Having watched many horror films, I wondered what is the simplest yet still effectively ‘horrible’ scenario. To ‘qualify’, it must have the element of an existential crisis, that is multiplied indefinitely. After some reflection, two kinds of ghostly phenomena came to mind. The first is literally called ‘ghostly hitting of a wall’ (鬼打墙).
This is when there is supernatural messing up of the haunted person’s mind, to create realistic hallucinations, such that he or she ends up going in circles (打转), be it by foot or in a vehicle, in an enclosed or open space, thus unable to leave, to reach the destination. Even without any ghostly presence, this is already terrifying. Is this not reminiscent of the existential terror of being cyclically trapped, with no route for liberation? This is the horror of rebirth! What more horrifying is that we are already living it — complacently!
The second is simply ‘being chased by a ghost’ (被鬼追). Of course, the more monstrous and threatening the malevolent ghost is, the more frightening this would be. But again, going for the simplest yet still effective horror, the ghost can be ‘just’ an unseen being, who is however felt, with one’s other non-visual senses. Fear of the unseen who is thus unknown yet clearly present can be disturbing indeed.
What if the ghost takes form? Yet again, going for the simplest yet still effective horror, think of the ghost messing up the mind, to create a doppelganger of the haunted person, such that he or she is chased by ‘oneself’, who is obviously not oneself, but a devious imposter. Without any ghastly appearance, this is extra terrifying. Is this not reminiscent of the existential terror of being forced to face personal demons, with the dark side of the ego as the enemy? What more horrifying is that we are already living with ‘it’ — also complacently!
Just when imagining either phenomenon is already nerve-wrecking, how about combining them? How about experiencing a case of ghostly hitting of a wall while being chased by the ghostly double of ‘you’? The horror of horrors! Again, we are already living with both situations metaphorically. Why then, are we not appropriately anxious, eager to escape, and vanquish the illusion of ego? Not doing so in time, we will remain trapped, life after life, to be again taunted by our egos, which we deludedly love and hate. This is the root source of our suffering.
While being hopelessly caught in the wheel of rebirth gives rise to desperation, being chased by a threatening ‘demon’ who represents the spectre of death (creeping or sprinting nearer) gives rise to fear. Deep down, we all wish to be free from the cycle of birth and death, while we ironically cling to life and dread death. We fret re-death, but we fret rebirth too, to go through another round of horrors. Thus is enlightenment what we truly want — to no longer have greedy attachment to life, or fear of death — to be liberated, with peace and equanimity.