We already have within us our own source of peace and happiness, as Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang says in Transform Your Life. It is our birthright, our Buddha nature, who we actually are. Sometimes we know this, when the dark clouds of discontent disperse and the sun naturally shines through. So if we have the constant potential for happiness, and we work very hard at it in various ways, why, we may well ask ourselves, is it so hard to stay happy 24/7?!
The answer is “delusions.” We hear this word all the time in Buddhism. I know I’ve mentioned delusions umpteen times on Kadampa Life, and we’ve looked a bit at some of the main ones (ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy, self-cherishing). Since identifying and removing our delusions is, one could say, the bread and butter of a happy life, I’ve been meaning to write something about delusions in general for a while. (Also, you can find out everything you’ve ever needed to know about them in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and Understanding the Mind.)
What is a delusion?
According to Buddhism, any unpeaceful, uncontrolled state of mind is a delusion. All delusions are unrealistic minds arising from so called “inappropriate attention”, or thinking about things in a false way. As Geshe Kelsang says:
Delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourselves, other people, and the world around us–like a distorted mirror, they reflect a distorted world. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 7
Our experience of the world is only distorted and messed up because it is reflected in the messed up mirror of our minds. Our delusions see things that aren’t really there. You know the House of Mirrors at fairgrounds, where we are all bendy, then nine feet wide, then suddenly fourteen feet tall? We know not to get taken in because we know the nature of mirrors. But we get taken in by our delusions, even though it’s the same thing – they are reflecting something that is not there and then believing that it IS there.
The deluded mind of hatred, for example, views other people as intrinsically bad, but there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. ~ Transform Your Life, p.7
When we don’t like someone, they’re just bad, almost as if they had a neon sign above them flashing, “I’m BAD” (and not in a cool way …) Hatred apprehends other people to be bad from their own side, intrinsically bad, having nothing to do with the way we’re looking at them. But of course there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. If they were bad from their own side, then everybody would see that neon sign, but they don’t. Their mother comes along and for her the big neon sign says, “I’m adorable”, doesn’t it?
A dying soldier
I once saw a picture of a woman cradling a wounded man. She was weeping. I looked more closely and didn’t know who this man was, and I wasn’t weeping. I read the caption — it was a mother with her dying son, who had been shot during some fighting. Someone had looked at that man and thought, “This man is my enemy. He is bad, so hateful in fact that I have to shoot him to death.”
I looked at that man and saw a stranger. The man who shot him looked at that man and saw a repugnant enemy. The mother looked at that man and saw a child, a beautiful, loveable person now destroyed. One person. Who is right, me, the person who shot him, or his mother? Actually, all of us and none of us. It just depends. How that person appears to us depends entirely on how we’re looking at him.
The blinkered mind of hatred however does not see the other ways in which that person could be perceived; it just sees “enemy”. Our own minds of dislike just see disagreeable people, dislikable people, and so on. They project an enemy, and then think that the enemy is really there.
Ninja the Rat
We can see this from our own ever-changing experiences. When our feelings and perceptions change toward someone, they appear totally different, even to our sense awarenesses. They are different people for us. I was once friendly with a rat. Generally humans and rats don’t get along too well, and when I first met Ninja the pet rat, whom I was to look after for a few weeks, I confess that although I didn’t exactly dislike him, I didn’t want to get that close to him either. His tail looked a bit creepy, for a start. However, as I got to know him, I came to find him entirely adorable. He had a strokeable tummy, bright eyes, and sensitive whiskers, and he was intelligent, inquisitive, brave, and friendly. He hung out under my desk in San Francisco in one of those plastic balls and chewed through my trouser leg when I was absorbed in my work – I still look at the hole with affection.
Which view of this rat was correct? Ninja felt he was just Ninja throughout, but I had the experience of a completely different rat. There was no rat outside of my experience of the rat. That rat I first met didn’t exist outside of my experience, and nor did the sweet rat. If you had come to tea with me, for example, you might not have found him quite so sweet.
So there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad rat or bad human being. There is so much more to a person than the obnoxious person we are projecting, but when we’re angry we’re convinced that all they are is nasty.
Even if they are behaving in deluded ways, this is still not all there is to them – in fact they are not their delusions at all.
