From the Heart - June 2001

I Can't Believe It's Not Buddha

by Alan Cohen

On the beautiful island of Kauai, I love to visit a magical stream that flows through a lush mountain valley. I enter the stream at a shallow pool formed by a small eddy. When I first stepped into this pool I noticed some accumulated debris. Lovingly I cleared some sticks, leaves, and nut shells. When I thought I had restored the pool floor to a smooth surface of fine silt, I noticed a few more twigs and branches, which I tossed aside. Then a few more. As I rummaged below the surface to get rid of all the debris, I discovered that the pool floor was made of debris. The layer of fine silt covering it was less than an inch thick; everything below it was rubble. If I cleared away all the debris, I would clear away the pool's foundation.

It occurred to me that the debris of our life does not hamper us from being what we are—it makes us what we are. We tend to judge ourselves for our mistakes and the difficulties we have experienced, when it is the difficulties that build our character. Dan McKinnon noted, "People are like tea bags—we don't know our real strength until we get into hot water."

A man came to a guru and challenged him, "I will give you an orange if you can show me where God is." The guru thought for a moment, then answered, "I will give you two oranges if you can show me where God is not."

Every situation is an opportunity to find God; indeed our entire purpose here is to find God in as many different forms as possible. A poet once declared, "God is a flower that grew a nose to smell Itself."

The story is told about a monastery that was dying because the half-dozen monks who operated the place, had become spiritually dry. Then one night a mysterious stranger arrived at the monastery. As the monks welcomed him, they recognized an unusual glow about him. The next morning they sat with their guest at breakfast, eager to hear his words of wisdom. "Last night I had a dream," he told them. "It was revealed to me that one of you is the messiah."

The monks were astonished and looked at each other, bewildered. "Who is it?" one of them asked boldly. "That is something I am not allowed to reveal to you," the stranger answered. "You will have to discover that for yourself." Then, as mysteriously as he had arrived, the man departed.

During the weeks and months that followed, the monks treaded lightly with each other and looked into each other's eyes more deeply. They treated each other as if any one of them could be the messiah. Then, over a period of time, something miraculous happened. A sense of joy and appreciation began to fill the halls of the monastery for the first time in a long time. A feeling of eager anticipation enlivened their prayers, meals, and conversations. As a result, the people who visited the monastery felt uplifted, and the number of visitors increased. After a time the monastery came back to life and their order was furthered by new monks who found refreshment for their souls.

Eventually all of the original monks passed on, without any one of them being designated as the messiah. They had all become the messiah.

Wouldn't it be beautiful if we treated everyone as the messiah, or the Buddha, or the Christ? Can you imagine the kind of world we would create? As Joan Osborne asked in song, "What if God was one of us?"

One day while I was staying at a remote retreat house on Maui, two fellows came to the door. One told me he had stayed at the place the week earlier, and he wanted to show his friend the view. He introduced himself as John, and his friend as Tom. I showed them in, they walked around for ten minutes, thanked me, and then left. Later that day I was strolling along a nearby country road when an Aerostar van pulled up and the driver asked if I wanted a ride.

"John Denver here, again," he greeted me. "Thanks for showing us around your house this morning." I could not believe I hadn't recognized him earlier! I shook John's hand and told him how much his music had meant to me. He smiled and we had a moment of genuine heart connection. A year later I learned that John was killed in a plane crash. Now I sure am glad I realized who he was.


Alan Cohen is the author of the best-selling The Dragon Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life, and the acclaimed Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It.

To request a free catalog of Alan's books, tapes, seminars, and life-transforming Mastery Training in Maui, phone 1-800-568-3079, visit, email,or write P.O. Box 835, Haiku, HI 96708.


| home | our focus | bio/purpose | stories |submit a story |links |