It may seem that an illusion gets thinner and finally fades away after quite some time. But in fact it is the reaction that gets thinner. The illusion, as such, goes all at once. It can take quite some time to get over the idea that everyone in uniform is ipso facto a bully and tyrant, or that every Armenian, Jew, or Parsee is by nature a subtle businessman. Dispelling big illusions, too, usually takes quite some time. But in all these cases some striking counterexample can bring the whole belief system down like a pack of cards. Because it is an illusion, it can go suddenly at any moment.
In a Tibetan version of the life of the Buddha, there is an interesting passage in one book in which a great Indian teacher made a striking comment. The original passage describes how Mara, king of the demons, set a demon called Red-Eye to keep watch on the Bo tree, under which, it was prophesied, the bodhisattva (enlightened being) would make his bid for Buddha- hood. This demon was to report anything unusual.
For centuries Red-Eye watched the people coming and going past the Bo tree, but he saw nothing disturbing. Then, one day, he rushed away and presented himself before Mara, in a state of agitation. ‘What is it?’ asked Mara. The demon Red-Eye told him, ‘My Lord, I have seen hundreds and thousands of people coming and going near the Bo tree, but saw nothing to report. Now there is a man walking towards that tree, and from the way he walks, I believe that whatever that man sets out to do, he will do. Let Your Majesty beware of what is taking place.’
The Indian teacher’s comment was this:
Normally we do our spiritual practices, and we approach our meditation seat like all those people—the hundreds and thousands seen coming and going round the Bo tree. But the time will come—perhaps when we have a terrible disappointment, or fear; or great temptation—when we must become like that man walking towards the Bo tree, walking in a way that shows whatever he sets out to do, he will do. When you go to your meditation seat and sit for the meditation, normally you are thinking that it is a patient process of years. But, remember, all this is an illusion, and because it is an illusion, it can go at any time. Walk to your meditation cushion like the Buddha-to-be walking towards the Bo tree, saying: Today! Today! Today!
Illusion Has No Parts from the Old Zen Master
© Trevor Leggett