(5.28) These legions of thieves of the delusions
Are just waiting for an opportunity
And, when one arises, they will steal my wealth of virtue
And destroy any chance of a fortunate rebirth.
We need an accurate sense of the danger we are in. If there was one thief on the loose in a big city, we wouldn’t be too worried and we could feel safe. If there were legions (thousands) of thieves waiting outside our door to pounce at the first opening they have, we would be on constant guard. In the same way, if we only had one or two delusions in the infinite expanse of our mind, we wouldn’t need to be too worried (though, actually we would). But if there are legions of delusions waiting for an opportunity to slip through the cracks of our spiritual defenses, we would be on constant guard of our mind. It’s pretty clear what our situation is – delusions have near total dominion over our mind. It takes very little to activate our delusions, and if left unchecked they will grow and grow, stealing our virtue.
I really enjoy Christian teachings about the devil, especially from Southern Baptists preachers. In their description, the devil is merciless and utterly deceitful. He makes all sorts of false promises, and duped by them we follow his advice only for him to betray us every time. We become more and more ensnared in his web of lies, he gradually takes over more and more of our behavior, causing us to engage in all sorts of negative and destructive acts. His sole objective is to lead us to the very pit of the deepest hell. While Buddhists don’t grasp at their being some being out there doing this, the description of the devil and his ways is a perfect description for how delusions operate. The Baptist preacher tells us we need to be on constant lookout because Satan is just looking for an opening and is tempting or provoking us at every turn. If we are not mindful, we will fall into one of his many traps from which we may never escape for what is for all practical purposes eternity.
Delusions know where we are weakest and they will attack us mercilessly. For some it is anger, for others it is jealousy, for others it is attachment to what others think, for many it is sexual attachment. One of my favorite stories is the one where the woman tells the monk you either drink with me, have sex with me or I will kill myself. Thinking drinking was the least bad of the three options, the monk proceeded to drink, got drunk, lost his moral discipline and wound up having sex with the woman. The result was he committed spiritual suicide.
Delusions are like water. Water has an incredible ability to relentlessly find the cracks and seep into them. Water, which we can playfully splash our hands through, nonetheless has the power to carve out great canyons one drop at a time. In the same way, delusions relentlessly find the cracks within our mind, and they can seep into our virtues. An individual delusion, in and of itself, never seems like a big deal and we can playfully splash our mind through it, but it nonetheless has the power to carve out great canyons of bad mental habits or pathways one deluded drop at a time, until eventually all the water of our mental continuum flows in deluded ways.
(5.29) Therefore, I will not allow my mindfulness
To stray from the doorway of my mind;
And, if I notice it is about to leave,
I will restore it by recalling the sufferings of the lower realms.
The reason why delusions succeed in deceiving us is each time we think, “it’s no big deal.” And it’s true, as a one off, no single delusion is that big of a deal. But each time we allow one delusion to run free, it will be harder to stop the next one. It does not take long before even if we wanted to stop them we couldn’t.
A good Sangha friend of mine once said, “in every moment, we are either going out of samsara or deeper into it, there is no third possibility.” In exactly the same way, either we are guarding our mind or we are falling into the lower realms, there is no third possibility. Sooner or later, if we do not maintain constant mindfulness, our delusions will slowly or quickly drag us down. All delusions are necessarily bottomless pits. We often follow our delusions once hoping doing so will bring us happiness. When it fails to do so, we think next time will be different, so we try again. We keep repeating this mistake again and again until it becomes too late and we can no longer stop ourselves, just like a drug addict. We either stop our delusions or they will damn us to the deepest hell. There is no third possibility.