QUESTION: From the three poisons, I understand the concepts of greed and hate very well, but find delusion or ignorance more difficult to make sense of. Could you say something about it?

SHORT ANSWER: Delusion is pride.

LONGER ANSWER: Delusion is the distortion of perception and thinking brought about by the "conceit of self" - attachment to the ideas we have of ourselves and particularly the tendency to regard oneself as a special case. it could be in a "positive" or "negative" fashion. By this I mean that we might have ideas of grandiosity or of self-pity. Self-power is basically a form of grandiosity. Playing the victim is self-pity. Delusion can also be multiplied up by the capacity that humans have for deception, including self-deception. Hence false humility. What presents as "guilt" may, for instance, have at its root an inflated sense of self. The person does not really regret the harm they did, they just hate the experience of perceiving evidence that they are not what they would like to think that they are.

Greed and hate can be thought of as existing at two levels. There is a basic attraction-repulsion level that is largely instinctive - as in that one likes some tastes and dislikes others. But then there is the more complex case where the attraction-repulsion is itself grounded in delusion. At this level we love what supports our self-attachment and we hate what threatens it. Many of our more complex emotions are triggered in this way - resentment, jealousy, envy, spite, possessiveness, vengeance and so on.

The three poisons also get displaced into various specific pathologies. A fairly clear example is eating disorders. Compulsive eating is clearly a greed condition, but it also serves a number of self-building functions making the person bigger so that they carry more weight while at the same time making them less sexually attractive thus avoiding what may be an area of difficulty. Anorexia is just as clearly a hate condition, but again it serves complex self-building and inter-personal functions manipulating and punishing others as well as self. Bulimia is more directly in the province of delusion, being a love-hate activity in which the person is at war with him/herself. All these conditions include dimensions of refusal to really accept what it is to be an incarnate being living in a material world.

Delusion is conceit. It is what brings spiritual danger and leads us astray. In simple terms, this is pride. It may be clearly manifest or it may be hidden under all kinds of social strategies and dissimulation, but it is the root cause of our troubles.

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Replies to This Discussion

David I have heard that Delusion types, as distinct from Hatred or Greed "types" are the least likely to gain enlightenment. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, the idea of "types" is a bit vague. Certainly some people are more inclined one way than another but there is no hjard and fast dividing line and most people are a mixture. Delusion is the opposite of enlightenment so it is the conceit of self that stands in the way. Enlightenment, however, may dawn in any life - this is the good news of Buddhism. In a certain sense, what are called greed types or hate types tend to be simpler personalities. Often the trigger for some kind of spiritual awakening is an experience of failure. If one is wholeheartedly bent upon some folly or other one might well come unstuck in a rather dramatic fashion and sometimes this is enough to wake one up - at least in some ways. :-)

Thanks David. I'm thinking it seems when I find greed or hatred, it is almost simple to see these states and move to change them. However, it is possible I'm deluded about all of it...a nasty thought, I suppose but where my head goes...

Well, we like to think that we personally have the power to change it all, but it does not really work like that. We have power to change our habits to a degree, but it is relative and limited. The deep delusion that keeps us anchored in samsara does not give in so easily. This is all a bit of a circle. Our very belief that we can do it is itself part of the conceit that prevents us.

Charlene Diane Jones said: Thanks David. I'm thinking it seems when I find ...

Thank you - this is very helpful. I was also thinking about delusion as being like denial - when there is a lack of feeling, but that's because of a detachment from a strong feeling rather than a lack of feeling per se - I think this fits with the idea of pride...

Yes, denial of that kind is an attempt to maintain a fixed sense of who/what one is, viz. a persob who only has such-and-such kinds of feelings and not other ones.

'Anorexia is just as clearly a hate condition, but again it serves complex self-building and inter-personal functions manipulating and punishing others as well as self.'

I went to a mental health briefing at work this week, where among much else we were offered a very good (I thought) explanation of how anorexia is not straightforwardly about body-image. Or, that although it may manifest as such, it is not rooted there.

The speaker said: Imagine there is something very close to you, that are deeply upset about. You wake up thinking about this thing. You miss breakfast and go to work, thinking about it. You miss lunch too, still thinking about it perhaps, and when you come home, you don't eat supper either. You go to bed.

What are thinking about?

It made an impression on me. I get displacement activity, in both senses of the verb. Familiar territory.

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