The weathered sign swayed in the desert wind outside the old storefront on the poor side of town. Nobody knew what went on there. That’s probably because nobody ever went there, except for some hippies—and everybody knew they were crazy.
One day a couple of cowboys were riding around, drunk as usual, and one dared the other to go inside. They parked noisily. Slamming the doors and laughing, they walked back to the storefront. The door was locked, the windows so dirty they couldn’t see inside.
Finally one noticed the small business card down low in the window, so low your had to bend down to read it: “BUDDHA TEMPLE—please ring bell for service.” Exchanging glances, they didn’t seem so drunk anymore. Finally one said, “Aw, hell,” and pushed the doorbell mounted near the card.
A long time passed. Finally the door shook, rattled and squeaked open. There stood a monk, dressed in dark red robes, one shoulder bare. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. How can I help you?”
They recognized him, of course. Nobody can live in a town that small without getting known. He was the old stranger, a retiree who stayed in a trailer outside town, on the old Smith place. He was very quiet, and nobody knew much about him, except the mailman confirmed he had some weird foreign name and was on Social Security, so he probably wasn’t cooking or dealing. He did his shopping quietly in town but kept very much to himself. Pretty much like most folks around there.
After a moment of awkward silence, one cowboy spoke up, “Uh, we’d like to see the Buddha Temple. Uh, please.”
“Ah, right this way, sirs.” The monk opened the door the rest of the way and stepped back. The men moved warily into the small storefront. It had been a variety store back in the day, but after the Wal-Mart near the Interstate opened up it went through a series of tenants, all of whom failed. Then it was vacant for a long time, until it became the mysterious Buddha Temple.
The room was very clean, painted all white. It was empty except for some books and cushions on the floor. The monk, barefoot, glided silently into the center. “Welcome to the Buddha Temple, gentlemen.”
The men looked silently at each other. Finally one of them blurted, “But there ain’t nothin’ here!”
The monk, smiling serenely, replied, “That’s not quite true, sir. The Buddha is here.”
It was the other one’s turn to drawl, “Ah don’t see nothin’ neither.”
“It is not easy to see the Buddha,” the monk continued, perfectly matter of fact, “perhaps it requires a certain kind of vision.”
One of the men, convinced the room was indeed empty, turned toward him. “And what do you do here?”
“Nothing. I wait. And I see.”
It was not the kind of answer they were expecting. Both cowboys were cold sober now, and a bit shaken. “This guy is weird, man.”
“Yeah, let’s get outta here.” Shaking a finger at the monk, he continued, “There ain’t no Buddha here! I seen pitchers of temples, and they all got big Buddha statues right up front. Don’t they, Sam?”
“Yup, all the ones I seen in ‘Nam sure had ’em, big as could be. This place ain’t nothin’.”
“Yes, of course, you’re perfectly right. Good afternoon, gentlemen,” said the monk as he gently closed the door behind the grumbling men.
A few hours later the bell rang again. The monk was expecting visitors this time, and opened the door immediately. The hippies came in, removed their shoes and approached the monk, now seated on a cushion at the far end of the store.
They knelt on the floor and bowed deeply, hands folded above their heads. “Namo Buddhāya” was all they said. The Buddha nodded sagely, blessed them with an ancient verse, and began to teach.