The Room of 1,000 Demons

Long ago, in Tibet, there was a ceremony, held every hundred years, which Buddhist students could undergo in order to attain enlightenment. All the students would line up in their white robes. The lamas–the Tibetan priests–and the Dalai Lama would begin the ceremony by saying, “This is the ceremony of the Room of 1,000 Demons. It is a ceremony for enlightenment, and it happens only once every hundred years. If you choose not to go through it now, you will have to wait another hundred years. To help you make this decision, we’ll tell you what the ceremony involves.

“In order to enter the Room of 1,000 Demons, you just open the door and walk in. The Room of 1,000 Demons is not very big. Once you enter, the door will close behind you. There is no doorknob on the inside of the door. In order to get out, you will have to walk all the way through the room, find the door on the other side, open the door (which is unlocked), and come out. Then you will be enlightened.

“The Room is called the Room of 1,000 demons because there are one thousand demons in there. Those demons have the ability to take the form of your worst fears. As soon as you walk into the room, those demons show you your worst fears. If you have a fear of heights, when you walk into the room it will appear as if you are standing on a narrow ledge of a tall building. If you have a fear of spiders, you’ll be surrounded by the most terrifying eight-legged creatures imaginable. Whatever your fears are, the demons take those images from your mind and seem to make them real. In fact, they’ll be so compellingly real that it will be very difficult to remember that they’re not.

“We can’t come in and rescue you. That is part of the rules. If you go into the Room of 1,000 Demons, you must leave it on your own. Some people never leave. They go into the Room of 1,000 Demons and become paralyzed with fright. They stay trapped in the room until they die. If you want to take the risk of entering the room, that’s fine. If you don’t, if you want to go home, that’s fine. You don’t have to enter the room. You can wait until you are incarnated again, come back in another hundred years, and try it again.

“If you want to enter the room, we have two hints for you. The first hint: As soon as you enter the Room of 1,000 Demons, remember that what they show you isn’t real. It’s all from your own mind. Don’t buy into it; it’s an illusion. Of course, most of the people who went into the room before you couldn’t remember that. This idea is very difficult to keep in mind. The second hint has been more helpful for the people who make it out to the other side and became enlightened. Once you go into the room, no matter what you see, no matter what you feel, no matter what you hear, no matter what you think, keep your feet moving. If you keep your feet moving, you will eventually get to the other side, find the door, and come out.”

Or, in the immortal words of Finding Nemo’s Dory, “Just keep swimming.”

This story comes from Bill O’Hanlon’s Do One Thing Different, p. 72.