Fool me once, shame on you; fool we twice, shame on me. We all know this lesson from childhood, but it is amazing how easily it is for our delusions to deceive us again and again. Attachment in particular! It promises all sorts of goodies, and we go after the objects of our attachment. Then, just when we think we are going to get the happiness we were chasing, it deceives us again. You cannot help but reminded of the old Charlie Brown cartoons where Lucy puts the football down for Charlie Brown to kick, he goes to kick it and she pulls it away and he falls on his back. She then promises him that she won’t do it again, Charlie Brown believes her, he goes to kick it and she does it again. He keeps believing her again and again, and she keeps pulling it away again and again. We are just like Charlie Brown, believing the Lucy of our attachment – every time, she deceives us. The only thing reliable about our delusions is they will deceive us every time.
What we tend to do is project false hopes onto unreliable things, and then we feel terribly deceived and let down when those things don’t live up to our expectations. Did these things or these people prove unreliable? Yes, they did. But our problem was we foolishly believed it would be otherwise. The fundamental lesson of renunciation is learning to accept that the nature of samsara’s pleasures is to be deceptive – they give no contentment, only torment. Once we have accepted this to be true, we are no longer fooled, and we stop going down the deluded roads to begin with.
So what is reliable? The only thing that is reliable is our own practice of virtue. That will never deceive us or let us down. Instead of investing our hopes in others that they will give us something back and somehow fulfill our voids, instead we should invest our energies in selflessly loving, cherishing and helping others. A life selflessly working for others is its own reward. We do not expect anything in return from them, we rather just do the right thing towards them. Karma is perfectly reliable. Being patient, being kind, loving and supporting those around us, especially our family, will never let us down.
Our family members may even let us down, such as our children blaming us for all of their problems or our parents turning out to be deluded beings struggling with life and their own delusions (just like us, but contrary to our unrealistic hopes), but their doing so is just a karmic echo of our having done the same towards others in the past. If others let us down, it is because we have let others down in the past. If others create false hopes in us, it is because we have done the same to others in the past. Does it suck when this happens? Of course it does. But the lesson to be learned is to resolve to never do the same to others. Sometimes life’s lessons are painful, but if we learn them then they won’t be for nothing. Later, we may even come to view such lessons as our greatest blessings.