Vows, commitments and modern life:  Accepting ourself, not our delusions

Do not follow delusions. 

This means that we should not tolerate our delusions, such as anger, ignorance, and attachment.   We should realize that delusions are our real enemy, and as soon as one emerges to abandon it immediately, and not allow it to fester in our mind.

Geshe-la once explained, the only function of delusions is to deceive us.  This is worth considering deeply.  Something is deceptive if it promises one thing, but in fact delivers the opposite.  If we check carefully, all delusions do exactly this.  Attachment promises us happiness, but leaves us thirsting for more.  Anger promises us vindication, but just creates more conflict.  Ignorance of self-grasping promises us a path to “objective truth” but instead leaves us blind to subjective reality.  Jealousy promises us continued possession of our loved ones, but in the end it drives them away.  Doubt promises to protect us from believing something that is not true, but it actually prevents us from believing anything and thus making any progress along the path.  Self-cherishing promises us the fulfillment of our wishes, but in the end frustrates them all.

Delusions are, quite simply, the spam of our mind.  All spam has a common function:  to deceive us in some way.  We are promised millions from the Nigerian government official, but find our bank accounts drained after we hand over our banking details. Spam can only harm us if we believe the lies.  No, we didn’t really win some lottery.  If we recognize its deceptive nature, we just delete it from our inbox without giving it another thought.  It is exactly the same with our delusions.  They can only harm us if we believe their deceptive lies.  But if we see directly their deception, then they have no power over us and we ignore them.  The power of delusions in our mind is directly related to how much we believe them.  If we don’t believe them, they may still arise and be present within the inbox of our mind, but they will have no power over us at all.

Many people “battle their delusions” for years, struggling against them with heroic effort.  Such an approach is not only wrong, it is counter-productive.  When we battle with our delusions, we are implicitly giving them power.  We grasp at them having some validity, but we struggle against these deluded tendencies by trying to believe other things are more important.  An ordained person still wants to have sex, but battles against this saying their ordination is more important.  When we practice in this way, what we really wind up doing is just repressing our delusions.  When we do this, they grow in power until eventually they overwhelm us.

We are told to “never accept our delusions.”  We take this to mean we should not tolerate the presence of delusions in our mind even for a second, and when they arise we quickly try to shove them back down beneath the surface.  This is a recipe for guaranteed spiritual disaster.  Kadam Morten says instead we should “accept the existence of delusions in our mind, but not their validity.”  Yes, we are still deluded beings.  Delusions still flare up in our mind, and that is entirely normal.  We need not beat ourselves up over this nor think we are somehow a bad person because of it.  Instead, what we do is when they arise we “see through their lies.”  Our focus should be on “identifying the deception” of the given delusion.  What is the delusion promising?  How, if I followed the advice of the delusion, would it in fact give me the opposite of what is promised?  If we see this clearly, then we see the delusion for what it is:  a deceptive lie.  When we see the lie, it will be like in the Wizard of Oz after the curtain had been pulled back by Toto – the delusion may still huff and puff, but all of its power will have vanished.  We will see through the lies and the delusion will have no power over us.  This enables us to “accept ourself, but be vicious with our delusions.”

To not follow our delusions does not mean to repress them when they arise, rather it means to see through their lies.  If we do this, we keep this vow.  If we allow ourselves to be deceived, then we do not.

5 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Accepting ourself, not our delusions

  1. Great post, huge concept.

    I am working on this at the moment academically regarding research on disordered eating, compulsions and addictions, so can possibly add value.

    ‘Thought suppression’ has been experimented tirelessly around the globe and the general conclusion of academic peers is that it does not work. In appears to actually make things worse. When you try to stop thinking about the object, the object appears vividly. This happens because the intention to stop thinking about is linked to the object itself and the mind takes the habitual route everytime. In this case, to become more deluded. Our intention is nullified.

    A case can be made for the ‘mind of stone’ and the meditation on ‘cessation of gross conceptual thoughts’ but these refer to Buddhist practices as methods for quieting the mind of distraction and making it more subtle. They work.

    How you restructure a pattern of thinking (cognitive restructuring) is actually quite simple but how you work out that pattern is actually quite difficult for a lot of people. For example, you may have a large bunch of conceptual thoughts about an object, some lead you to become deluded, some do not. This could be likened to a destination or place in your mind, there are many different routes but mind habitually takes you down dead ends and so forth. Some patterns of thought are like peaceful streams and some are like vicious rapids.

    Self compassion and self acceptance are overlooked in Buddhism as there is a great emphasis on others. But they are perhaps the most important.

  2. I see one other alternative which I have found very helpful, That is to understand where the delusion comes from. I believe this is totally different than accepting the validity of the delusion. For example, I habitually have been a people pleaser, So i am seeking validation and peace from without, not from within. Obviously a recipe for failure. I understand that from childhood, as I rarely if ever felt validated for who I was, I sought validations from “doing” and from reading the reactions of others to gauge my self-worth, This understanding helps me learn to seek peace from my own mind, rather than from the opinions of others. I find that this piece is often missing at least from the buddhist teachings that I have been exposed to, which is a good amount. As attachment is a bad thing, so is aversion. In this case, it would be an aversion to understanding, which may translate to an aversion to pain, as it will likely be painful to think about old, deeply rooted pain. But that is just one more dharma lesson, that pain is only temporary regardless of how intense it may be and allowing yourself to experience it can yield major spiritual growth. I do believe that the quickest way to get past pain is through it, and that even though intellectually the benefits of applying opponent force are quite obvious, how well we are able to apply that opponent force is directly related to how attached we are to the delusion, and if we are very attached to the delusion, our self-understanding helps us release it. It also helps us be patient and self-compassionate towards our efforts. What is simple (conceptually) is not easy.

  3. What a wonderful post. Haven’t you also described a way to perceive emptiness? We can see conventional truths arising, but if we see them as deceptive, we will not assent to the the way that they appear, as truly existent. We don’t need to doubt that objects appear to us. But we can reject that these objects are true; they only appear to us because of our karma. My “inbox” is filling up with responses to messages that I have already sent. If I send out junk, why should I be surprised when my box fills with junk in return?
    Thank you K. Ryan.

  4. Very good teaching,Ryan,especially using the spam analogy.To my mind practicising skilfully and realistically is everything.Pretending I dont have delusions is self deception of course.Conscientiousness is the first step to stopping the inevitable runaway train happening in the first place but if I cant stop that train,at least I dont have to buy a ticket to ride.Ha!xxx

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