Do we need our delusions!?

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

In Buddha’s teachings on training our mind, he says that we need to identify, reduce, and remove our delusions.

This is often unskillfully interpreted to mean that delusions are inherently bad and we should not have them in our mind. As a result of this, when a delusion arises in our mind we develop aversion to it. This is then compounded by grasping at a self that shouldn’t be deluded, but is. We then believe that this deluded self is true and real, and develop discouragement, feeling that we are hopeless and will never be able to improve our mind.

negative emotion in mindThis entire process is summed up in a text I received recently from a Sangha friend asking for advice, which read: “I am getting nervous, and hate when I feel like this”. Unfortunately, this approach to “controlling our mind” usually leads to repressing our delusions. As a result, we aren’t even doing the first step of identifying them because we are pushing them away too fast with aversion.

Our delusions are our greatest teacher

As we are often reminded, the opponent to anger is patient acceptance. In this case, to fix the aversion to having delusions in our mind, we need patient acceptance with the fact that they are arising.

As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Solve Our Human Problems:

When painful feelings arise in our mind, there is no need to panic; we can patiently accept them, experience them, and investigate their nature and where they come from.

IntrospectionWe can apply this same advice to our deluded states of mind. If we are getting irritated, great! Frustrated, excellent! Nervous, bring it on! Accept the delusion is there in our mind. Experience it and know exactly how it functions. Investigate it to see how it is distorting reality. Learn precisely how each delusion develops and functions in your mind.

If we approach our delusions in this way, then there is so much to be learned from them. Just like understanding the movements of an army makes them easy to defeat in combat, so understanding how our delusions work in our mind takes away their ability to harm us.

More delusions, please

defeating delusionsIf we are training in martial arts, then we look forward to sparring because it helps us improve our fighting technique. If we are training our mind, then who are we going to spar with? Delusions! The stronger our delusions, the more opportunity we have to go deeper in our practice. As one of my teachers often says, “Super samsara, super nirvana”!

If we learn to practice like this, then we begin to be able to use our delusions to benefit both ourselves and others. As Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind:

Bodhisattvas on the first and second grounds experience ordinary attachment, but this does not disturb their spiritual practice, and they are able to use it as a means of benefiting others. Just as farmers use unpleasant things such as manure to create favorable conditions for growing crops, so Bodhisattvas use their attachment as a means of helping others.

Its worth noting that accepting delusions in our mind doesn’t mean that we allow them to stay there forever. The point is that we are aiming to reduce and abandon them all permanently. What it does mean is that we don’t push them away. Instead we examine them, learn from them, and develop more mental fortitude every day. It may take us years to remove our delusions completely using wisdom, so in the meantime, why not enjoy them?

After writing this article, I am honestly looking forward to the next time I get deluded, and hope that you are as well!

Here is another article on the subject.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

15 thoughts on “Do we need our delusions!?”

  1. Interesting that if you look for an object as described in Geshe Kelsang’s books, say , a table, it cannot be found. It has no inherent existence , or from ‘its own side’. However, to deal with delusion, it is necessary to identify the object before it can be negated. So, it is important to know how things do exist conventionally.

    1. Hi Bob,

      That is true, we need to know how our delusions work in order to deal with them and examining their conventional nature will help us do that. Then on that basis, to remove the delusions completely from our mind we need to understand their ultimate nature. Examining this allows us to start disbelieving our unpeaceful states of mind which gives us increasing mental freedom to drop them.

      Thanks, Guest Author

  2. Very insightful! Thank you! I was trying to think of practical examples on how we could use our delusions, such as attachment, to benefit others. Any idea?

    1. Hi Dani, by maintaining a good heart of Bodhichitta we can transform equally all positive and negative experiences. For example, if attachment arises in our mind we can identify it and then reduce it by cultivating renunciation. In this way the manure of attachment is transformed into a virtuous mind.

      When this is done is a good motivation it accumulates immeasurable positive karma, which can then be dedicated towards helping others. Our mental actions are the most powerful and by training as Bodhisattvas we will gradually gain the ability to turn non-virtuous actions into virtue in this way.

  3. Thank you for a very helpful article.
    I also try to remember that nothing is fixed
    nothing lasts good or bad. Everything is empty of inherent existence.

