If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! You may be familiar with this koan said by a 1st century zen master named Linji. But what does it actually mean, and why is it important? Certainly, it shouldn’t be taken literally, as Buddha was dead a long time ago when this koan was born. Besides, Buddhism is 100% against taking anybody’s life.
Instead, the expression has a symbolical meaning. The road stands for the spiritual path, while the Buddha is only a vision of a holy figure, or may even represent his teachings. Thus, killing him means detaching yourself psychologically from his person as an individual being, and also detaching yourself from all kinds of spiritual methods and ideologies.
They say that while Buddha was still alive, Ananda, his most famous disciple, was so attached to him personally that he followed him all his life like a shadow. In spite of his great devotion, he couldn’t attain enlightenment, and was in great despair when his master died. He thought: I couldn’t achieve liberation while Buddha was alive, now all my chances are gone.
But surprisingly, only a couple of days later, Ananda became enlightened, and understood the whole situation. His attachment to Buddha was the barrier to attain buddhahood. Now he was all by himself, he couldn’t count on anybody else. And when he finally let go of the idea of the Buddha as a separate being, he realized his oneness with everybody else, too.
In this episode, I’d like to speak about mystical visions, and how misleading they can be. I don’t mean the visions you receive about your life purpose, because most of the time those are completely authentic and worth to follow. I mean specifically visions of an imagined future, or apparitions of holy figures, saints, angels or spiritual masters.
Many prophets have great revelations or claim to receive visions from the future. One of the most famous was Edgar Cayce, also known as the sleeping prophet. He was called that way, because during his sessions he was always in a trance-like state, a self induced hypnosis which he learnt from a hypnotherapist at a young age.
It’s a well-known fact that during hypnosis, the critical part of the mind stops functioning, so you easily believe whatever you’re told to believe. The difference in self-hypnosis is that there’s nobody else with you, you give the suggestions to yourself, and you immediately believe them without critical thinking. Imagination and reality blend together, as the borderline between them slowly evaporates.
You don’t even have to know how to hypnotize yourself, because it happens automatically many times during the day, especially for the more imaginative types. Those who are more susceptible to hypnosis also possess a more vivid imagination. If you decide to believe your fantasies, you are approaching a dangerous territory, and by the end you may become crazy instead of enlightened.
The desire itself for seeing visions is also a crucial factor in creating them. I know, because that’s how it happened to me once, right before I had my tattoo made. I was listening to a song about angels, and I got so enchanted with it, that I put it on repeat for hours. I became so emotional that I broke out in tears, and when I closed my eyes, I saw Archangel Gabriel visiting me. He gave me his wings, and as they transformed into my symbol, I saw it on my back lighting up brightly.
But looking back, I know it was just some mystical experience that I really wanted to have, and therefore my subconscious presented it to me. The mind is a very powerful and tricky device, and with enough concentration, or in times of despair, it can create whatever you want to see.
If you’re lost in the desert, it creates a mirage of a beautiful oasis where you can quench your thirst. If you’re adrift on a boat in the middle of the ocean, it will delude you with the image of a ship coming to save you. If you desperately want to see ghosts, angels or holy figures, it will arrange a mystical meeting. But after all, it’s just a coping mechanism to reduce your stress level.
I’m reminded of the story of Doreen Virtue, the most famous author on the topic of angels. For years, she was strictly anti-religious, and very much in the believer of New Age spirituality. But recently, she converted to Christianity after claiming that Jesus presented himself to her in a vision. Do you think it’s a coincidence, that the same person who had visions of angels now had a vision of Christ, and made this life-altering decision?
You can say that she’s more sensitive to these things, but I would argue that she’s simply more imaginative, and at the same time, very susceptible to actually believe in her visions, and desires them greatly. After all, her livelihood depends on them.
When speaking about hallucinations, we also have to mention the possibility of psychological disorders, namely schizophrenia, dissociative disorder and temporal lobe epilepsy. There’s also the so-called Charles Bonnet syndrome experienced by partially or totally blind individuals, causing them to see visual hallucinations.
Even if you are perfectly healthy mentally, mystical visions can still occur due to extreme fatigue, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, sensory overstimulation or hallucinogens. As you can see, mystical visions can have a long list of natural causes, and they are also quite common. According to studies, approximately 10% of the population had experienced at least one hallucinatory episode in the course of their life.
However, hallucinations can also be auditory, and not only visual, or sometimes they can be both. Especially in life threatening situations, it’s very common to hear voices or feel a supernatural presence around. This was labeled as the third man effect, and can be explained by an innate survival mechanism, in which the subconscious mind is sending us messages that feel as if coming from a third party. For more explanation, watch my video titled “Do angels and demons exist?”.
All in all, I want you to keep one thing in mind: whatever you see or hear is only the content of the mind, only secondary. The whole effort of spirituality is to help you get detached from the contents, and concentrate on the essence: on the entity who perceives these contents. Spiritual enlightenment is not an experience, but a realization. A realization of the one who stands behind all your experiences. So don’t get distracted by mystical visions, find the one for whom these visions appear!
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