Buddhist meditation is said to be the path that leads from joy to joy, culminating in the spontaneous great joy of Tantric completion stage and full enlightenment. Sometimes we might think we have to postpone our joy to some point in the future, like when we are a proper decent meditator, and that it’s okay to be miserable practicing Buddhism in the meantime because, after all, we are creating the causes for future happiness. But there is something not quite right about this way of thinking, which is one reason we have this Kadampa motto:
Always rely upon a happy mind alone.
Being a miserable meditator is a bit of a contradiction in terms, as I talk about here. Long before we are able to enjoy the bliss of completion stage, we need the practical ability to make ourselves happier, because happiness IS the path.
Given this, I quote a lot on this blog about how foundational it is for our Buddhist practice to identify from the outset with our Buddha nature, which is our own natural peace, purity, and good heart. And I have been thinking a lot recently about the other side of that coin – which is that living beings have no faults, that living beings are not their delusions.
The foundation of Dharma practice
Dharma 101: There is no happiness (or suffering) to be found outside the mind – it doesn’t matter how long or hard we search. When our mind is peaceful, we are peaceful and happy – when it is not, we are not. Our entire liberation and enlightenment have to be established within our own mind – they cannot exist anywhere else. So we may as well get started while we have this rare opportunity to work with our minds.
I think the essence of Buddhism, or Dharma practice, is to stop equating people with their delusions and believing they are therefore intrinsically awful! Including ourselves. Every day, we need to stop blaming ourselves and others for our delusions. It is not working. Blaming the delusions themselves, training ourselves to see the person beyond the delusions, by contrast, gives us daily hope and confidence in the spiritual path.
One question I find very interesting to consider:
If people are not their delusions, who are they?!
And we can get specific — for example if someone who is messing with our plans is not their delusions, who are they?! It’s deep. And there is not just one answer. But it’s well worth thinking about because it brings into question the whole paradigm of samsaric thinking, which is: we have been holding everyone to be inherently deluded for as long as we can remember, and far longer too.
Before we met Dharma, we probably didn’t even know what a delusion was. We assumed that feeling grumpy and anxious and the rest of it was just part and parcel of who we all were and there was nothing much to be done about it. We have been identifying with our delusions — thinking “I am angry/disturbed/scared”, and so on — since beginningless time, which is of course a very long time.
Without our delusions, we hardly know who we are, right? And now Buddha is coming along and saying, “You know what? You are not your delusions. No one is their delusions.” This is very profound and very radical. And on one level the whole of Dharma – all the teachings or meditations we learn that are leading us to greater and greater freedom and happiness – are based on this fundamental understanding that we are not our delusions, that nobody is their delusions. If we were, there’d be no point practicing Dharma. If we were intrinsically deluded – if that’s who we were, deluded people – how could there exist a path to liberation or enlightenment? If we are intrinsically deluded, then we can’t get rid of those delusions. If they are actually us, then that’s it, we are stuck with them. And so is everyone else.
But of course, we’re not our delusions. Our delusions are not us. Which means that Dharma is going to work for you.
Just as mud can always be removed to reveal pure, clear water, so delusions can be removed to reveal the natural purity and clarity of our mind. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
The need for renunciation
As it says in the Lojong teachings, living beings have no faults. We have to mentally separate living beings from their faults. When we talk about faults here, we don’t mean things like whether or not people wear unstylish clothes or drive badly or talk too much. We are not trying to separate people from their driving ability, much as this might annoy us.
The list of annoyances does not end in samsara. We therefore need the wish to abandon samsara itself, the wish called “renunciation”. The only way out of samsara for us is renunciation. And the basis for seeing past others’ delusions so we can view them as precious is also renunciation.
So where does samsara come from? The true origins of samsara are deluded minds. We are therefore mentally separating living beings from their true origins, their delusions. These are what are giving rise to all those unwanted true sufferings. Renunciation understands that everyone is currently a victim of their delusions, including us. Any person who is identifying with a delusion is an unwell person. It is not fair to consider them and the illness as the same. We are sad at delusions, not angry.