  4. Fantastic! I’m thoroughly enjoying these articles. It’s fascinating how as fellow Kadampas, our practices and experiences converge. While we have delusions, especially when they are strong, it is so easy to panic, jumping straight in with aversion thinking/grasping ‘I don’t want this inherently existent delusion in MY inherently existent mind’. I’ve been wondering whether or not this ‘aversion’ is itself a delusion, since, in my experience, it isn’t helping me develop any space or wisdom in my mind, but increasing tightness and anxiety. In which case, as you mention in your article, better to use delusion to learn and grow in our Lojong practice. Watch the storm, observe it, understand it, develop wisdom and allow it naturally subside. How wonderful we have such an opportunity. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Exactly! This is interesting to contemplate because we do need a continuous wish to be free from our delusions. One way to know the difference between this and aversion is to check which self we are relating to. If we are relating to our potential then we will have no fear of delusions arising. If we are relating to a fixed and limited version of ourself then we will become unhappy with delusions in our mind and feel unable to deal with them.

  5. I understand the sentiment of this article. It has some important points. But I don’t think it is appropriate to wish for more delusions…

    1. Hi Sanglam,

      Thank you for bringing up this clarifying point. I agree that our main wish should be to abandon delusions completely and reach a spiritual ground in which we won’t experience them ever again. However until we get there, the wish to experience delusions and transform them can help speed up our inner development.

      In Eight Steps to Happiness. Geshe-la writes: “Practitioners of training the mind … are able to enjoy attractive objects without developing attachment, and they can happily accept unattractive objects, such as sickness and other adverse conditions, without becoming angry or discouraged. Whatever circumstances arise, practitioners of training the mind can enjoy and make good use of them. ”

      To become an adept at training our mind, we will all need to go through an inner transformation. The path of this inner transformation is having attachment and anger arise and then gradually transforming them with Dharma. Since transforming delusions are the stepping stones of this path, wishing to make quick progress on this journey and wishing to experience delusions can be synonymous.

      1. “Enjoy” is a tricky word to use because people confuse it with excitement, which causes grasping. Happiness is a peaceful mind, and joy is a peaceful mind. Another way to say this is “Whatever circumstances arise, practitioners of training the mind can experience them peacefully and make good use of them.”

        1. I agree that enjoyment in the context of meditation is a peaceful state of mind. We can (peacefully) enjoy difficult circumstances without pushing them away and (peacefully) enjoy pleasant circumstances without grasping at them.

  6. I LOVE this article, this approach. Working with my delusions in this way causes me to feel so relaxed and hopeful and not judgmental about being deluded. It’s very realistic! It also helps me develop a lot of compassion for myself (and of course others at the same time automatically). Thank you!!!

    1. Thanks Sara! It definitely help us be less judgmental of our self and practice. That in turn leads to less stress and creates more enjoyment in our practice.

  7. I’m loving these articles, I couldn’t agree more. The main point is each time a delusion arises in our mind, it is an opportunity to train our mind in Dharma. We need to make a distinction between the arising of a deluded tendency and the generation of a new delusion. Each time we generated a delusion in the past, we planted on our mind the karma to have a similar thought arise again in our mind in the future. When that happens, it is the ripening of a tendency. Generating a new delusion is when (1) a tendency arises, and (2) we assent to the thought of that tendency as being true. For example, a tendency to consider others to be our enemy arises in our mind, and then we assent to that thought as being true, thinking, “yes, this person IS my enemy.” That is generating a new mental action of a delusion. If instead when a tendency arises, we think, “no, actually, this person is my kind mother. There are no outer enemies, there are only the inner enemies of the delusions,” then far from generating a delusion, we just practiced the moral discipline of restraint and we deepened our familiarity with Dharma. If 100 deluded tendencies arise in our mind in an hour and we respond to each one with applying effort to train its opponent, then even though we spent the last hour battling our mind in a cascade of delusions, in truth we just created hundreds of causes for a precious human life and began reversing aeons worth of bad mental habits. Wonderful. I have a friend named Taro who was in a psychiatric hospital for many years battling sadistic tendencies. Once day he called me and said, “I am the luckiest person alive. I will one day become a Buddha who can particularly help people in extremely degenerate times when everyone has a mind like I have now.” Perfect.

    1. Great points Ryan. Battle 100 negative thoughts in an hour may seem tedious and overwhelming, but with familiarity our tendencies will definitely change. Enjoying that process can be our perfection of joyful effort and then we are practicing at least two of the six perfections together!

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