(4.35) How can I ever be happy
While these guardians of the prison of samsara
That torture and torment me in the hells and elsewhere
Dwell like a net of iron in my mind?
In the last post we examined the first reason we don’t declare war on our delusions, namely we are not convinced they are our enemy. In this, post we look at the second reason, we doubt we can win.
We doubt, “can I really win the fight against my delusions?” Maybe our delusions are purely evil, but if they are stronger than me isn’t it better to not fight them? A good rule of thumb in life is don’t pick a fight with somebody you can’t defeat. As Buddhists, in general we avoid fighting altogether, preferring to find more virtuous ways of resolving our differences, but when we do have to fight, we should make sure our battle is winnable. This is how people normally operate in the world.
We can win. It will not be easy, but all it takes to win is an vajra-like determination to never give up no matter how hard it gets and no matter how long it takes. Delusions are just thoughts, simply wrong ways of thinking. We have seen from our own experience when we look at our small victories over our delusions that when we shine the light of wisdom on delusions, they are defeated. They are seen to be wrong, and when we see their lie, their power over us is broken. It is no different than spam in our email. Once we see through the lie of the Nigerian businessman promising us his millions if only we send him our bank account information, that email has no power over us at all. It only has the power to harm us if we believe its lies. But when we see the lie for what it is, the power is broken. Delusions are the same. They only have power over us when we believe them to be true. When we see through the deception, their power is broken. They can be defeated. Each delusion has its own false logic, the only difference being one of scale. Small attachments or large attachments use the same false logic. The same is true for frustrations, jealousies, doubts, etc. If they can be defeated in one instance, the same false logic can be defeated in all instances. The sword of wisdom is stronger than the enemy of delusion. If we continue to strengthen the power and depth of this wisdom within our mind, we can defeat deeper and deeper levels of delusion until finally every last one has been slayed.
Just because we declare unconditional total war against our delusions does not mean we fight stupidly without strategy or tactics. Strategy is the big picture for how we will win the war, tactics is how we win individual battles in that war. We actually don’t overpower our delusions, we outsmart them. Our ultimate strategy against our delusions is encirclement followed by decapitation. We accomplish encirclement with a systematic practice of the Lamrim. We completely surround the enemy of delusions on all sides with the Lamrim, like in a medieval siege. Geshe-la explains the Lamrim opposes, directly or indirectly, all delusions. It is a system of inter-locking virtuous minds that creates a vajra-like cage around our delusions from which they can’t escape. The Lamrim contains the enemy in an ever tightening noose as our experience with the Lamrim grows. At the same time, we pursue a strategy of decapitation of the king of all delusions – the self-centered mind. The self-centered mind is the union of self-cherishing and self-grasping, and this mind is the root and power of all delusions. In Lord of the Rings, it is the Ring of Power, the one ring to rule them all. If it is destroyed, all delusions are destroyed with it. Ultimate Bodhichitta, the union of conventional bodhichitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness, is our Spiritual Hercules that cannot be defeated.
Tactically, we need to pick our battles. Perhaps we have a wide range of attachments, from chocolate to sex. Perhaps we are not ready to take on sexual attachment quite yet, but surely we can break our attachment to chocolate. Perhaps we have a wide range of frustrations, from having to wait in line to the dysfunction of our government. The point is start with small, winnable battles. Gain some experience for how wisdom can indeed defeat delusions. Learn how to request blessings for wisdom and strength to assist you in your fight. Lock in some definitive victories against small delusions. This will grow your confidence that it is possible to win. You then gradually grow in spiritual power, taking on greater and greater foes, until eventually you become a Conqueror Buddha.
Some people mistakenly think being a Buddhist means to be a wuss. A dear friend of mine was once chastised by his South American bride, “its King-like Bodhichitta, not Smurf-like Bodhichitta.” A teacher of mine often used to say, “show some backbone.” She said, “there is nothing weak about being a Buddhist. Delusions are what make us weak, wisdom makes us strong.” Rocky Balboa does not fear getting his nose bloodied when he confronts Ivan Drago, and neither should we when we confront our delusions. The Patriots in the American revolution didn’t stand a chance against the mightiest empire on earth, but they won anyways. Ghandi was no coward – he stood against the British Empire armed with nothing more than the truth and a home-spun loin cloth. Shantideva is not weak, and he doesn’t hesitate to kick delusions right where it hurts. Sadly, when it comes to the language of warfare, sexist language is often the best, so forgive my use of these terms. But what Shantideva is really telling us – in our modern terms – is when it comes to our fight against our delusions we “need to grow a pair.”