(6.23) Although it is not wished for in the least,
Sickness nevertheless occurs.
In the same way, even though they are not wanted,
Delusions such as anger forcibly arise.
(6.24) People do not think, “I will get angry”,
They just get angry;
And anger does not think, “I will arise”,
It just arises.
Delusions are the sicknesses of our mind. When we become physically sick it it not desired, but it just arises due to the assembling of certain causes and conditions. In the same way, delusions arise in dependence upon certain causes and conditions coming together. When somebody gets angry with us or harms us as a result of their delusions it is not because they want to get deluded, the delusions just arise.
Anybody who has dealt first hand with depression or been with a loved one who is suffering through it knows the truth of these verses. No depressed person wants to be depressed. People tell them to “snap out of it” or “focus on the good.” And try they do, but the force of the dark minds within them is (temporarily) much, much stronger. Even though they want to have a good attitude, they can’t; but since they think they are supposed to be able to just flip a switch and be better, they feel like a failure when they are unable to. Then their lack of self-confidence makes them feel powerless to get better. There are many physiological reasons for this, namely depression affects the hormonal balances in the brain. This shows the power of our mind. Our mental actions are so powerful they can literally alter the wiring and chemical balance of our brain. Just as an accident can cause great injury to our body, so too delusions can cause physical injury to our brain which can take months, or even years to heal.
Even though we have heard the teachings that delusions are like a sickness, Buddha is like a doctor, Sangha is like a nurse and Dharma is like medicine, we still don’t have the same attitude towards mental sickness as we do physical sickness. We think it is a metaphor, not a definitive fact. When somebody breaks their leg, we naturally generate compassion and we understand that it will take time to heal. But when somebody becomes sick with delusion, such as jealousy, anger and so forth, we blame the other and person and view them as a failure. We think that just because delusions are mental people can just turn them off, and the fact that they don’t means the continuation of their delusions is their fault. We blame them and view them as a failure. Why the difference in attitude between these two types of sickness? The real reason why we have this attitude is we have not yet – even after so many years in the Dharma – actually begun the work of trying to root out our delusions. We attend many festivals, we can recite our book outlines, we begin every sentence with “Geshe-la says,…” but we haven’t actually really begun the work of changing our mental habits. Anybody who has sincerely tried to do so knows how hard it really is, and they don’t have such judgmental attitudes towards those struggling with their delusions.
A Bodhisattva is somebody who has promised to remain in this world for as long as it takes to gradually lead each and every being out. This necessarily means we will have to spend a lot of time with highly deluded people. Yet if we check our present attitude, we try avoid deluded people. We try justify it with “we don’t want to come under their influence,” but our real motivation more often than not is an aversion to spending time with deluded people. We have simply replaced our ordinary aversion to people we don’t like to an aversion to deluded people. Mother Theresa actively sought out to spend time with the poorest and the sickest because that is where she could do the most good. A Bodhisattva does the same those sick with delusions. It is a real balance to spend time with the sick while accepting them fully as they are. Normally, we try to change them. Our job is to accept them.
This attitude of judging the deluded is particularly common among Dharma practitioners, but it takes a particularly destructive form when the judgment gets directed at oneself. When delusions flare up in our mind and we know we should not be deluded, we usually respond in one of two ways: either we pretend that delusions are not arising in our mind or we acknowledge that they are but feel guilty about it, and start beating ourselves up for it. Kadam Lucy says we will never really overcome our anger until we first overcome our self-guilt. Guilt is anger directed against ourselves. We blame ourselves and become angry with ourselves because we are deluded and we feel like a failure because despite our best efforts we can’t stop it. Such attitudes are completely wrong and are easily removed if we correctly understand delusions as a sickness, no different than any physical one, that arises when certain causes and conditions come together. The teachings on karma explain that once negative karma has ripened, there is nothing that can be done but ride it out until it exhausts itself. The arising of delusions within our mind is simply the ripening of a particular karma. Every karmic seed has a certain duration to it, and we don’t know what the duration is. Sometimes these delusions can last days, months, years or even lifetimes. This is not our fault and there is no reason for us to feel guilty about it. We need to accept that we have simply fallen ill with a particular delusion and we should take special care of ourself, nurturing ourself back to good health. It is not selfish to do so.