I live in the old home town of President George Bush, and spend lots of time in the library where Laura worked. This is a conservative town, and as far as I know, there aren’t many Buddhists in it, but for those who are here, or are interested in learning a little about Buddhism, we do have weekly meetings that vary in location, style, and subject. For the next two weeks we’re just doing a little socializing and hanging out, and then there’s a round of official talks that work well as an introduction to what Buddhism is about, led by my one and only in-person dharma teacher, who is very good at explaining the concepts. You can find out more about us through Meetup.com or you can come find me on Facebook (easiest through the Skeptical Buddhist group’s page there). It is not necessary to want to become a Buddhist to join us; open-minded interest in what it’s about is all that’s needed.
Tonight was the last of a series of six introductory meetings, and toward the end I was asking about the “two darts” that were mentioned earlier. The first dart is the pain that life deals us all by itself — everyone gets to experience this, whether it’s physical ailments and limitations, or the loss of those we love, or shared sorrows over world events, or whatever — and the second dart is the one we deal ourselves through the ways we attach to those pains and draw them into us or draw them out in time. There are the “why me”s and the “it doesn’t have to be like this, we can put it all back”s and the numerous ways in which we add to what’s already there. We had already been talking about reality, aligning ourselves with reality — -“that might be a form of nirvana”- — and I was thinking about how often I hear the words “delusion” and “illusion” in Buddhism, and how misunderstood they seem to me to be sometimes, and wanted to clarify a point, but I think I did not do a very good job of making what I was saying clear. So I thought I’d try again here.
The subject of illusion came up in an accurate context: that we tend to build up our illusions of what is or can be. That seems to be the heart of the issue, precisely to the point. It is when our illusions get described as delusions that some line begins to get crossed with connotations in which the victim (as the perpetrator of the delusion) begins to get blamed for it, and all the ways we interpret the world get dismissed along with those delusions as fictions, as samsara, as nothing but fake suffering. (Not that this is what was being taught in the meeting — far from it — the teaching was far more accurate than that.) But I often want to make the point that while we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that we can make things different than they are (which is being out of alignment with reality), or that things are all about us when they are not, even if we are doing it to ourselves, it’s not illusory suffering. When the first dart hits, that’s real pain we feel, and when we hit ourselves with the second dart — however we manage it — that is real pain too. The point is just this: that second dart is UNNECESSARY pain.
We are doing it to ourselves, but don’t blame the perpetrator who is also the victim too much because, for the most part, we are simply so unclear on what is happening that we don’t even recognize how we manage to hurt ourselves. As was pointed out in the meeting by our well-spoken teacher, the practice is all about slowing things down enough to see how and what arises out of events. The point, it seems clear to me, is to allow ourselves to see the first dart hit, and see what comes about afterwards that has us aiming that next dart at ourselves in response; to learn the skills to pay enough attention to see the process happening. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes more slowly, but the more often we manage to be mindful of what is happening, and what we feel as a result, and what our first instinct is, the more chances we get — the more choices we open up — to bring wiser behavior into being, so we don’t hit ourselves with that second dart that usually causes very real, but unnecessary pain.