It’s curious that human suffering has so much more to do with illusions and beliefs than with images of suffering. Mental suffering and all the best sufferings come from illusions that have not come true, or beliefs that have no basis. And – why not say it – from the idea that we die, that we are not immortal.
I’ve been pondering this subject for a while because it is something that’s important to understand, and the best way is to see it in oneself. To see my own illusions and beliefs, and to see how they make me fearful when they do not come true. Fear causes internal violence, and that is suffering. Many fears are based on a belief in something that is not going to come true. I fear poverty, I fear illness, I fear rejection, and I fear death. I fear war, hunger, population explosion, ecological disaster, etc.
In short, I fear everything that could happen to me, and the worst part is the “could happen.” I could get sick, I could become poor, I could die. In fact it’s most probable that I will get sick and die, because I’m already getting poorer and poorer. The “probable” tends to justify my fears, and that’s because I don’t understand that my fears are illusory.
It’s not that they don’t exist. Of course I am going to die, but of course it’s not going to be how I imagine it, and that’s the most interesting part of the suffering. When I think about everything I’ve imagined at a fairly low level – how I imagine I’m going to feel when something happens, how I imagine people I’ve never met – what I imagine almost never has anything to do with what actually happens.
But I don’t structure it that way. I don’t think about it that way, I don’t take the time to say to myself, “nothing I imagine really happens,” because if I really understood it that way, I would understand the mechanism of illusion more deeply. At most, I say superficial things like “how surprised I was when I met so and so,” but in reality, it wasn’t such a surprise, it was just that what I imagined didn’t correspond to the reality, and I called that “a surprise,” or “a nice surprise,” because the imagination often leads us down the opposite path, down that of positive expectations, and then the same thing happens, but in reverse… “an unpleasant surprise.”
Certainly neither my negative nor my positive imaginings come true in reality, but “that” which doesn’t happen is directly linked to my imaginings, to the expectations and beliefs I have about “it.”
When my beliefs, expectations and fears are illuminated by my understanding of them, which sometimes happens, then I can see how they cause problems not only in me but also around me. Then I also have the opportunity to understand them in their illusory structure, and this is where it’s important to understand that we don’t need to fight against our beliefs and illusions, but instead need to see and discover their compensatory nature. They exist because I have deficiencies. They exist to balance out my deficiencies, but unfortunately they are not very effective, and that is where the difficulty lies.
In spite of all our inefficiency, we have a great capacity to observe all these mechanisms and tendencies. I say “observe” and not “interpret” because it is in the light of observation that my beliefs and my illusions lose their suggestive power. And it is in the light of that same observation that I can generate a different behavior in a more coherent direction.
My most lucid moments when I practice this observation accumulate, and I begin to experience a kind of gentle awakening to something deeper in myself and in others, something that my illusions and beliefs had not been letting me see. In other words, I experience an inner liberation from the bondage of my beliefs and illusions.