How Bodhidharma Overcame the Asteroid

With help from a time traveling goat

John Levin
Tales of Improbable Magic
3 min readAug 22, 2023


Illustration generated by the Author, using DALL-E 2, with the prompt: “Bodhidharma having a conversation with a goat, in the style of Japanese Zen calligraphy.”

I heard that one time Bodhidharma got caught in a traffic jam. He was at the border of China, heading north from India, when a goat, also caught in this traffic jam, simply gave up and went to the back of the line just to see who this odd fellow was.

“Why are you leaving India?” the curious goat asked.

“I don’t like elephants, especially that Ganesh fellow.”

“Wow, that sounds serious.”

“I know. He’s always giving me trouble about the eyelids. He says I should take a rest instead.”

“That’s good advice,” the goat said, while trying to eat one of Bodhidharma’s shoes.

“Don’t mess with my shoes!” Bodhidharma yelled. “I need them for the anecdote with the Emperor of China!”

But, by that time the goat had disappeared, having flown into the future to invent Nike running shoes. You might think that’s odd, but so were traffic jams in 500 AD.

Well, not really. One time I decided to time travel to visit the dinosaurs just before the asteroid hit. Yep, they were all waiting to board an alien spaceship, but… the tyrannosaurs just kept making noises with those damned giant teeth and slowed the whole thing down. Too bad, I guess. All those dinosaurs could have been contenders.


© “John” Lesly Levin 2023

PS — I do have to apologize. This little tale is replete with obscure references to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma, who supposedly was Enlightened, brought a form of Buddhist meditation from India to China in about 500 CE. The Buddha’s word for meditation, dhyan, became ch’an in China, and then, when Ch’an Buddhism made it to Japan, it became Zen.

Also, supposedly, the Emperor of China, having heard so many wonderful things about Bodhidharma, went to meet him at the border! Bodhidharma met him with one shoe on his foot and one on his head. Now you see why that time traveling goat was such potential trouble!

You can look up the eyelids reference if you’re interested. All I can say is I hope it’s not true. The form of meditation officially credited to Bodhidharma, zazen, just means watching. And the goat was correct: It’s better to just get a good night’s sleep. If you’re REALLY GOOD, you can watch in your sleep. Leave your fucking eyelids alone.

At least that’s my thought.

Zen is a funny thing. In America, it’s associated with the Beatnicks in the 1950s & 60s, who had a rather intellectual concept of what it really meant. That’s OK, but Zen is actually so much more. I would say it’s learning how to be a mirror. One of my favorite anecdotes in all this meditation stuff is what Bodhidharma said when the Emperor of China asked him, “What is the essential meaning of your message?”

Bodhidharma replied, “Emptiness, no holiness.”

And that really does say it all in these kinds of matters.

And also, yes, Marlin Brando could have been a contender, and you and I can, too.

In fact, if you follow this strain of meditation stories, we already are.



John Levin
Tales of Improbable Magic

Scientist. Writer. Meditator. Blue Tantrika. Mystical Rabbi. Climate & Human Rights Activist. I’m a man of few words, except when I open my mouth.