Delusion disorder is ubiquitous. It is much, much more prevalent than ordinarily believed.
We humans are aware of our limitations as animals. Although we don’t know when it will occur, we know that we shall die. We are impermanent. We are destined to become worm food.
It’s natural to take ourselves to be the victims of a terrible hoax. Death mocks all our projects. It undermines all our hopes and dreams. All our struggles to create meaningful lives seem useless.
In response, we invent a fiction: the reified concept of a self. In personal terms, this is the view that I am a continuant substratum underneath my qualities. If so, it’s possible that I may survive death.
This reified concept of a self must not be confused with the conventional, everyday notion of being an agent, an actor. There’s no controversy about the fact that we are constantly deciding what to think, say, or do or what not to think, say, or do.
The most serious delusion is based upon the existence of a separate, substantial self, which is the reified concept of a self. Since illusions are nothing but misapprehensions of what is real, because there is nothing real about the reified concept of a self, belief in it is not an illusion. It’s worse: it’s a delusion.
Yet this most serious delusion is understandable. It’s a fiction created to protect us from impermanence.
Most people operate within a maze of unexamined judgments. Their fundamental beliefs about the world are inherited from their cultures and are passed along from generation to generation. All egocentric understandings of reality are based on the fundamental presupposition that the reified concept of the self is real. It requires an intense, prolonged struggle to break free from this most serious delusion disorder and develop wisdom.
In fact, it requires a different way of life. Since our beliefs shape our experiences, freedom from the most serious delusion disorder requires undermining the fundamental beliefs that shape all our experiences. This different way of life is based on mastering meditation.
Why go to the trouble of doing this?
It’s because ignorance has consequences. Delusions don’t somehow stand by themselves in splendid isolation!
In particular, the delusion disorder that the reified concept of the self is real has two primary consequences: antipathy (hostility, anger) and clinging (greed, attachment).
All our dissatisfaction comes from these three poisons: delusion, clinging, and antipathy.
This understanding goes back to Gotama (The Buddha). Even though delusion disorder is ubiquitous, we all have a way out, namely, letting go of the belief that the reified concept of the self is real. According to him, the cure is, in effect, to embrace impermanence.
Delusion disorder is not cured by better conceptualizing. It’s impossible to think our way out of the conceptual maze we have inherited. This is why mastering meditation is necessary: it’s the only way to get beyond or outside our egocentric attachments. Meditation dilutes the three poisons of delusion, antipathy, and clinging.
Gotama says in The Dhammapada: “Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.” [Easwaran translation]
Sages are those who free themselves. They are characterized by a non-egocentric attitude of compassionate non-clinging, in other words, an attitude of selfless giving or loving. Unlike the rest of us, they do not experience dissatisfaction at all. [It’s important here to distinguish physical pain, which is unavoidable, from dissatisfaction or suffering, which is avoidable.]
To undermine the most serious delusion disorder is to let go of the reified concept of a self. Doing this is awakening (enlightenment, entering nirvana). Anyone able to master meditation is able to do this, and, although it is difficult, mastering meditation is simple. The good news is that all of us can do it.