Our anger is a delusion because we are distorting reality — exaggerating their negative aspects, and then pouring mental superglue over them so they cannot change. While the mind of hatred or anger is functioning, it has no choice but to perceive an enemy. That delusion has to subside for the enemy to disappear. This may be why Geshe Kelsang famously remarked during one teaching, to a rare round of applause:
It is not just our anger — all our delusions are projecting and then believing something that is not there. In the next article on delusions, I’m going to look at this some more.
Your turn. Do you ever project things that are not there and then get taken in by them?
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Reblogged this on Reps & Recipes and commented:
Luna provides some really wonderful insight into our delusions and how detrimental they are to us in achieving peace of mind.
How do u get rid of delusions or simply forgive yourself for the hatred they caused in your heart towards a friend? To completely get away from them and avoid their influence
Thanks for this wonderful article.Happy is the man who has peace of mind
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Thanks for a nice post
‘…there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad rat’ – this sums it up; metta, loving kindness and a very inspiring statement.
You get disturbed when you give importance to such things in your life. If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter, it’s the way we react to the situations that we get into those emotions that in the end leads to – not a peaceful mind.
A really good article you wrote, especially the part where you compared the distorted mirrors and the delusions, that was really a very good reference to explain!!!
Yes, nice one, if you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter! (as long as we’re not talking about others’ suffering…)
Thanks for your article on delusions. I read a lot of Buddist texts and try to be aware of my delusions but of course i’m not always (or even nearly always) successful. As i was reading the article, i felt pressured to hurry, read faster, as i do with most things. Then it came to me – I was having another delusion – I was seeing time as the enemy or the deficit – never enough to enable me to do all i want to do – and then i realised time is just time and it’s my overextending, trying to do so much, that makes time the enemy. Thanks for that. As the old saying goes – I can only do what i can do – and better still i can be more mindful about it!!!
This is a perceptive, succinct analysis of how we feel under time pressure of our own making, thank you.
I like your story about delusions. Some time ago we were in a hospital visiting my husbands elder sister. At this ocasion I got introduced to one of her daughters husband. I remembered all the negative stories different family members had told us about him and decided not to get influenced by what had been said so I was free to find him very pleasant and a nice person.
“Free” is a good way to describe it.
ok……………i liked it :O)
Love this article, especially the stories about the soldier and the rat. Thanks!
Thanks Sara 🙂
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Brill post Luna, thanks. If the opposing forces of the Iraq war got together over a pint, or a nice cup of tea, I bet their differences would amount to no more than friendly banter. I think the troops growing dissent shows that they’re increasingly realising the differences between them are no excuse for hurtful actions.
And rats are gorgeous! They’re such little personalities aren’t they? 🙂 More intelligent than dogs as well.
It is very true that often all that is needed to change our perceptions is to spend time together.
Trust you to pick up on the rat part 🙂 Intelligent and plucky too. One day I had a dalmatian and a kitten to visit at the same time. There was a standoff between dog and cat, they both stood there petrified of each other with their hackles raised, and along came Ninja running along in his plastic ball, right between them, without a care in the world.
Yes, you’re right – if only we all gave more energy and time to changing our perceptions. And rats are class 🙂
I’m right cos I was just agreeing with you 😉
Great article – simple, clear and practical. Thanks Luna!
Thank you Pagpa, I appreciate that.
I love your analogy about the crazy mirrors. I am dealing with this atm at work. Someone said something to upset me and I notice how my mind has all these stories about how totally evil and utterly horrible that person is. Sadly for my anger, lots of other people in the office like that person. Are my stories about her being evil right or are their stories about her being likeable right?
Geshe-la says that anger “weaves an elaborate fantasy”. If you watch your thoughts during moments when you’ve been upset about something someone has said, it’s amazing how your thoughts go off on how they are pure evil and so awful. All these things come up. I am grateful for your article, it helps me to see that it is my mind that is creating all of this. It is not real and out there objectively, otherwise it would be true for everyone.
It is so true that we make up stories all the time. Even though they’re by and large entirely fictional, we still get swept up in them, we even want to! But once we figure that out, we’re on our way to writing a far better life.