Cracking the Fortress of Delusion
Once upon a time a young turtle happened upon an old turtle it had never met before as it roamed across an endless field of grass. It had been roaming for days, looking for water, for it was very thirsty, and very hot. Although it knew it could go for many days without water, it knew the number of days left was diminishing quickly. Yet the field seemed to have no boundaries – it seemed to go on and on in every direction! “Wait until the sun passes overhead,” the old turtle said, “and then travel in its direction. When the sun goes down, stop and rest. Sleep until the following day when the sun once again passes overhead. Then continue on as you had the day before – follow in the direction the sun moves and continue this for as many days as it takes until you come to the stream. You will be greatly rewarded.” The young turtle had never encountered this stranger before and thought, “Why should I trust him, I know much more than he does about this field I am in. I have been in it for many weeks and I have never seen him before. How dare he consider himself more knowledgeable than me about this field and suppose that he knows how to escape from it! Follow the sun?! Who’s ever heard of such a thing?!” So the young turtle said to the old turtle, “Oh be quiet you crazy old turtle. You know nothing!” and continued on as it had been, moving through the tall grass, unable to see horizon or tree line, mountain or stream. Days passed, then weeks. Finally, the turtle had lost its ability to move. “Here I will die.” He thought to himself. He lay unmoving for three days, but still alive. During those three days his thoughts reviewed his life, his early years as a young turtle jumping off of logs into the river water with his friends then soaking up the summer sun on an outcropping log. He lamented that he would never again feel the cool water and gentle weightlessness of a swim. He remembered how he used to lie on the log and watch as the sun moved across the horizon. How it always moved from the direction of the big black rock on one side of the river toward the dip in the trees on the other side. Always the same. Every day. As if it was pointing him somewhere … And that was his last thought, as he lay there, motionless, in the tall field grass, no longer able to breathe.
We humans have a very specific disability that we all share: we’re human. We’re born with an incredible intelligence, the ability to feel things intensely, and to create amazing works of art. Yet the very things that make us human, ironically, make us vulnerable to losing our connection with ourselves and with the universe in which we live. Our minds create a substitute universe within which we seem to exist, and we mistake this microcosm for Reality. Our microcosm is a universe of impressions about ourselves: what we like and dislike, what we feel, who we think is good or bad, what political party we connect with…. All these things give us a sense of personal identity, make us think that we are something unique, independent, and apart from all else around us. Our thoughts, ideas and opinions shape us into who we imagine ourselves to be as human beings. And from there, we live our lives in our bubble. Alone.
Isolated, we become commanders of ourselves without the vision to see beyond the confines of our personal-universe. We are like a fortress, cut off.
With such an attitude and limited awareness we are a universe unto ourselves, impenetrable by anybody. We denounce the wisdom of others when it doesn’t fit into the emotional framework of our lives. We choose to agree only with opinions of others who share our personal values and feelings about things, rather than to investigate directly and objectively into the nature and basis of our views. We are victims to the popular status quo, taking solace in being a member of a group of like-minded people. Giving ourselves to the group, we become easily swayed by popular opinion within it. We fall victim to scams, give our money freely to support the group, and are easy prey for advertisers who take advantage of our strong feelings for the group. We are as marionettes, our strings pulled this way and that. But does this make us happy? No. What we fail to realize is that the cause of our suffering is our grasping at a personal identity – one that exists independently of all else, and is our De facto center of the universe. The lonliness of isolation this generates creates a strong desire to attach to a group, to the extent that our entier identity becomes merged with that of the group. Our Self becomes ever more lost the more we move in this direction, and the task of recovering it, ever more distant and difficult.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to see the reality of this until we’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of it directly through a crack in the fortress. And even then, we have to take the glimpse we see seriously enough to make it matter to us if it’s going to help us change our world view and escape our samsaric condition.
In the world of Buddhism, this self-centric nature plays out in many tragic ways, most notably, preventing us from making progress on Zen’s Path … should we get so far as to find its trailhead in the first place.
[Hat tip: Outlawtrader - Tx!]