SnowFlower Sun July 2019

Delusion

from a talk by Steven Spiro

In Buddhist traditions, avidya, delusion, is known as one of the Three Hindrances. Greed, hatred, delusion. In Sanskrit and Pali languages we find that such terms embody their opposite. [In English too a prefix can turn the meaning of a term into its opposite, function/disfunction Ed.] Regarding delusion, Thay gets our attention when he tells us that “delusion and enlightenment inter-are”.

The turning of the samsaric wheel of birth and death is driven by these Three Hindrances. And delusion may be seen as the first cog on the wheel that drives life through the twelve stages the wheel depicts. Attraction and aversion are the most basic conditioning in life, from the protozoa to who we are. And delusion is a little next step. Fish don’t know there’s a sea; they are just swimming in it. Delusion is the sea in which we swim.

Now if the flip side of delusion is enlightenment (or insight or awareness), we do actually need the delusion in order to get out of the delusion. If we have spent a lot of our lives in delusion, then delusion becomes the compost for our awakening, because these things co-arise. Delusion and awakening co-arise.

Awakening from the delusion that life will always be the same and we’ll go on forever happened to me when I was thirteen and my dad died. Gradually I came to know what other kids, where no one had died in their family, could not know. There was no way they could understand what I knew. My delusion that things would always be the same was the vehicle for awakening from that delusion.

A lot of times in Buddhism we avoid saying the positive, for example we say ‘non-self’ or ‘non-fear’. There’s a reason for not saying the positive. Take ‘non-fear’. We don’t have an image for ‘non-fear, therefore we can’t have a delusion about it either. If we said ‘courage’ we all think we know what that is, but this way it’s up to us to figure out what it is. Everyone has their own “view” of courage. Delusion fundamentally requires views. We have to buy into a “view” of reality and then we are, by definition, not getting it.

That’s why Thay told the little girl who asked him what color the tree was, ‘it’s the color you see.” Otherwise, every time she saw the tree she would think she knew it, and would not really see it. As soon as we name something, we think we “know” what it is. In order to perceive the essence of something as simple as a flower on the table, we need to brush way the delusion of what we think we know. Only then can we be one with the flower. And, in clearing the delusion, we clear away our self, our separate self!

I’d like to tell about of the inmate who was transferred to Columbia and was told by the guards to take the strips of paper that were his bookmarks out of his Bible before he could take it in. He got volcanically angry, but he had a practice. He breathed and after a while he calmed down and recited all the passages. He didn’t know it but he had memorized them all! In this moment of insight he realized that it was up to him to decide how much he was being harmed. It wasn’t what happened to him from the environment that was important, it was how he held it! This is a powerful step away from illusion to transformation. He told this story to a group of ten inmates and they all heard it. When we break through delusion, we don’t do it for ourselves only!

Fantasizing something pleasant, or something unpleasant, both take us away from reality. If what is arising is not loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity, it is wrapping some delusion, some fantasy. We’re substituting a life that we are controlling and creating for reality, which we don’t control or create.

Here is number 50 from Thay’s Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness. “When we realize that afflictions are no other than enlightenment, we can ride the waves of birth and death in peace, traveling in the boat of compassion on the ocean of delusion, smiling the smile of non-fear.”

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