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 every man in uniform is ipso facto a bully and tyrant, or that every Armenian or Jew or Parsee is by his very nature a subtle business man. Dispelling big illusions, too, usually takes quite some time. But in all these cases some striking counter‑example 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, on 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 would make his bid for Buddhahood. He 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. ‘Why, what is it?’ asked Mka. The demon Red‑eye told him: ‘My Lord, I have seen hundreds and thousands coming and going near the Bo tree, but saw nothing to report. But 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 those people, hundreds and thousands of them, 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, that he will do. When you go to your meditation seat and sit for the meditation, normally, yes, 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.`
© Trevor Leggett