Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, published in 1977, is the memorable follow-up to his extraordinary bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Unlike Bach’s earlier offering, Illusions did not receive mass audience admiration, but rather became a cult classic. There is a proverb, a quote, a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” That is what happens in Illusions when Richard Bach, a renowned author from the West, encounters Donald Shimoda, a self-proclaimed ‘messiah’ from the East, who ends up becoming Bach’s spiritual teacher, and teaches him that everything in the world that we interpret as reality are actually illusions. Bach’s slim book presents a sapid insight into Eastern philosophy for completely Western minds.
Does the mystical spiritual journey of Bach and Shimoda reflect a blending of Eastern and Western philosophies? This is what this essay will be exploring and analyzing. Richard Bach, a barnstormer, an itinerant pilot, who flies an old small plane, unexpectedly meets Donald Shimoda, who is also a barnstormer among other things. Bach is genuinely surprised because he had “never seen another barnstormer out in the ﬁelds.” Barnstorming is what these two individuals, one from the West and the other from the East, have in common and because of it the two characters strike up of a friendship. By giving them a profession that they have in common, the author already starts constructing a bridge between these two characters that will eventually lead to the blending of their philosophies.
The philosophical theory that reality is actually an illusion has been speculated by ancient and modern, western and eastern cultures. “This world? And everything in it? Illusions, Richard! Every bit of it” (Bach), Shimoda had fiercely exclaimed. Of course, Bach at first seems to be clueless of what to make of it, and ““Yeah,” was all [he] could think to say” (Bach). However, soon Bach realizes that he has heard the word ‘Illusions’ before, he recalls the time when he was a kid and learning magic, and magicians had used the word. Western magicians/illusionists often refer to their art as an illusion to distinguish it from paranormal or ritual magic. By mentioning magic, the author not only captivates the western audience but also makes it easier for them to understand the eastern philosophical theory that this world is an illusion too.
Like Attracts Like
When Shimoda tracks down Bach to one of the million midwest ﬁelds, even though Bach was not expecting himself to be found, Bach asks Shimoda how he found him, and “Like attracts like” is what Shimoda answers him. Again the author is implying they are alike, and by implying that they are alike, the author furthers the link between the two characters, their cultures and their philosophies. During the same conversation, Shimoda says, “We miracle-workers got to stick together” (Bach). Bach finds his sentence kind but is also horrified for some reason. Bach is perhaps as puzzled as the audience about what Shimoda means by “we miracle-workers.” However, the author again serves his purpose of developing a bond between Bach and Shimoda by referring to them as miracle-workers.
During his person spiritual quest Bach ends up getting the impression that the “The world is a dream” (Bach), but Shimoda corrects him saying, “No. The image is a dream” (Bach) and Shimoda nods, apparently understanding the difference. Chuang-tzu’s conclusion that dream is objective and reality is subjective resembles Plato's Third-Man argument. Many other western and eastern Philosophers have presented their own theories about dreams, many of which talk about life and many of them have similarities. Similarly, in Illusion, the authors shows that Bach somewhat understands what Shimoda says, that the image of this world is a dream. By understanding, Bach seems to agree with what Shimoda said, to some extent. Thus, a man with western philosophies agrees with a man with eastern philosophies, and the author again succeeds at strengthening the bride between the philosophies of the east and west.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life” (Bach). In Western and Eastern cultures, Aristotle and Confucius are pivotal philosophers. Aristotle chiefly emphasized on the importance of natural ties of affection and kinship for the meaning and value of family. Confucius placed considerable significance on the family and he strongly believed that good relationships amongst the family are the key to improving the society. In Illusions, Shimoda tells Bach, “there is this link between us, between you and me and the others of our family” (Bach). While trying to emphasize the link of “respect and joy” between Bach and Shimoda, the author alludes to the link between two cultures, completing the bridge between Eastern and Western ideologies and philosophies.
When it comes to the basic significance of human existence, early Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy have a lot in common. There have been many give and takes in both Western and Eastern philosophy. Philosophy can be seen as a continuation and tradition, thus philosophical thoughts have traveled across Western and Eastern cultures, and have similarly influenced them. No doubt, there are also vast differences between Western and Eastern Philosophies but the similarities that the philosophical thought from the cultures share are far more important.
Over the years, many attempts have been made to integrate the philosophical traditions of the West and the East, and Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah is a good example of such an attempt. Although Bach’s story is somewhat philosophical but he does not directly mention any philosophical theories. Bach’s story is more spiritual than philosophical, yet through the spiritual journey that the two characters embark upon, Bach continues to build a bridge between the philosophical thoughts of these two individuals, who come from totally different cultures. Throughout out the story, Bach attempts to point out how the two characters are alike and that their thoughts are similar too, and he succeeds at blending their Western and Eastern philosophical thoughts.
Bach, R. Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant messiah. New York, NY: Dell Publishing, 1989. Print.