How do delusions arise and what is the best way to tackle them?

Hey Everyone,

I was wondering if there existed within the Suttas a progression of sorts about where delusions come from and how to tackle this. From my own understanding i have summarised it as Ignorance > Meaning > Narrative > Delusion i.e. From our lack of understanding we derive flawed meaning which we build into narrative interpretations of existence and based on that we hold views that are flawed and perpetuate unskillful behaivour.

Thanks for any input

Delusion comes from wrong view (which is identity view) and conceit (I-making).

Samma ditthi sutta says that there is unwholesomeness and the root of unwholesomeness. Unwholesomeness is breaking the 5 precepts, the root of unwholesomeness is the 3 poisons: greed, hatred, delusion.

The great forty sutta says that Supermundane right view is dhamma-vicaya which usually just means being aware of the 5 hindrances vs 7 factors of awakening.

There are many suttas that say that a sotapanna has dropped the first 3 fetters (mainly identity view) and knows and sees dependent origination and dependent origination phenomena (aka 3 characteristics).

MN2 says proper attention fuels the 7 factors of awakening and starves the 5 hindrances, and this is done by focusing on the drawbacks (which is also called the 3 characteristics and Dependently Originated phenomena).

So to sum it all up, unwholesomeness is a result of improper attention which fuels the 3 poisons which happen because one is ignorant and has never heard the true dhamma thus they fall into a web of wrong views which only further fuel the 3 poisons.

When one hears the true dhamma, then dependent origination replaces identity view, one sees no-self, which with proper attention on focusing on the drawbacks (which includes no-self) one fuels the 7 factors of awakening and starves the 5 hindrances, thus putting an end to unwholesomeness and eventually uprooting the root of unwholesomeness which is the 3 poisons.


thanks for the quick response!

if i can make an observation you only listed indirect ways of handling delusion. i know we have metta for hatred and generosity for greed - is there no comparable tool for delusions? or am i missing something

Delusion is the basis for hatred and greed. Any sutta which deals with severing the fetters is addressing delusion, as ignorance is the final fetter. The fetters describe the systematic removal of ignorance. It’s a gradual process:

"“And what are the ideas fit for attention that he does not attend to? Whatever ideas such that, when he attends to them, the unarisen fermentation of sensuality does not arise in him, and the arisen fermentation of sensuality is abandoned; the unarisen fermentation of becoming does not arise in him, and arisen fermentation of becoming is abandoned; the unarisen fermentation of ignorance does not arise in him, and the arisen fermentation of ignorance is abandoned.”— Majhima Nikaya 2

Correct. The sequence is views> thoughts> perceptions. So changing views by investigation, removal, and cultivation is the source process:

“As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.” etc.—Majhima Nikaya 19

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Right view, which one arrives at by contemplating the dhamma and seeing dependent origination

“Mendicants, it’s totally impossible that a mendicant who enjoys company and groups, who loves them and likes to enjoy them, should take pleasure in being alone in seclusion. Without taking pleasure in being alone in seclusion, it’s impossible to learn the patterns of the mind. Without learning the patterns of the mind, it’s impossible to fulfill right view. Without fulfilling right view, it’s impossible to fulfill right immersion. Without fulfilling right immersion, it’s impossible to give up the fetters. Without giving up the fetters, it’s impossible to realize extinguishment.

AN 6.68

Actually without attaining right view you can’t actually give up hatred and greed, no matter how generous or loving you are.

The sense of self (identity) causes craving which maintains that self of sense. It’s recursive and the cycle must be interrupted.

So even if you donate all your wealth, if it is done through improper attention and a sense of self, it is still done out of craving.

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I know this isn’t the focus of the thread, but may I ask if ignorance should be included in delusion too? I mean, is delusion = identity-view + conceit + ignorance (lack of knowledge of the four noble truths)? Or is it just identity-view+conceit?

According to Samma Ditthi sutta

Anusaya (3 poisons/underlying tendencies) → Asavas (taints/defilement) → Ignorance

Ignorance originates from defilement. Ignorance ceases when defilement ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of ignorance is simply this noble eightfold path …”

So the 3 poisons precede ignorance, which makes sense because in other suttas it says the cause of ignorance is the 5 hindrances…

but… there is a paradox… the cause of 5 hindrances is improper attention, which is caused by not hearing the true dhamma, which is ignorance which is caused by 5 hindrances/3 poisons. So again, this is another part of the suttas where there is recursion. Still, as far as I know, ignorance is classified as an asava not as an anusaya.

There are these three defilements. Tayome, āvuso, āsavā— The defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. kāmāsavo, bhavāsavo, avijjāsavo.

edit: thinking about it again, there may not be a recursion here, it could just be that the root of ignorance is not hearing the true dhamma and that’s final. Not hearing true dhamma → improper attention → 5 hindrances/3 poisons → ignorance. So when the suttas say that ignorance is not hearing the 4 noble truths, they may just be skipping the parts between not hearing true dhamma and Ignorance in order to keep it brief. Still, ignorance = asava and 3 poisons = anusaya.

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