The Three Temptations
There are three things that prevent us from seeing the truth - our desires, our fears, and our opinions. This universal truth is beyond religion, beyond psychology, and beyond culture. No matter where we live, what we believe, or what time period we are living in, we are subject to these same limitations of the mind. Is it any wonder that nearly every spiritual discipline addresses these issues?
Jesus and Buddha
Jesus and Buddha both illustrated this principle in their lives. Jesus underwent three temptations in the wilderness just before his baptism, and Buddha underwent the same temptations just before achieving enlightenment. At first glance, or, should we say, from the standpoint of the intellect, the two accounts do not resemble each other at all, except that there were three events in each. If, however, we use the principle of fear, desire, and opinion as an overlay, the similarities between the two patterns begin to emerge.
First, we have to understand the purpose behind these two stories. For both Jesus and Buddha, the time leading up to their spiritual experiences, the Baptism and the Enlightenment, was a time of preparation and trial. Each had to undergo a series of tests, three in number, before he could proceed.
It is useless, in a spiritual sense, for us to believe that these tests were strictly actual, physical events and to ignore their deeper meanings. These three experiences that Jesus and Buddha went through showed us, in a spiritual sense, what we all must go through in our journey toward the realization of God.
The tempter in the wilderness is the tempter within us - our lusts, our fears, and our sense of the way things should be. Lust manifested as the desire for food, in Jesus' case, and the desire for sex in Buddha's. Both manifestations are appetites of the body, which every spiritual disciple must master first.
The next temptation was fear. The devil placed Jesus on a precipice, and an army attacked Buddha. Both overcame their fear by knowing the truth - that the real Self cannot be harmed. Buddha's non-resistance turned the enemy's arrows into blossoms; Jesus realized that the desire to prove the truth is a form of resistance in itself. Both refused to give life to the apparent evil, and by so doing denied its existence. One cannot have fear and practice non-resistance.
The third temptation is duty, obligation, and the urge to make the world conform to our ideas of how it should be. The devil offered Jesus rulership over all the kingdoms of the world. Mara exhorted Buddha to take up his place as his father's heir to the throne. This is the classic choice faced by everyone on every level when a degree of mastery has been attained. We want to set things right. After all, who could be better for the job?
We want to impose our will upon the world and to rule it. In the simplest sense, it is our ideas, our concepts of things, that hold sway over us and not our deepest knowing, which is of God. The external mind always thinks that it knows best. The higher mind is in touch with God and knows what is needed, what is possible, and what is.
The greatest battle for the spiritual aspirant is between his conscious mind or intellect, and his intuitive mind, the gateway of wisdom. It has always been this way. The biggest obstacle to truth is the body of opinions that we have built up over the course of a lifetime. The more opinions we have, the harder it is to let go of them. Unless we do let go, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is Truth. The Truth is almost never what we want it to be, because as long as we want it to be anything at all, we are coming from the ego's desire to make the world into a reflection of ourselves.
The world has no feeling whatsoever for our ego. What we think about the world has no effect upon it. This is the greatest frustration for the ego - wanting power, it knows instinctively that it has none. Therefore, to set itself up as a ruler, though attractive as an idea, is nonetheless impossible, because rulership cannot be effected from the standpoint of believing in ourselves as an entity separate from the Whole.