We continue with our discussion for how to actually overcome our delusions. The first three steps were explained in the previous post.
Step 4: “Choose” our strategy for dealing with the delusion. I say ‘choose’ because normally we just respond reflexively. Here we make an intentional decision to not do the wrong thing and to do the right thing. In confronting our delusions, we usually fall into one of two extremes. The first is the extreme of repression. This is when we pretend, or try to pretend, that we don’t have a delusion (in reality we are very upset or really attached, but we deny it, even sometimes to ourselves). The other extreme is expression. This is when we follow the direction or advice of the delusion (in short, we give in to it). Popular psychology recognizes the extreme of repression as harmful because it just causes us to push our delusions under the surface where they grow in strength until eventually they blow in some dramatic fashion. Popular psychology’s prescription is to express our feelings – to let it all out, to get it out of our system. They say we need to be in touch with our feelings and they think if we feel or think something, it is somehow important and valid. Temporarily, it seems as if expression works. When we give in to our attachment, the pain associated with being deprived our objects of desire is pacified and we feel better. When we give into our anger and rage against other people, we feel as if we are getting the anger out of us and that we are standing up for ourself, so we feel better. But in the long-term, by following the delusion and assenting to its validity, we are just feeding the beast that will ultimately devour us. Every time we give into our delusions, they come back stronger the next time and it is even harder to overcome them later. It is no different than a heroin addict. The withdraw is terrible, and giving in will make the pain go away. But it also guarantees it will come back again stronger next time. Because we gave in before, we now have the habit to give in again. It eventually reaches the point where we no longer even try, we will have surrendered ourself completely to our delusions. We become their willing slave. The middle way between these two extremes is to “accept and overcome.” We accept the fact that the delusion is present within our mind (we accept that we are indeed sick with the delusions), but we clearly realize it is a treacherous mind, and we decide to confront it head on. Kadam Morten said, “we accept the existence of the delusion, but not its validity.” Yes, delusion is present within my mind, but I know it is a lie trying to deceive me.
Step 5: Cut our identification with the delusion. Other people’s delusions are not a problem for us because we don’t identify with them. Our delusions are a problem because we do identify with them. If we want to eliminate the problems associated with our delusions, we need to stop identifying with them. Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that we are not our delusions, rather they are like clouds passing through the sky of our mind. We cut our identification with our delusions by saying ‘not me.’ We can see them as clouds but we are the sky. We can feel like we take a step back into the clear light Dharmakaya or as our self-generated deity. We are the Dharmakaya or the deity, not the delusion. Kadam Bjorn said if we try oppose our delusions while we are still identifying with them, then our wisdom wishing to be free from our delusions turns into self-guilt, which is in fact self-hatred. He said because we haven’t actually “let go” of the delusion, when we apply the opponents all we really do is repress them and they will pop up again later.
Step 6. Increase our desire to be free from the delusion. Kadam Bjorn also said that our ability to overcome our delusions is not so much how well we know the opponents, but rather how strong is our desire to be free from them. When our desire to be free from the delusion is greater than our desire to have the object of our delusion, then we will have enough power. Otherwise, we will eventually give in (because we are a desire realm being) or explode in a form of spiritual bulimia. To increase our desire to be free, we can contemplate that Geshe-la said “all delusions are necessarily deceptive minds.” They destroy our inner peace and so make us miserable. A good friend of mine once said: either we are going deeper into samsara or we are moving out, there is no third possibility. Following our delusions moves us deeper into samsara. We want to get out of samsara for ourself (renunciation) or for others (bodhichitta).
Step 7: Apply opponents to decrease the delusion. The first thing we need to realize is that delusions have as much power as we give them. We give them power by believing them to be true. When we identify that they are deceptive, we are no longer fooled by them, even though they continue to arise in our mind. Then, they have no power over us. Once we have reduced their power in this way, we can then apply the various opponents explained in the Dharma. Really, any Dharma mind can be used to overcome virtually any delusion. But every delusion has its own principal opponent. The principal opponents of anger are love and patient acceptance. The opponents to attachment are selfless love and non-attachment or renunciation. The opponent to jealousy is rejoicing, being happy for the other person. The opponent to doubt is faith and wisdom. The opponent to ignorance is the wisdom realizing emptiness. When we apply opponents it is important we do so without any expectation for results. If the causes are created, eventually our delusions will be reduced.
Step 8: We eradicate the delusion with the wisdom realizing emptiness. We eliminate our delusions entirely by realizing that ourselves, the delusion and the object of our delusion do not exist from their own side. But in particular, Shantideva focuses on realizing the emptiness of our delusions. At the end of the day, a delusion is just a thought in your mind. Just as you can forget a phone number, so too you can forget your delusions. Why has Shantideva launched into the true nature of delusions here? We can know they can be defeated because they don’t truly exist. Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind that just as the child of a barren woman cannot have problems because the child does not exist at all, so too the self that we normally see cannot have problems because such a self does not exist at all!