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Chapter 1: The Great Illusion

I have heard, in Damascus there was a Sufi master. One morning his servant came to him and asked him for his horse. “I have not much time,” the servant said. “I was in the market buying vegetables for you, and somebody put his hand on my shoulder; he was shrouded in black. ‘Who are you?’ I asked. ‘Your death! Be prepared this evening, for I am coming,’ was his answer.”

The master laughed and said, “You may take my horse.”

The servant left Damascus immediately, and fled to Samarra. When he had gone, the master went to the city and visited the marketplace. He saw Death lurking in the corner and asked him, “Why all this playing tricks? Why did you frighten my servant needlessly? If there was any message to be delivered, you should have brought it to me.”

“I did not mean to frighten him,” said Death. “It was a surprise to me when my hand reached out on its own and placed itself on his shoulder. I wondered how he came to be strolling around here, when my appointment with him this evening is in Samarra, which is far away. It was to my own surprise that I placed my hand on his shoulder.”

The master laughed again. “But why do you laugh?” asked Death.

“When he asked me for my horse this morning, then too I laughed,” replied the master, “and I felt sorry for him. I also felt that he must reach Samarra before nightfall, and walking all the way would wear him out, so I gave him my horse thinking that if he was going to Samarra his death was predestined there.”

Run anywhere you like, but even if your horse is the fastest - there is no escape. All the alchemists passed away. Many claimed to have discovered nectar, but none of them is alive; only their stories live on. Now scientists are repeating the same folly. What we know as chemistry is also derived from alchemy, and it was the search for nectar that led eventually to the discovery of oxygen, hydrogen and so on, in chemistry. Now, once again, science is proclaiming that something has to be done so that man can be saved from death; and scientists claim that something can be done.

This belief that man can overcome death has prevailed since the beginning of time. And certainly something can be done, but it has nothing to do with a laboratory; it is something that happens in the inner layers of one’s being. As long as my own will remains, as long as I am there, death is bound to be there. Only on the day when I am not will death cease to be, because the whole never dies; the vast existence never perishes. Waves come and go, but the ocean remains. As long as I am a wave I am going to die; once I am the ocean there is no way to die.