Generally, when we’re annoyed with someone we cannot accept the principal thing that is making them suffer – we are actually blaming people for the root of their pain! We need a clear target — not living beings, their delusions. These are their enemy too, even if they don’t know it. In the bubble of meditation it may not be so hard to remember this and feel kindly toward others – but the moment we feel attacked, that’s another story! How do we get past this? With more renunciation.
This is because we don’t really think that delusions ARE the problem. We don’t really see them as the true origins of every single one of our sufferings. We feel that our problems are still others’ fault — “YOU let yourself get angry etc. Yeah, sure, poor you, you suffer from anger, but YOU did it and now I have to put up with it!” We are not really thinking that they are the victim of their anger — we are thinking we are their victim.
Anger is always certain of itself. We could write a book full of chapters on our partner’s faults, for example; and we will be 100 percent right. That’s anger. We cannot exaggerate loving other people — but delusions are always based on exaggeration. The more we regard others as precious, the happier we’ll become, and the more we’ll realize it’s true – it becomes a virtuous cycle. But annoyance is always based on a lie.
If you’re a living being you deserve to be happy. You are suffering from delusions and you have a method to end these and end your suffering, like anyone else. If we don’t know that in our self, how can we identify that in others when they’re shouting at us on the street? How can we float off like a Buddha?!
“Is it still you inside?”
I just saw a clip from the hit sci-fi series The Last of Us, where people are taken over by fungus – once bitten by an infected person, it takes over their brains and bodies, turning them into violent monsters with scary tendrils sprouting from their mouth and eventually their whole body. In the incredibly poignant moment of this clip, (spoiler alert), the little boy Sam asks the main character, Ellie:
If you turn into a monster, is it still you inside?
At which point he pulls up his trouser leg and shows her a bloody bite mark.
Our delusions are like that fungus. Just as Ellie was heartbroken for Sam, so we should be heartbroken for everyone who succumbs to our common enemy.
Apparently there is a so-called “zombie-ant fungus” (aka cordyceps) that takes over poor ants and manipulates their brain behavior, making them act in violent and anti-social ways such that they are ousted from their anthills, before eating them painfully from the inside out. How can we blame the ant for that?
There is also mad-cow disease – again, if someone succumbs to that or any dementia, we surely feel sad for them, we don’t blame them? Even microplastics can alter behavior, apparently, but why would we blame ourselves for the faults of the plastic now invading our bodies?
These forms of mind-control are all disturbing and terrifying – but surely none more so than our delusions? These other invaders are relatively short-lived before we succumb and die. Our delusions however, as Shantideva says, have been with us since beginningless time.
No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.
Everything that human beings do requires effort to keep it up — it decays or collapses all on its own. Everything except delusions.
Being mind-controlled by the fungus of our delusions reminds me of the creeping vine in Prayers of Request to the Mahamudra Lineage Gurus (in Clear Light of Bliss and other books):
I request you please to grant me your blessings
So that I may cut the creeping vine of self-grasping within my mental continuum,
Train in love, compassion and bodhichitta,
And swiftly accomplish the Mahamudra of the Path of Union.
To take this analogy a step further, if we are going to help others we first have to make sure that we are immune from this creeping vine ourselves by taking the medicine of Dharma. Then, out of compassion, we can spread our immunity to others.
Thank you for reading. Please share any practical tips 😊
Thank you. This is excellent – very helpful. I have one question related to Dharma 101 and there being no happiness or suffering to be found outside the mind. If this is a foundational view of being Buddhist, does it mean that we cannot make any progress along the path for as long as we DON’T hold it? I, for example, have been “practicing” for many years but I see how how I still attribute blame for my suffering to people and external objects. Does that mean I am therefore not yet Buddhist and haven’t actually made any real progress? Or do we chip away over time at our wrong view of where suffering comes from, and it is the chipping away that is the path itself? I know we say we become Buddhist when we go for refuge … but I still feel I’m going for refuge against things, Minds too, but not only minds.
Dear Anon, I would say you are most certainly a Buddhist, perhaps not quite yet a Buddha 😊
Yes, we are all a work in progress, chipping away, on the path.