. There’s a lot he hasn’t been specific about. As President Obama said last night, he wants my vote but won’t tell me his plans. I’m concerned for others as well, and not just senior citizens. The Ryan Medicare budget essentially destroys the program for everyone under the age of 55 years.

So, I plan to be visible this November 2nd and cast my vote for President Obama, and I urge you not to believe the sales pitch, well let’s call it straight, the lies the two Republican snake-oil salesmen are handing out.

I am grateful that the Affordable Care Act provides a lifeline for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The Republicans want to repeal it. They don’t want to save Medicare, they want to trash it. Don’t let Romney and Ryan make me and others who are in a similar situation invisible once again.

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*Kao-seng-chuan (Biographies of Eminent Monks)


7 thoughts on “Obama, Nagarjuna, and Invisibility

  1. Beautiful, man… I’ve never felt so strongly about the outcome of a US election. I hope you folks over there don’t shoot yourselves in the foot come the day.

  2. What a beautifully told version of the Nagarjuna tale! Thanks so much for this! And thanks also for pointing out how the political becomes personal. As a fellow cancer survivor, I share your passion for keeping the Republicans far, far away from Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Healthcare Act.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Seth.

      Personally, I stand for keeping the Republicans as far away as possible from everything! And, I’m not a cancer survivor, yet. But I’m trying.

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