We can experience greed and hatred clearly, but what about delusion? The third of the classic “unwholesome roots” usually remains hidden from us.
Delusion can be considered ignorance or the opposite of wisdom. Delusion means not recognizing our greed and hatred for what they are; it’s believing that anything we experience can be permanent and unchanging; it’s thinking that lasting satisfaction can be gained from sensory experience, or that things will happen as we wish they would. Delusion includes blithely assuming that sickness and death won’t come to us or people we care about; it includes our fantasies about the future and imagined punishments we could impose on others. Delusion sustains and solidifies our me-centric view of the world and traps us in ignorance.
These words are from an article by the editors of Tricycle Magazine: The first of the Three Defilements, Greed, drives us to cling to or hoard the things we want, and hate drives us to avoid and resist what we don’t want. Delusion is the folly of thinking we can get what we want to the exclusion of what we don’t want. It’s an attempt to split up circumstances into categories of our own devising. But reality is not divisible in that way, and the irony of such a delusion resides in a failure to recognize that greed and hate are psychologically one and the same. (from https://tricycle.org/magazine/three-defilements/)
Delusion is present when we tune out and drift because nothing is grabbing our attention.
From an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi: These three mental factors are lust (raga), repugnance (patigha), and ignorance (avijja), psychological equivalents of the unwholesome roots of greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha). When a worldling, with a mind untrained in the higher course of mental discipline taught by the Buddha, experiences a pleasant feeling, then the latent tendency to lust springs up in response — a desire to possess and enjoy the object serving as stimulus for the pleasant feeling. When a worldling experiences a painful feeling, then the latent tendency to repugnance comes into play, an aversion toward the cause of the pain. And when a worldling experiences a neutral feeling, then the latent tendency to ignorance — present but recessive on occasions of lust and aversion — rises to prominence, shrouding the worldling’s consciousness in a cloak of dull apathy. (from https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bl071.html)
What stimulates delusion/ignorance in us? Inappropriate attention. Any time we spend mindlessly following whatever is in front of us, we leave ourselves open to delusion – to creating and inhabiting a world that is not real.
When we apply mindfulness to our experience NOW, our view can clear up. What is the sensory experience? The mental experience? What (if any) meaning do we assign? Are we looking through the “me first” lens or the lens of the Buddha’s four truths? Can we see how our likes and dislikes are limiting our vision?
Desire and aversion are part of the fabric of life. The challenge is to see them as they are, as seducers into delusion.