Back to Theo and his encounter with the tulku. Tai Situ Rinpoche had made a critical point — that those on the path to moksha become the targets of dark powers. After Gautama had slipped permanently out of his slimy grasp, Tai Situ Rinpoche added, Mara appointed certain ferocious demons to focus on hindering those who’d set their sights on freedom.
One such was the demon of smoking; the tulku described this demon as a wizened imp with frizzy hair the color of straw. He could actually see this imp, hovering a few inches above Theo’s left shoulder. The Rinpoche ended by advising Theo on how to get rid of the demon, warning him to keep the instructions private, for they applied specifically to him. (All of this I report from memories of old conversations; I hope there are no serious inaccuracies.)
Unlike the thousands of sceptics who roam this earth rejecting all that conflicts with their system of rationality, I didn’t laugh when Theo related this fascinating experience. It’s always struck me as bizarre that “rationalists” so easily accept that a six-foot-six bodybuilder can be felled by an invisible flu virus, but will banish outright all notions of invisible entities — positive and negative — hovering around us. I myself had never had such credibility problems; ever since I was a child, I had had my brushes with both angelic and demonic forces.
After a thief had broken into my home in Dharamsala and stolen my laptop as well as a backup disk containing ten years of my writing, I consulted a lama for advice. Those who set their sights on the highest goal, the old man said, tend to attract potent negative forces. In other words, those who seek great light, attract great shadow. Many religions speak of demonic forces that represent the antithesis of truth and goodness; fortunately these forces are ultimately vanquished in the triumph of good over evil, or truth over untruth.
I had another good reason not to laugh at Theo — decades ago, I, along with a bunch of disaffected teen rebels, had been ensnared by the demon of smoke. I’d tried to slip out of his grasp, and had succeeded for long periods of time; like Mark Twain, who’d famously stopped smoking a hundred times, I’d gird my loins and endure the pains of cold turkey — but sooner or late, I always picked up again.
My own deadly romance with tobacco had begun when a neighbourhood pal dared me to take a puff on a cigar his father had absent-mindedly left smoldering in an ashtray. At the time, my personal motto was to outdo the boys in every way. Natural athletic abilities allowed me to climb trees faster than most of them, my lightning-fast sprints had them swallowing dust, I scrambled fearlessly over gates and other obstacles; even charmed the policeman who caught us climbing over a wall on one of our nocturnal escapades into letting us off the hook. Being the flamboyant rebel that I was at the time, I had no option but to pick up that stinking stogie and take a deep drag — whereupon fell to the floor, spluttering and cursing.
Next day, bizarrely enough, despite my awful reaction to that cigar, I found myself sneaking across to Aslam Stores at the corner of our street to buy a pack of unfiltered Charminar. That orange packet with its black design and deadly contents gave me a diabolic thrill. From then on, I spent every paise I could get on these harsh unfiltered cigarettes, my mission being to learn how to blow the best smoke rings in the hood. And did I succeed! Talk about an empty victory…
I didn’t hear the demon sniggering as he tightened his noose around my increasingly sore throat. In fact, while a series of mystical experiences had led me to acknowledge that there are more things in this world than man can even dream off, I had no inkling that an entity who certainly did not have my higher interests at heart was fueling my addiction. Time flowed over the rocks and valleys and promontories of my life until, decades later, I had left India to pay my dues in Manhattan, then decided to move from America to mystical and mountain-locked Dharamsala.