Delusions are inner diseases. When our mind is uncomfortable or ill at ease, we can accept that we are experiencing mental dis-ease, some level of uneasiness, without thinking, “I am a disease.”
(By the way, Dad, the definition of delusion is “A mental factor (state of mind) that arises from inappropriate attention and functions to make the mind unpeaceful and uncontrolled.”)
Abuse victims often report to feeling guilty or unworthy, even dirty; and this is because they have internalized the faults of their attackers. I read a terrifying book last summer, Escape from Camp 14, about someone who quite recently escaped from a North Korean prison camp, where he had been imprisoned since birth due to the “crimes” of his relatives, and where humans are still right now, as we speak, being treated even worse than animals, if that is possible. Amongst many other rules Shin In Geun had to memorize and live by from a very young age, if he didn’t want to be shot, here is one example:
Anyone who harbors ill will toward or fails to demonstrate total compliance with a guard’s instructions will be shot immediately.
(I find this book quite useful whenever I feel like complaining about anyone … )
Shin “saw himself through the eyes of the guards in the camp,” even after he had escaped to America by a series of miracles, pretty much the only person who ever has managed it, and with every right to feel pleased with himself. Concentration camp survivors the world over apparently move through life with what Harvard psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman calls a “contaminated identity.”
They suffer not only from a classic post-traumatic syndrome but also from profound alterations in their relations with God, with other people, and with themselves. Most survivors are preoccupied with shame, self-loathing, and a sense of failure.
We may not have found ourselves in such extreme circumstances as Shin, in this life at least, but it seems most of us are still not immune to identifying with a contaminated identity and at least occasional self-loathing. For example, if we are fired we might feel unworthy and useless, letting our job (or lack of it) define us. If we are rejected we can feel unlovable because we are internalizing that the person we love doesn’t love us back, making it our fault. I was struck by these Alanis Morissette lyrics recently in a song about being dumped:
I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind ~ So UnSexy
Who is the real enemy?
Dharma helps us get past the bad habit of feeling no good. When recurrent delusions attack us, rather than feeling bad about ourselves, guaranteeing more anxiety and heaviness, we can remember that these are our enemies, not us. As Geshe Kelsang says, why blame a victim for the faults of their attacker? We are full of potential to love deeply and unconditionally, which is an endless source of feeling good about ourselves; and we in turn are deeply loved by holy beings and sustained by the kindness of others. We can drop our burdens, we don’t need the sack cloth and ashes.
It is odd, don’t you think, that whenever we feel the slightest bit unpeaceful we automatically try to pin it on something outside us – “I am feeling this way because this and that has happened.” A friend of mine is dealing with jealousy of an ex-lover who had almost instantaneously started dating someone else. Yes, as he pointed out, her parading her new love interest in front of him may have been a condition for his jealousy and self-doubt to arise, but this is not the main cause or reason – beginningless familiarity with jealousy is the main reason. And if it wasn’t this, therefore, it would be that. Until we get rid of the delusion, the outer problems will just keep arising in some form or another. There will always be the potential to feel this way, ie, jealous or inadequate, about something.
It’s gonna happen anyway
Same for anger, irritation, discouragement, insecurity, attachment, you name it. So we can say, as we do, “Oh if only this hadn’t happened and so and so hadn’t run off with so and so”, but it wouldn’t actually have made the blindest bit of difference if they hadn’t, at least not in the overall scheme of things, because if we have the delusion (and the karma) it’s gonna happen anyway, one way or another, sooner or later.
We can instead allow our unpleasant feelings to remind us not that we hate our boss, or our ex and her creepy new boyfriend, but that we hate our delusions and would like never to feel this way again about anyone ever. Considering the faults of jealousy, in other words, rather than the faults of the external situation.
Then we will be motivated to purify and overcome our delusions and feel happy all the time, so even if our lover runs off with our best friend, both jeering at us as they do so (or whatever our worst nightmare might be), we won’t care a whit, they could get married and have ten children for all we care, and we will genuinely wish them well on their way. Free at last.
