Zen and Psychotherapy

Partners in Liberation

Awakening to Delusion

Why do we suffer? Why do we cause others to suffer? What can we do about it?

Why do we suffer? From a Buddhist perspective, it is due to greed, hatred and delusion, the three poisons. These create suffering, these are our suffering. But we need to add a word to the Buddhist formula: unbridled. It is unbridled greed, hatred, and delusion that amp up suffering exponentially. The secret sauce in this toxic mix is self-deception. The road to hell is paved with the finest intentions; we think our motivations are pure and our stuff does not smell. "When will we ever learn?" Pete Seeger asked. This is my question, this is all of our question. It seems impossible for us to realize that our individual good is intimately woven together with the collective good. That what benefits me most deeply benefits others; and when the other thrives, I blossom. Take three parts narrow self-interest, throw in a hearty dose of self-deception, harness unbridled greed as propellant, and voila! Bring down our planet while smelling like a rose!

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The antidote in Classical Buddhism is mustering up the four awakened qualities: loving kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity. These are preceded by the word boundless. So, boundless compassion. Boundless and Unbridled. They seem alike but they are not. Jessie Colin Young sang "Just one key unlocks them both, it's there at your command. Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody come together and love one another right now." We must spring free from our self-absorption, our self-deception, right now, and see, as my old teacher Robert Aitken Roshi would often say, that "we are all in this together and time is short." Our boats rise and fall in concert. 

But first we must awaken to delusion, face our own short sightedness and self-serving thinking and behavior masquerading as righteousness. We must see, or at least entertain the possibility, that we are ignorant of what is really going on, and ignorant of the impacts of our actions. This is the most gnarly element: for us to awaken from delusion, we must be willing to face our own pig-headed, willful ignorance and the deleteripous ripples it has generated. Let me finish by quoting the great 1950's philosopher Neil Sedaka: "Waking Up Is Hard To Do."

So let's have at it.

 

Dr. Joseph Bobrow, Roshi, is a Zen master and psychoanalyst who integrates Buddhism and psychotherapy in his writing and in his trauma work with veterans and their families.

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