By Richard Daley
A side effect of being human is that we often find comfort in our delusions.
Our delusions offer us solace in a world that does not always treat us in the way in which we want to be treated. In a delusional reality we are able to avoid hard truths, live grasping onto false beliefs, or worship idols and individuals for all the wrong reasons.
As Americans, we happen to be living in a time rife with delusion. A division line runs down the middle of our American community, and those on each side buy into their respective realities. There are many hard truths that both sides want to avoid, and the battle of superiority and correctness rages on right where the two most volatile contemporary factions collide. All the while, there is a river flowing through both sides, and in it the water is poisoned with greed, hatred and delusion.
Collectively, but most importantly individually, when the fires burn out and the chaos breaks; a moment presents itself—a moment for self-reflection, evaluation. To look at the arrow that has struck us—poisoned us—and decide if we want to remove it, or let it fester.
As practitioners we must do this often. We must channel our mindfulness to recollect the beneficial processes that lead us away from these delusional realities. As much as it may be comfortable to stay, we need to find the rotten pieces of ourselves and carve them away, because it is easy to lose our bearings. It is easy for anger to bloom into an incoherent object in our mind. The true risk? Those who will target this anger, and bend it to their will.
To illustrate this with a story, I want to take us to a place in the Buddha’s time—Takkasila.
This was a bustling center of education where rulers and priests traveled to obtain the most revered knowledge of the time. Pupils were held to an extremely high standard, and if you broke the rules you would be severely punished. There are stories of students—future kings and priests alike—being beaten with a bamboo stick as a mode of discipline. I think it is safe to say, to get in the good graces of a teacher at Takkasila, you must be very dedicated to learning, and very dedicated to your teacher.
There was a student—Ahimsaka—who was the son of a Brahham priest. He was devoted to his studies. Through this devotion, he landed in the good graces of his teacher. One might say he was the teacher’s favorite student. Although Ahimsaka was virtuous, and meant no harm, other students became jealous of him, and of his position with the teacher. They became steadfast in a mission to corrupt their teacher’s minds. Their objective? To turn him against Ahimsaka.
During Ahimsaka’s time at Takkasila, he would wait on his teacher by day, and receive teachings at night. The arrangement also included living cooperatively, completing chores, making meals, and doing various domestic work. Typically the schooling required a fee to be paid to the teacher, one thousand gold pieces.
The jealous students eventually completed their operation, and poisoned their teacher’s mind. Ahimsaka, being such a good student, would do what his teacher asked of him. So, when his teacher told him that his payment is to be delivered in not one thousand gold pieces, but one thousand human fingers; Ahimsaka took this task seriously.
Ahimsaka began going into the forest and ambushing travelers. He would murder them, and remove their fingers. He then crafted a necklace out of the bones, and wore it around his neck. Thus, Angulimala, or “necklace of fingers” was born.
Through the corruption of the teacher’s mind, Ahimsaka was tasked with something he took on faith from his teacher.
I think we can assume he knew this was wrong, but in choosing to follow this demented request, he became Angulimala. His mind became poisoned, and he commenced a life within a delusional reality.
“Angulimala: brutal, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. He turned villages into non-villages, towns into non-towns, settled countryside into unsettled countryside. Having repeatedly killed human beings, he wore a garland made of fingers” – Angulimala Sutta MN 86
As much as Ahimsaka was dedicated to his studies, to being a decent person, through this loyalty to an individual even the most absurd request penetrated his mind, and set him on a path of destruction.
A time came when the Buddha crossed paths with Angulima. The Buddha was traveling down a road, and he was told “Don’t go along that road, contemplative, for on that road is Angulimala: brutal, bloody-handed, devoted to killing and slaying, showing no mercy to living beings.” The Buddha continued in silence, not deviating from his course.
When Angulimala set his eyes on the Buddha, he began to chase him but he could not catch up. He screamed “stop!” The Buddha stopped, and responded: “I have stopped, Angulimala. You stop.”
A conversation commenced.
“While walking, contemplative, you say, ’I have stopped.’ But when I have stopped you say I haven’t. I ask you the meaning of this: How have you stopped? How haven’t I?”
“I have stopped, Angulimala, once and for all, having cast off violence toward all living beings. You, though, are unrestrained toward beings. That’s how I’ve stopped and you haven’t.”
“At long last a greatly revered great seer for my sake has come to the great forest. Having heard your verse in line with the Dhamma, I will go about having abandoned evil.”
Angulimala then threw all his weapons off a cliff into a pit, and decided from that moment on he would pull the arrow out, and leave his delusional, poisoned reality behind. He became a follower of the Buddha, and eventually achieved awakening.
This story illustrates that no matter how lost we become, no matter how deeply seated we end up in the reality we have constructed, we are able to escape it and become better people than we were yesterday.
Now more than ever, we must practice metta and develop these feelings of goodwill toward all beings. Even though we may not all agree, we must coexist, and come together as a human community. The failure to replace greed, hatred, and delusion with our innate feelings of egalitarianism and goodwill toward others, will only leave us in a state of suffering and stress.
May all beings find peace.
No matter how lost we become, no matter how deeply seated we end up in the reality we have constructed, we are able to escape it and become better people than we were yesterday. ~ Richard Daley Click To Tweet
Editor: Dana Gornall
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