Thursday, May 15, 2014

Living in a Delusion

"Waking Up"
-in my meditation garden-

I was sitting alone in a local restaurant having lunch yesterday as a man and a woman at the table next to me were engaged in a very vociferous conversation. While I'm not exactly sure what they were arguing about, one particular phrase really stood out as the man pointed a finger at his companion and shouted, "The problem is that you're delusional. You live in your own little world."  

He may not have realized it, but that man was actually touching upon a profound wisdom taught by the Buddha some 2500 years ago - the problem with a lot of people is that they are "delusional."

Over the past several years, I have learned much from Buddhist wisdom, but I find the teaching about "delusion" to be especially insightful.  According to Buddhist teaching, there are "three poisons" that cause human suffering: "greed," "hatred,"  and "delusion" (which is also translated as "ignorance.")

When people are delusional, they are unaware of (ignorant of)  the truth about life and about themselves. They fool themselves into thinking that there is a separated individual ego. They ignore, deny or are unaware of the truth that everything and everyone is interdependent. People are delusional when they hide within their false sense of "ego" and fail to live in harmony with others. When people are delusional, they live in their own little world. 

The Buddha taught that delusion is "the greatest cause of our suffering"- a suffering which is self-inflicted. 

I am very fond of the story of the awakening of Siddhartha Gautama who would later become "The Buddha."  As a young man Siddhartha was "delusional." He was a prince who lived with all the creature comforts the world could offer, but he was unhappy and troubled. At some deep level he knew that there was more to life than the life he was living. And so he began his journey into enlightenment.

As the story goes, Siddhartha Gautama sat under a Bodhi Tree for 40 days and 40 nights. He sat with an uncluttered mind and open heart, sitting in silence, paying attention in the moment. Under that Bodhi tree his eyes were opened and he woke up from his delusion. As he stepped out of his own little world, Siddhartha Gautama became "The Buddha." 

I recently read this wonderful summary of Buddha's experience of waking up:

He saw, not only with his mind but with his whole being, just how the world and human existence in it worked, how everything was in a constant process of interconnected movement, how suffering is caused when humans greedily try to break the interconnections and hold onto things just for themselves, how suffering can be stopped through letting go not just of selfishness but letting go of the very self in compassion for all beings.

My guess is that there are lots of people in the world today who "zone out" with eyes glazed over when they hear the word "spirituality." 

I talk to plenty of people who think that conversations about "spirituality" and spiritual practices like mindfulness and meditation have little or nothing to do with ordinary people living everyday life- at work or school, at home or on the marketplace. "Spirituality" has no relevance to the lives of people in a restaurant having an argument at lunch.   

And yet, narcissism is the plague of contemporary society.  Lots of people today are delusional, and many live in their own little world. The direction of the lives of many is "inward," constantly feeding an already bloated ego-an ego that doesn't even exist. And so, every day people drink the poison of delusion, and every day they inflict suffering upon themselves. 

A spiritual quest is not an "ivory tower" journey. It is a path for living every day, awake to the truth about our human condition. The spiritual path is a "way" out of suffering, a path for breaking down the walls of our own little world. 

I look at the Buddha in my meditation garden. He beckons me to sit next to him and become a Buddha too.


  1. Beautiful. Loved reading this.
    And, know thyself.
    That one I got....
    I know WHERE my ego lives...I'm not hating on it and trying to kill those inner monkeys anymore....I give them a hug, throw a couple of bananas and they go play on the tire swing and allow me to go on about my day without the fury and hate and loud ego driven gaki guai mess that ensues when I follow "IT"....

    1. r/b great comment. I love the one about the bananas..thanks