I have heard an ancient Buddhist story. On the day of Buddha’s birth, in the same village, a girl was also born. She grew up with Buddha – she was the same age, had similar life experiences, but she was deeply afraid of him. She avoided the roads that he frequented, and if she suddenly saw him on the road she would run away. Then Buddha renounced the world and left everything. She became even more afraid of him. Even before he became a bhikkhu her fear of him was great; now she was terrified.
Then one day she happened to be returning from the market at dusk. There was no likelihood of meeting Buddha on that road, and he was not even in her thoughts, but suddenly he was there. Not until she was very close to him did she realize who it was, because she had never taken a good look at him – it is not possible when there is fear. Then there she was, right in front of him. For the first time she looked at Buddha, and all her fear disappeared, and she was transformed.
Zen masters have always been asking seekers who that woman was. That woman is your shadow. She is not only born with Buddha, she is also born when you are born. Hindus call her maya, illusion. You and your maya never come face to face with each other. Neither does your maya ever take a good look at you nor do you ever look deeply at her. So the game goes on. If in that game you do come face to face with each other, it is not you who will melt away but the maya. It is only the shadow that disappears, not you. Hence the shadow is in fear, it runs away from wherever you are. Even if it follows you, it is only from the back, it never comes in front of you.
What we at present call life is no more than a shadow; there is no truth to be found in it at all. But when you come close to a buddha, to one who has attained buddhahood, you will have to confront your shadow. You will have to look deeply at your maya, the illusions; you will have to come face to face with your dreams. The day you look at your dreams rightly, your sleep will be over. You will avoid – you will avoid even blessings. Our habit of being miserable has gone so deep that we find ourselves unable to bear ecstasy even if it comes to us of its own accord.
There is an ancient Sufi story of a man who lived in the capital city of an empire and was known to the emperor. Whatever this man did would go wrong, and everything he undertook was to his loss; misfortune seemed to follow him wherever he went. Out of great curiosity the emperor consulted a fakir. “I have studied this man continuously,” he told the fakir, “and there has not been a single hour of good fortune in his life. Is it predestined that he will meet only unhappiness in his life?”
The fakir said, “This habit of his of enjoying unhappiness is ages old. He has perfected this through the effort of many lives.”
This did not appeal to the emperor. He said, “I don’t agree. I think that the reason this fellow’s life is the way it is, is because he never found the right situation, the right company, the right milieu.”
The fakir said, “Let us then experiment and see.”