Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why we Cry at Movies when we Know it is Not Real

(9.30) (Chittamatrin) “How does realizing that all phenomena are like illusions
Eliminate delusions?
After all, a magician who creates an illusion of a woman
Can still develop attachment for that illusory woman.”

The Prasangikas say that realizing all phenomena are illusory functions to eliminate our delusions which bind us in samsara. Here the Chittamatrins are asking how does that work? Just realizing something is an illusion does not eliminate the delusions that arise in our mind. The Chittamatrins use the example of an illusory woman created by a magician. They say that even though the magician knows the woman is an illusion he still develops attachment with respect to the appearance. Therefore, simply knowing that something is an illusion does not actually function to eliminate the delusions of attachment and so forth. A more modern example would be computer generated porn.  Everyone knows that such images are generated by a computer and there is not actually a woman there, but nonetheless people generate attachment for it, including likely the people who make it. A modern day Chittamatrin would say if we generate attachment for these things that we know are not real, then knowing that all phenomena are illusions will not eliminate our attachment.  

(9.31) This is because the magician has not abandoned
The deluded tendency to grasp at true existence.
Thus, when he beholds the illusory woman,
His tendency to perceive her emptiness is very weak.

We are like a child that keeps being fooled by the same magician’s trick again and again.    The illusion is of something that looks like a non-illusion – it is an illusion that appears real.  We then relate to this illusion as if it were real, and create contaminated karma, which ripens in the future in more similar illusions.  We are then told that it is just an illusion, but we get fooled again, like a child with a magic trick.  This happens because we have many tendencies of being gullible with respect to samsara.

The reason for this is not difficult to understand. There are two types of delusion, intellectually formed delusions and innate delusions. Having knowledge that things are illusions or computer generated might reduce our attachment somewhat because it counters the intellectually formed delusion. But simply the intellectual knowledge that it is an illusory woman or a computer generated image does not counter our innate delusions. For example, when people watch scary movies they have emotional reactions even though they know that it is just a movie. Why does this happen? Because while their conscious mind knows that it is just a movie, their subconscious mind (their innate delusions essentially) still believe that the images are real and part of their mind reacts as if they are.

To overcome this, we need to realize emptiness with increasingly subtle levels of our mind. Our innate delusions are located deeper within our subconscious and they can only be countered by placing the Dharma underneath the level of our delusion. Ultimately, we need to realize emptiness with our very subtle mind which is underneath all of our subtle minds. By realizing emptiness with our very subtle mind, we can uproot all of our innate delusions and then such appearances will no longer generate delusions in us because we realize at a deeper level that they are not real.  

Through reminding ourselves of emptiness again and again, we can gradually come to see the trick, and then we are no longer fooled by it.  If we think what appears to our mind is real, we can get sucked into it and we can quickly become schizophrenic – believing hallucinations are real.  If we remind ourselves that it is just appearances projected by our mind, but that none of them are real, then even those these things will appear, we won’t worry about it and won’t react to the appearances as if they were real.  Through training consistently with this, eventually we cut the power of the appearances over us.

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