[Buddha-l] Laughing at enlightenment

Richard Nance richard.nance at gmail.com
Thu May 5 17:38:49 MDT 2005

Richard Hayes wrote:

> But what if one were to say to the preachers (and buddhas) "I choose not
> to see my condition as an illness. I choose not to see the human
> condition as a disease requiring your, or anyone else's, cure. I choose
> not to see what I believe as a delusion." If one were to say all that,
> then one would be free of attachment to the fantasy that things can be
> other than they are. 

First off, thanks for a very stimulating e-mail. 

The above raised some questions for me. You note that one can choose
to see oneself as in a certain sort of condition (say, a condition of
lacking disease), but not in another sort of condition (say, a
condition of having disease). You also note that one can see one's own
beliefs in certain ways as well. If seeing is believing, then what
you've said is that one can adopt a belief (or, if anyone's a fan of
turgid jargon, a meta-belief) about the beliefs one has about the
world: one can believe that one isn't delusional in believing that
one's condition is, in fact, other than the way that some people would
like to claim that it is (i.e., diseased, in need of a cure, and so

Both these moves seem to require that we -- at least some of us -- can
go wrong (at least some of the time) in our assessments of the world:
it's possible to think things to be a certain way that things simply
are not. To think -- wrongly -- that things are a particular way, when
they're really quite different, is to be deluded about how oneself,
and/or the world, is. It's to buy into a fantasy about how things are.

Now, none of the above considerations requires that we accept the idea
that things can be other than they are. All that is required is that
we accept the idea that we can *think* things to be other than they
are (i.e., that we can think things to be a way they're not). What
this means, though, is that we can distinguish between two ideas:

(1) One can think things to be other than they are (as one does when
one is deluded).
(2) It's a fantasy to hold that things can be other than they are.

I think these two ideas are consistent, but if we distinguish between
them, it becomes difficult to see how to get from the choice to see
one's beliefs as non-delusional to "freedom from the fantasy that
things can be other than they are." The former is a choice that one
makes regarding one's beliefs about the world. But the fantasy, while
involving beliefs about the world, doesn't *concern* those beliefs. It
concerns how the world *is*. It's a fantasy insofar as it doesn't
allow us to understand how the world in fact is. So: why does shifting
the way that one assesses one's own beliefs free one from delusion? If
one is deluded, then denying that one is deluded doesn't serve to make
one less deluded. Or am I deluded?

> So when people like Curt say "One is not qualified to write liturgy
> unless one is enlightened," then I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
> I'm not sure there is much difference between laughing and crying; they
> are both responses to tragedy. 

Curt's view isn't that of any school of Indian Buddhism I know. The
view I've encountered most often is that one needn't be a Buddha to
speak as a Buddha does. One finds this view in both Paali texts
(several instances are preserved in the nikaayas in which the Buddha
gives his full approval to a teacher who has taught the dharma just as
he would have taught it if asked), and in Mahaayaana materials as well
(cf. the Da'sabhuumikasuutra, which portrays the capacities of the
Buddhist preacher (dharmabhaa.naka) as capacities acquired on the
ninth bodhisattva level, somewhat short of full Buddhahood).

>It is tragic to think that ordinary
> people like Curt and me are incapable of doing something so worthwhile
> as to help ourselves get beyond the delusion that the way we now think
> is delusional.

Perhaps you don't have reason to worry: if the Indian tradition is
right, Curt's delusional on this point.

Best wishes,

R. Nance

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