However innumerable my delusions are, I vow to extinguish them all.
That’s a vow. A Buddhist bodhisattva vow. A very serious undertaking. Chanted at our temple at every service. But have you ever given attention to it? It’s one thing to recite and repeat very sincerely one’s intention to extinguish, to obliterate, to overcome one’s delusions. And of course this vow seems to demand a great deal of serious effort – grit your teeth and battle type of effort. It can certainly attract ego. It can attract that tool that we have that allows us to struggle, to overcome - to get beyond. Which of course is measuring, comparing & labeling. And as a species, we humans are very very good at using that tool.
But what is delusion?
It’s rather odd. Because the first rule of delusion is that I can’t be aware of it. The minute there is an awareness of delusion, it’s not a delusion. So if I can’t be aware of my delusions, how am I to extinguish them?
I can certainly see other people’s delusions. It’s quite easy and evident. If I’m a Democrat, those Republicans are deluded. Obviously. No doubt about it. So seeing other’s delusions is a piece of cake.
And I can pull up the past and say “Oh yeah, back then I believed in Santa Claus – I was deluded.” The fact that that delusion was supported by my parents, by my culture, by my society doesn’t matter. I was deluded.
But is it possible to see my actual delusion in the present moment? My delusion, not the other guys? Now, not in the past?
A man who takes rainbows to be real – to be independently solid and real – we can say that that man is deluded. We can say that. But he can’t. To him he’s not deluded. To him that rainbow is there. He can see it and point it out to others. “How can you tell me I’m deluded? There it is.”
So if I am that person. If that is how I view rainbows. How am I to extinguish a delusion that I do not see as a delusion but as an independent reality?
It must begin with doubt.
As long as I don’t question that conclusion then that’s the end of it. It’s not so much as my being attached to my view, as that I don’t see that view as a view. I see it as an independent reality not open to question. That rainbow has nothing to do with viewpoints or ideas or thoughts. It’s entirely independent of me.
So where does doubt come from?
If I begin to act based on my understanding. If I begin to walk toward that rainbow to see what’s at the end of it, I begin to notice that I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The rainbow keeps receding, slipping from my grasp. I can conclude that I’m just not moving fast enough and begin to run towards it or get in a plane. Or I can conclude that the world, that others, are preventing me from reaching my goal. So my inability to grasp that thing turns out to be very frustrating. And at a certain point I might begin to use that scientific tool that humans are adept at. I might begin to give very careful attention to that thing out there. Analyzing and carefully measuring my experience of that thing. And at a certain point I get an insight – an Ah Ha point. I realize that that rainbow is not independently solid and real as I thought but is based on photons and raindrops and the angle of my eye in relation to those photons and raindrops. At that point I label my previous understanding as “delusion” and go about my business with a new enlightened understanding of rainbows. All done, “delusion” extinguished.
What about raindrops? And photons? And eyes? Are they independently solid and real?
Right now we are in Evanston, Illinois. No question about that. Except where is Evanston? Five hundred years ago I’m not sure what people called this place but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Evanston. And five hundred years from now I’m not sure what people will call this place. But at some point some folks sat down and drew lines on a piece of paper and said “This is Evanston”. And that’s fine. Because we need to pave the streets and collect the garbage. So calling this place Evanston is helpful. It helps us organize ourselves as a community. But the birds don’t know that this is Evanston. Birds never know where they are – but they are never lost.
The difficulty comes when we take Evanston to be separate and distinct and independent. When we start viewing Evanston like we used to view rainbows or Santa Claus. With that understanding we begin to distrust those folks from Skokie. “Something wrong with those people.” We may have to get some weapons “Just in case…” Of course those people in Skokie are operating from a similar understanding.
So Evanston really exists. Rainbows really exist. Except not as we think. Or rather exactly as we think. Our thinking is involved in all of this. All of this external reality that we take to be independent and apart. Each of us together create this world.
The last verse of the Diamond Sutra –
"So I say to you. This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:"
"Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream."