The Four Illusions of We Ordinary People

While we can clearly see things of concern to our interests and advantages, which we see with our sensory eyes, we cannot do the same for spiritual matters and things that are truly important. That way of seeing things is a subjective inversion, like falling into the world of the four illusions.


Although we hear the name of the Buddha, we do not inquire about His holy teachings. We do not read the sutras, which He has left us, although we see them. We do not become a believer, although we see a priest, who should introduce these to us, and we do not believe in morality. It is because of this that filial obedience, which is the starting point for these, is not practiced and there is no respect for parents. This is indeed the karma that causes the four reversals.


The four illusions are jo (eternity), raku (bliss), ga (self) and jo (purity). What do these mean? When we see things with our eyes, which are caught up by our senses, we think that things, which are not truly eternal, are eternal; things, which are not true happiness, are bliss; things, which are not truly our self, are thought of as being our self, and things, which are not true purity, seem pure. These four reversals cause the lives of all of us to err and make us have thoughts that lead to our destruction.


I will explain in detail about the four illusions. There is first jo (eternity). The most extreme form of this illusion is that while it is determined that human beings will die, we think that we will not die today or tomorrow. While we logically know that human beings die, we do not think that we will die today or tomorrow. Even when attending a funeral, we might think about death at that time, but a while later, we think that we are fine and that our family is the same.


This is followed by the fact that young people think that they are forever young and energetic. We think that even our status, reputation and fame will always continue. This is true for our fortune as well. We think that it will always be ours.


We must know that this is an illusion that arises from the earthly desires and ignorance. To take notice of this is the first step to enter faith.


Raku (bliss), which follows, is to think that bliss is to bring pleasure to our body and satisfy our desires, exactly as commanded by our earthly desires. We are thinking that happiness is good food and drink and various amusements. These, however, are temporary ease, and they do not last forever. With liquor too, even with good liquor and pleasure seeking, after one week of constantly doing so, one will grow weary. It will no longer be fun. And what later awaits us is suffering. This is particularly a problem when that pleasure had not been received through one’s own ability and labor. A moment of enjoyment gives birth to eternal hardship. Bliss is the seed of suffering. This is true for the human being himself. As is stated in the Nirvana Sutra, what comes to the proper and handsome self with magnificent embellishments are the older sister (bliss), who gives gold, silver and so forth, and the younger sister (suffering), who is ugly with torn and soiled clothes, with festering sores. They have never separated, and suffering and bliss accompany one another to the extent that we feel it will always be that way.


From olden times we were told to experience suffering when young. That was to teach us that if we experienced pleasures when young and enjoyed ourselves, we will suffer when old. This is especially true for sensual pleasures, which are not true happiness, and we must be ready for the sufferings that will surely later appear.


The next is ga (self). While it would be wonderful if we could acquire the awareness of being children of the Buddha and the possessors of eternal life, even if we understand this conceptually, we do not experience this in our actual lives.


We think that the small self, the physical body alone is our self. We do not know that the trueheartedness within our mind is our self.


This is also being taught in the sutras. There was a man who was staying in a vacant small house while on his errand. At that moment an ogre carried a corpse into the house. Next, another ogre followed right after, and entered the house. “The corpse is mine!” “No! It belongs to me!” And they began to quarrel over the corpse.


A settlement could not be reached. The ogres asked the man about who had carried the corpse. Even if he said the truth, and no matter which side he supported, death was inescapable. If he said the first ogre had carried the corpse, the second ogre would be angered, and the same would happen if he said the second ogre had carried the corpse. At each questioning the man’s hands and legs were plucked off and exchanged with the limbs of the corpse. And finally, his body had been completely exchanged with the body of the corpse. His original body was installed as the body of the corpse and consumed by the ogres. The man agonized about what in the world he had now become.


This physical body is perhaps a temporary existence. Since it is truly undependable, the existence called a human being, oneself (ego) has the same nature as the Buddha, namely, trueheartedness. Unless we can acquire the awareness of possessing eternal life, there is no true spiritual peace for us, and we must realize that it is here that the preciousness of a human being is found. The final illusion jo (purity) is the fact that the truly beautiful and pure, when seen from our senses that are caught up with our earthly desires, do not seem that way. The illusion jo tells us that the superficial beauty, which decorates the surface, seems to be pure. We ordinary people are prone to decide on purity and the unclean from what has appeared on the surface. Through the mind of a person, there is a difference of pure and unsightly for a pockmark and also a dimple.


When we go before people, we wash our face and adjust our clothes, but we are not concerned about doing so without washing our mind. Forgetting about correcting our mind but frequently visiting the plastic surgeon is the state of we ordinary people.


The above is a summary of the four illusions. We ordinary people, each one of us, are afflicted by this illness of the mind, and we have ceased to see the compassion of the Buddha and the true image of human beings.


In order that we do not give rise to these mistaken views, the Buddha gives us the four teachings that human life is impermanent, suffering, nonexistence of a permanent self, and emptiness (relativity), which are the opposite of jo (eternity), raku (bliss), ga (self), jo (purity) of ordinary people.


This, however, is not the conclusion of Buddhism. To the utmost degree it is a lesson that is taught to us to arrange our mind of mistaken views, wipe away the clouds on the mind’s mirror, and clearly know the Buddha, His teachings and the true image of human beings.



Compiled by Rev. Takamasa Yamamura.

Translated by Dean Makinodan.