A Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Buddha, and Bertie Wooster Have Dinner at Chili’s
by David Kennedy Bird
Abstract: In which P.G. Wodehouse’s classic creation Mr. Bertram Wooster dines at Chili’s with two classical Asian philosophers–Mr. Confucius and Mr. Buddha–and finds himself, oh, a bit out of his depth. Eh what?
If you’ve ever dipped into the fiction of British author P.G. Wodehouse, you are doubtless familiar with the character of Bertie Wooster. You know, the somewhat sub-brainful scion of one of the English ruling families of about a hundred years ago. And if you’ve ever dipped into the literature of the Ancient East, you are probably familiar with the characters of Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) and Shakyamuni (the Buddha).
But…ha! And i shall say it again: Ha! Has it ever occurred to you to imagine the conversation that might arise should Young Bertram find himself in the presence of these two ancient worthies, at Chili’s Restaurant? No! Of course it hasn’t. That’s why i’m the one doing all the heavy lifting about the place. I mean: SOMEBODY’s got to.
Wodehouse would’ve done it, if only he’d thought of it.
At any rate, what you are about to read represents one possible dialogue that might arise if persons #1, #2, and #3 were to find themselves at the same table at Chili’s on a warm Saturday afternoon….
Confucius: [looking over the menu] Hmmm. I’ve often wondered what these “Southwestern Eggrolls” are. Ordering them has never served to shed light on the matter. Though they are admittedly tasty.
Buddha: All is vanity.
Confucius: Well put, my man. Oh… i suppose i’ll go with the Cobb Salad again. Can’t go wrong with the classics.
Buddha: To choose that which has endured the whirlwind, in this is wisdom.
Bertie Wooster: [muscling his way through the crowd to their table] I say! What a brainy sort of thing to come forth with at the dinner table.
Confucius: Well, hello! I didn’t see you standing there.
Bertie: Oh don’t mind me. Just casting about for a place among my fellow man. The restaurant’s a bit crowded at present. They’re working on a table for me. Chuffing waitstaff.
Buddha: The man who is able to establish himself among his fellows without doing harm is of the….
Confucius: Yes, yes. Please sit with us, at least until the crowd thins a bit.
Bertie: Well, i don’t mind if i do.
Confucius: My name is Kung fu Tzu, and my companion is Lord Shakyamuni.
Bertie: I say! Pleased to make your acquaintance, and all that, your Lordship. Bertram Wooster here, at your service and all that.
Buddha: The pains that result from our illusory desires may only be….
Confucius: Yes, indeed, thank you. [to Bertie] He can seem a bit like a broken record, until you’ve gotten to know him. After which, he continues to sound like a broken record.
Bertie: I say! [hesitating] You coves wouldn’t happen to be philosophers?
Confucius: Honored to be of service. [extends hand in greeting]
Buddha: To exist is to suffer.
Bertie: Eh what!
Confucius: Never mind him. Given the choice between social niceties and a philosophical coup, well, he’s not really familiar with social niceties.
Bertie: I knew someone like that. Name of Spode. Suffering was his favorite theme–mine in particular.
Confucius: Spode. Spode. You wouldn’t be referring to S.P. Oder, by any chance?
Bertie: Nope. Fellow’s name was just plain Spode. Bit of a fascist organizer, cum white supremacist, cum uninvited attender at other people’s social occasions.
Confucius: Ah. I’ve known the sort of person. Has a great many regrettable opinions about racial superiority, has he?
Bertie: Precisely. Spode enjoys mowing his property, solely to hear the violets cry out in terror. His idea of a good party is one where a representative of the Master Race is putting it over on someone less masterful.
Buddha: To master one’s cravings, this is the essence of superior spirituality.
Bertie: Really? Oh dear. I fear i’ve not given much attention to mastering my cravings. At the Drone’s Club, we rather incline toward inventing new cravings.
Buddha: It is no matter. You are well on the way to cultivating mindlessness, my son.
Bertie: I say! Now you’re reminding me of my Aunt Dahlia.
Confucius: She is a philosopher?
Bertie: No, but this chap seems to share her view of my mind and its capacities, what?
Confucius: We owe respect to our elders, even when their words to us are sharp, like the edge of a cultivating tool.
Bertie: Aunt Dahlia certainly knows her cultivating tools, being something in the way of a gardener.
Confucius: Indeed! To bring forth wealth from the soil, and to subsist by the sweat of one’s brow: such a life is not inferior to that of kings.
Bertie: If you say so. Well, i mean to say, Aunt Dahlia doesn’t do much sweating about the brow, except where her prize rose bushes are concerned. She subsists mainly by the sweat of other people’s brows, including my Uncle Tom.
Bertie: Now, if this fellow [indicating the Buddha] had called me a blot, a rodent, a germ and an insect, he would rather have reminded me of my Aunt Agatha.
Confucius: A woman of high spirits! I should like to meet her.
Bertie: Enjoy leaping into vats of boiling oil in your leisure hours, eh what?
Confucius: I beg your pardon?
Bertie: Oh, just musing. Say, what do philosophers eat when dining out?
Confucius: [nervously eyeing menu] Er, the usual. Cobb Salads, that sort of thing. And what do privileged young scions of the English aristocratic class eat?
Bertie: [also looking over menu] Hmmm. I’m looking for the roast joint of mutton with roast potatoes, mint sauce and haricots verts. What a confusing menu! What’s a “Southwestern Eggroll”?
Confucius: Those are actually quite good. Recommend. We’ll just ignore the deeply confused gridwork of cultural appropriations.
Buddha: The wheel of samsara can be escaped only through self-denial.
Confucius: See, even he admits that they’re tasty.
Bertie: I must say i’m not often in the company of philosophers. Well, there’s Jeeves, of course.
Confucius: Chi Tzu?
Bertie: Jeeves. J-E-E-V-E-S. Terribly brainy sort of chap. Reads dusty old volumes for enjoyment. No accounting for tastes, what?
Confucius: A philosopher, then?
Bertie: Ra-THER. He knows a good bit more about Schopenhauer and, oh, some of those other brainy chaps than i do about houndstooth tweed.
Confucius: He sounds wonderful! And you say that you have employed him as your staff philosopher?
Bertie: Well, not precisely. He’s my valet. You know, keeps the jackets ironed and the tea warm, that sort of thing, ha ha.
Confucius: [somewhat disapprovingly] Are you certain that you have employed him in accordance with his gifts?
Bertie: Well, you know, ha ha.
Confucius: No matter. You must bring him with you the next time we adventitiously meet at Chili’s for dinner!
Bertie: Depend on it! And i can ask Jeeves later on what ‘adventitiously’ means.