By Barbara Brotman of the Chicago Tribune, December 14, 2007
Moderator: Governor, some voters have expressed concern about your faith. How would you respond to them?
Former Gov. Mitt Dharma: I want to assure the American public that while my religion will never interfere with the performance of my office, I am a true Buddhist. I believe that life is suffering, that suffering is caused by desire and that it is possible to eliminate desire and suffering and thus achieve nirvana. My fellow Buddhists can rest assured that I am one of them.
Former Gov. Mike Anapanasati: I'd like to say that I respect Gov. Dharma and his beliefs, whatever they may be. Far be it from me to question another man's Buddhism. But let me just say that I have spent my life trying to follow the eightfold path. I believe the American people are looking for a mindful and meditative leader. I am mindful; I am meditative; and I believe I can lead this contemplative nation into a great future.
Former Sen. Fred Koan: For myself, I don't apologize for my relationship with the Buddha or the bodhisattvas. I don't apologize for my daily meditation practice. I'm all right with the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama's all right with me, as far as I know.
Moderator: Could you discuss the differences between your religious beliefs?
Gov. Dharma: My opponents have tried to paint themselves as better Buddhists than I. But I have striven all my life to conquer ambition and desire. I want nothing. There is no one who wants nothing more than I do, and I think the American people know that.
Gov. Anapanasati: Excuse me, but I take exception. The fact is, as the American people know, that I want nothing more than anyone in this race. I am proud to want nothing, and I can say without hesitation that I have spent my entire life wanting nothing.
Moderator: Don't you want to be president?
Gov. Anapanasati: Yes, but in a contemplative way that in no way detracts from my Buddhist beliefs.
Sen. Koan: I think it's clear that you can want something and still be committed to a life of not wanting anything. The question here is which candidate is most likely to transcend the cycle of birth and death. And I think it's clear to the American people which candidate that is.
Moderator: Are you saying, senator, that you are going to transcend the cycle of birth and death?
Sen. Koan: That is my intention.
Moderator: Gov. Dharma? Do you intend to transcend the cycle of birth and death?
Gov. Dharma: I do, with all my heart. And yet without actually desiring it, because, as I say, I am a true Buddhist, and desire is the cause of all suffering.
Gov. Anapanasati: I think it's for the American people to decide which candidate will transcend the cycle of birth and death, as I was saying to Richard Gere the other day.
Moderator: More voters are questioning candidates' spiritual practices. Can each of you answer the question do you meditate?
Sen. Koan: Every day.
Gov. Anapanasati: Yes, but in a full lotus position? I meditate twice a day in a lotus position.
Gov. Dharma: I have to question whether the other candidates really empty their minds. I think the American people are looking for a president who can empty his mind completely. And I am proud to say that when I meditate, you can hear crickets.
Moderator: May I ask each of you, have you achieved enlightenment?
Sen. Koan: Absolutely. I am completely enlightened, and I'm not ashamed to say it.
Gov. Anapanasati: I achieved enlightenment early in life, and have been steadfast in my enlightenment ever since.
Gov. Dharma: With all due respect for my worthy opponents, I have achieved perfect enlightenment in which all dualities have fused and ceased to exist as separate entities. I am every bit as Buddhist as the other candidates. I think the American people know genuine Buddhism when they see it, and I think they know that our shared beliefs make me ideally suited for the presidency. Although, of course, I don't really want it.
Moderator: Thank you. And now can you each answer the following question: What is the sound of one candidate losing?
Sen. Koan, we'll start with you.
Barbara Brotman is a Tribune staff reporter.