Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

By Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

This is a book about the time spent together between Richard, the author, and Donald Shimoda, a Messiah who can see through all the illusions of the world and know the reality behind. They flew old planes from town to town, selling short rides to people. The gists of the book are buried inside the conversations, the activities illustrating and embodying the views that Donald tries to make Richard see, and Richard’s reading of the “Saviour’s Manual”, the so-called “bible for masters”.

While I was reading this book for the first time, my impression was that this is such a weird and yet mysteriously interesting book. Many passages did not go through to me. Despite that, I was intrigued to carry on reading and find out more. After reaching the end of it, I was not sure what to think of this book. Why is that? Could it be that I am not “spiritual” enough? Perhaps I do not have a “soul” as once I received this comment in a joking way because I was not willing to join the massive tourist crowd to visit the tallest building in Shanghai. There were stories, conversations and quotes from the “Messiah’s Handbook, Reminders for the Advanced Soul” that I partially comprehended, but was also puzzled by. I found myself thinking: what is the author trying to convey beyond the set of messages? what does the author want the reader to think while turning each page? there may not be an fixed agenda in the author’s mind as he simply wants the reader to have his/her own interpretation; maybe somewhere in between?

It did not take long before I decided to re-read Illusions. The unyielding quest of comprehension, discovery and curiosity tortured me for a couple days before I gave in and re-read the book. Giving it the second chance rewarded me with much more profound and thought-provoking reading experience. It reminded me of my relationship with Richard’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull over the years. That little book migrated with me across the oceans. Every time I picked up Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I unfailingly discovered something new.

Reading Illusions for the second time cleared up my confusions and shedded more light. Retrospectively, many allegories in this book coupled with Richard Bach’s sometimes liberal usage of the English language probably make the book challenging to read for non-spiritual scientific and analytical minds that are much more comfortable with logic reasoning. I also think one would enjoy the book more if one could be patient, chew the sentences and think, linking the abstract concepts with one’s own experience. It is tremendously hard to select the thought-provoking passages for me to share with you from this book. Half of the book deserves to be quoted. Subsequently to comprehend those quotes, you would need to read the other half of the book. Here is my attempt to select very few.

  • Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.
  • Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world – even if what is published is not true.
  • You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you do not have anything to learn from them. You’re always free to change your mind and choose a different future or a different past.
  • The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
  • Negative attachments, Richard. If you really want to remove a cloud from your life, you do not make a production out of it, you just relax and remove it from your thinking. I found myself not in full agreement with this point of view. In some cases, there are actions that we ought to take to improve the circumstances, beyond just removing the negative attachment from the thinking.
  • Donald argued fiercely: ….how many people do you think live in your world? You say four billion people live in your world? Are you standing way down there on the ground and telling me that four billion people do not live in four billion separate worlds, are you going to put that across on me?… Sometimes we ask ourselves which planet someone else is living on such that he/she could have so very different perspectives compared with ours. How about stepping back and asking a different question next time: why should we expect him/her to have the same views as ours? Naturally, the followup thoughts are: How can I see reasons in his/her perspective? What lead to it? Perhaps we can try to understand first before seeking being understood.
  • Donald used the allegory of a vampire sucking blood to illustrate his point of free choice. “He was going to suck my blood!” “Which is what we do to anyone when we say we’ll be hurt if they don’t live our way.”…. “We choose, ourselves, to be hurt or not to be hurt, no matter what. Us who decides. Nobody else. My vampire told you he’d be hurt if you didn’t let him? That’s his decision to be hurt, that’s his choice. What you do about it is your decision, your choice: give him blood; ignore him; tie him up; drive a stake of holly through his heart. If he doesn’t want the holly stake, he’s free to resist, in whatever way he wants. It goes on and on, choices, choices.” We often see people letting others make the decisions for themselves and blaming others for the consequences. Remember: We are all, Free. To do. Whatever. We want. To do. Obviously, to use your own judgement on exercising this and never cease improving that inner guidance.


In the foreword, Richard Bach described the urge of writing as “once in a while there’s a great dynamite-burst of flying glass and brick and splinters through the front wall and somebody stalks over the rubble, seizes me by the throat and gently says, “I will not let you go until you set me, in words, on paper.” That’s how I met Illusions.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, described how the genius of writing poem comes to poet Ruth Stone in her TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. I watched this fascinating clip of her TED talk countless times. Here is Elizabeth’s description with a tiny twist at the beginning:

While working in the fields, Ruth would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.

Now you see some similarity of the Richard’s foreword and Elizabeth’s descriptions of the arrival of Ruth Stone’s genius. Great writings all have profound impact on their readers. The process of creating each of those writings is uniquely fascinating.