Delusion by Chris Lott
Delusion by Chris Lott

Delusion is a byproduct of the ignorance of our true nature. When we don’t know who we are, we build our discrimination on an identified ego. The ego has an agenda to be right, even when we don’t know. We could say delusion is an ego-generated narrative layered onto self-ignorance.

For example, not knowing how to start a business, we decide business success is based on appearance and buy expensive suits. Had we known what a business was in the first place, we would not have made that mistake. We can see delusions can be layered, narratives based on narratives, etc.

The Yoga Sutra has 2 words that are translated as delusion.

The first, bhraanti from v1:30 is about being mistaken or confused. This is an effect of invalid knowledge. In the sutras, the verse is describing obstacles to samadhi (transcending). For example, we drop spiritual practices because we hear everyone is already awake.

The classic example is seeing a rope in the dark and thinking it’s a snake. We experience fear and stress as a result of this delusion.

The second type, moha, from v2:34, is because of ignorance of our true nature. It’s a deeper delusion, with qualities of obsession, infatuation, or identification. The sutra also mentions degrees of delusion from mild to strong. As such delusions can be like “little white lies” all the way up to core aspects of identity. Moha is one of the drivers of negativity and injury, so its fruits are “unending suffering.”

Delusions can also be collective, such as the fear narratives that developed around COVID. War is a large scale example, often driven by animosity or firm beliefs. Yet, the perceived differences are due to ego identification. People can be willing to die for their unquestioned delusions because they’re driven by the ego that needs to be right.

Delusions can be quite pernicious, even being passed down as “memories.” I ran into an example where a pleasant, shared past-life memory was a mask covering nasty trauma. While the delusion made the memory happy, it blocked healing the trauma, and thus perpetuated the shadow.

It has surprised me how deep these can go.

All the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world are various degrees of delusion. This is why they begin to fall away as the Self becomes established, and we can see through the narratives when they’re triggered.

Mild ones can be convenient, like simplifying how to be in the world or sharing community narratives. But the larger narratives driven by fear, anger, and so forth are not healthy. They blind us to what’s here, what’s true, and who the people around us are.

The classic “mistake of the intellect” is the delusion that we’re a separate individual. It may be helpful for a toddler in separating from mother, but it becomes less valuable as we mature.

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal decisions and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
– Albert Einstein, 1950, letter of condolence to Norman Salit

Once we break that delusion of separateness with awakening, it becomes much easier to see through our other delusions.

But beware thinking you’re beyond delusion. Old, subtle ones that have not yet been seen can still be triggered. Life is full of surprises.

PS – This article is from an awake perspective. If you’re experiencing yourself as a separate person, then that is what is real for you now. However, post-awakening, we recognize what the article describes and our quality of life improves.

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    1. Hi Guru
      It’s not that it’s independent as body and mind are expressions of the Self. But it’s Self that awakens to itself on it’s own level. Body and mind are prepared to support that, then evolve to adapt to that change.

      It’s not so much intellect is clouded but that it shifts from being associated with the ever-changing mind to being associated with the Self, which is much more stable. That brings it a deep clarity.

      Clouding and shadow are a more general effect from unresolved experiences aka karma aka stress.

  1. Sharon

    In his commentary on Chapter 4, verse 35, Maharishi explains about delusion in the states of tamas guna, raja guna and sattwa, which was Arjuna’s situation. I recently saw a tape in which he explains at length about being “stuck in sattwa.” People were so surprised by that. Maharishi explains that the only way to overcome delusion in the state of sattwa is to transcend.

    1. Ah yes, Sharon. Good point.
      And yes, we have to go beyond all three gunas, and not get stuck in “nice”. Thats the quote at the bottom of the blog too. Sattva is still a covering over our true nature.

      For example, we can can get drawn into celestial perception and enjoy the heavens. But that’s not source, though it may seem like it.

  2. Stephen

    Beautifully succinct. thank you David. It all becomes more and more amazing as I start to wake up and I say to myself ” well I am not going to do that again.” But I find myself right back in the same situations soon thereafter. It is like my true self is saying, ‘try that again but without ego this time.’ Definitely a learning process.

    1. Hi Stephen
      Even when it’s not ego driven, those old habits of mind can still be triggered. But once triggered, we then have the opportunity to see through the delusion and dissolve it (this relates to both vasanas and samskaras).

      The B Gita talks about first recognizing we’ve done it again. Then, we start to notice in the middle of doing it again and begin to have choice. And finally, we can notice the first impulse and resolve the source.

      Seeing that first impulse requires that clear intellect mentioned in the above comment.

    1. Yes, Stephen, the process does accelerate when we stop recycling karma (action) on the wheel. When we start resolving stuff, we shift the trends of time. The do over becomes the done. Quality of life improves and life gets simpler in time.

  3. As I mention at the bottom of the article, it’s all about perspective. When we’re in it, we don’t see it. When we can step back a bit and observe, then we can begin to see the dynamics.

    In a sense, Self Realization is a delusion from a Unity perspective. Unity from Brahman, and so on. This is much the same as a toddlers reality is a delusion to a teen, and a teens to an adult.

    None of us are deficient to have delusions. It’s universal. What the article describes is an experience of the process, not a reason to blame.

    1. Transcendence is like diving into a lake. Sometimes, the dive is more shallow, and sometimes deep. And sometimes the water is clear and sometimes not.

      That dive is through the waters of our unresolved experiences (shadows) and dominant guna. So as such, we can get distracted by sattva on the way down, and thus not go as deep.

      The very deep is already free. With regular touching into it (conscious or not), it becomes established and a living reality. Thus, a value of freedom gradually can become part of our life, deepening with liberation.

      I’ve discussed the levels of samadhi in prior articles:

  4. Peter Goodman

    Simply, David, … Thank you .
    As usual you are very clear and concise.
    A virtual joy to read your blog posts.

    From an awakening soul.
    Still dealing with the illusion under delusion.

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