There is no fire like lust,
No grasping like hate,
No snare like delusion,
No river like craving. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
The composer of this verse knows from personal experience that the biggest dangers we face are not external but internal. We fear being struck by a person or vehicle, or being kidnapped or coerced; we are wary of falling into traps, to being tricked; and we avoid going into water that’s rushing so violently that it seems we could be swept away. However, most of those fears are projections and unlikely to befall us. Our own disproportionate or inappropriate desires and repulsions are the greater dangers.
Delusion is said to be the condition of being convinced that we understand something when we don’t. This is the snare referred to above, the trap that we often get caught up in. We can believe that someone (human or divine) is out to get us, that we are being unfairly targeted and punished. But everything that happens – everything – is the result of a whole complex of interrelated causes and conditions, most of them not personal. A driver looks away for a moment and causes a crash; a dog owner firmly believes that Fido would never attack another dog, until he does; a bit of rotten fruit passes inspection and food poisoning results; for no discernible reason, cancer, a neurological disease, or mental illness comes to an innocent person.
We are reluctant to be in a state of not-knowing, but most of the time, that is our true condition. Not only is the future closed to us, it is also nearly impossible to fully comprehend what is happening in and around us even now. Our consciousness is a wonderful thing, but it is limited; we are not, cannot be, omniscient. Humility is a virtue, and one that can free us from unnecessary strife. We can know what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking; we can know that we’re walking when walking, listening when listening, daydreaming when daydreaming, washing when washing. Our tendency to imagine we know what others are thinking is usually a delusion.
It’s worth reflecting on delusion as a danger. Lust, craving, and anger are easily discernible in our experience. If we’ve got a modicum of mindfulness, we know when we are angry or desirous of something or someone, but we’re unlikely to notice delusion until something happens to contradict our fantasy, so we can simply reflect on the question: “what can I be certain of in this situation?”.