It’s probably a good idea to practice this now, in this precious human life, before we find ourselves in the extreme, overwhelming circumstances of a North Korean labor camp.
Ocean of samsara
If we don’t, if we instead keep blaming our problems on something or someone else, we will just stay trapped. I hope Gen Rabten doesn’t mind me quoting verbatim a bit of his awesome introduction to the Kadampa Summer Festival a couple of weeks ago:
Every moment in our life there’s something wrong and it’s common that we feel “I’ve just got to get through this – this week, this illness, this divorce, this deadline.” And the subtext of that is “I’ve just got to get through this and then it’ll be alright.” Which is why all our energy goes just into getting through that. But Buddha tells us samsara is like an ocean and suffering is like waves. So there’s a wave crashing down right now. We think we can hold our breath and come out the other side, “Great, I got through that!” And we open our eyes and what do we see? Another wave. And the waves of samsara never stop. And Buddha is on the shore with a loud hailer yelling, “Get out of the ocean!” Mostly we can’t hear him because the waves are crashing down so loud. Sometimes we do hear him, and we think, “Nah, I like it here. This is alright.”
It’s helpful to check, “What is happening in my mind?” and “What is going to happen?” Is that thought getting us out of the ocean, or keeping us in? We can look and know, “Am I getting out of the ocean or am I being sucked in? Because if I stay in the ocean, the waves don’t stop.”
Over to you. Comments welcome.
PS, thank you for letting me share some photos from the Summer Exhibition at the RA 🙂
I love the photo images you used in this piece. We are haunted by our delusions.
What is sack cloth and ashes?
Wearing sackcloth and ashes was used in Old Testament times as a symbol of debasement, mourning …
It’s something that’s puzzled me for a long time how the self cherishing mind can self sabotage, self loath, discourage etc. I don’t know if I’m close to the answer yet but I think it’s something very similar to when a child will prefer negative attention to none at all. As long as it’s about “me”. It’s so sad that all the self wants is to feel cherished and in doing so just keeps heading straight into pain and suffering. This was a very revealing article for me and my tiny, minuscule experience of putting Lamrim into practice is that the mind that cherishes others not only takes away all of the pain the self cherishing mind creates and experiences but it is magical, truly magical, in making that feeling of needing to be cherished, to feel loved and cared for, a “reality” if you will. A beautifully, deeply touching read, thank you.
A teacher once told me that depression, anxiety and those modes of negativity are self grasping, but just in a negative way rather than the self cherishing which is at the other end of the scale.
Self sabotage, discouragement etc. stems from not believing in oneself and is a protection mechanism for the wounded soul, inner child, whatever you want to call it. Maybe you could even say that protection of self is self cherishing, not stepping out to live up to your fullest potential. Or believing you are right in that you can’t do it, instead of in Buddha who knows you can.
I was in this self loathing trap. What changed it was realising disrespecting any person including myself is disrespecting Buddha.
For example if we met Geshela before he attained Enlightenement and entered Buddhism…when he was wandering around samsara doing negative self destructive things and being selfish…would we have said..you are rubbish…you are worthless etc? NO because we see his destiny and future kindness. We wouldnt even dream of doing that no matter how terrible he was at that moment. In the same way we are all going to do those things Geshela is doing when we become Buddhas. So if we see our future selves now…our correct identities…then it will be pretty much impossible to disrespect anyone including ourselves.
This was the mind I was really getting into throughout the summer festival. I kept thinking, “imagine if Geshe-la had declined the offer to come and teach Dharma, what would we be without?” It kind of does bear thinking about. I’ve said no to teachers, I’ve said no to flourishing Dharma in other ways because of this discouraging mind. Imagine what I’ve denied others. I may well have denied others their future spiritual guide. This mind is so dangerous, and utterly unkind to others. Self confidence is one of my Guru’s most excellent qualities! 😀
Such a wonderful insight and analogy Michelle – I love the idea of identifying with the potential within Geshe-La’s “old self” as a way to ignore his faulty deluded actions (of that time). I hope I never forget that…