Is Delusion Not Enlightenment?

The principle of non-dualism plays a big role in Zen Buddhism. Our human tendency is to see things dualistically, to divide things into parts that never come together. And the practice of Zen, like many other spiritual traditions, helps us to break through this destructive pattern. The most basic form of dualism is to separate self from other, and that implies that there is a substantial self, a substantial other, and a substantial gap between the two. According to the Buddha, this topsy-turvy view is the source of all suffering.

Buddhist teaching is primarily remedial, and many old masters articulate the non-dual nature of our life. They exclaim that there is essentially no difference between sentient beings and Buddhas, and even that delusion is enlightenment. Unfortunately, these statements are sometimes used dualistically, as if they were articles of faith, and this perpetuates the problem. If we get attached to “delusion is enlightenment”, we can forget that delusion is also not enlightenment

A master once said that the only difference between Buddhas and sentient beings is that sentient beings believe there is a difference. And however much Buddha we are, we also happen to be sentient beings this time round, so it is definitely a good idea to be aware of both sides. In fact, cultivating this awareness is our primary inspiration for practice.

Maybe that’s why Maezumi Roshi used to say “I’d rather be deluded.”

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