Dream. Illusion. Delusion.

January 17, 2016 § 2 Comments

A butterfly falls to a leaf 2

Whether sitting in meditation or practicing mindfulness, the alert mind may spin into daydreams or a state of dreaminess that is marked by a dimming awareness. At other times thoughts and images arise that arouse intense emotions of fear, anxiety or depression. These feelings mar the meditation by impelling the ego to defend itself against a perceived threat to its integrity. Where the first obstacle to practice is dreaminess, the second is illusion that involves a false version of the self and its relationship to the world. Examples of this latter state are the belief that one is being judged as bad or under threat when no actual threat exists.

To believe that dreams and illusory states are true representations of reality is delusion. However, dreams and illusion may arise without one being deluded as to their true nature. Just as it is possible to enter a lucid state while asleep and know that one is dreaming, it is also possible to be lucid during the day while daydreaming or suffering illusory thoughts. As in sleep, the range of this awareness may vary from pre-lucid states where one wonders if his or her thoughts are true, to full lucidity where one knows his or her version of reality isn’t real at all.

In one way we may say that Buddhist practice aims to create a state of unbroken lucidity where dream illusion has lost its ability to confuse and delude the practitioner with its false version of reality. However, this lucid state should not be confused with the truly enlightened state that transcends thought entirely.

Many begin their spiritual path when life’s obstacles start to get the better of them. It is understandable that in such circumstances much attention is given to stilling troublesome thoughts. There comes a time, however, when it seems that with each thought stilled, another arises. At this point the practitioner may feel like the child that plugs a leak in a dyke with one finger only to have two more open beside it. Experiencing this, the realization dawns that further tinkering with thought will not lead to true peace of mind.

Buddhism recognizes that the very nature of thought creates fundamental problems that cannot be solved by further thinking. Buddhist practice therefore aims to break the human addiction to thinking by having the practitioner focus on one point. Be it the breath, a koan or mindfulness all effort is made to attend to one object to the exclusion of all else. In doing so, as already mentioned, thoughts will seem to arise innumerably one after the other, however, the aim is not to engage these thoughts by trying to shut them down but simply to return the attention again and again to the meditation object. In this way thought is allowed to fade into the background just as outer sounds did at the beginning of one’s practice.

Through continuous practice all illusory thought and accumulated knowledge is cut away. Everything that muddies and obscures clear awareness is dropped. As extra thinking is let go your efforts come to fruition. There is no more illusion or delusion, no more heaven and earth, no more self. Just freedom. But this is still not the complete picture for then comes the return where your true self is actualized. As the poet Moritake wrote:

A fallen flower

       Returning to the branch?

         It was a butterfly.


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