From the Faculty: Pilar Jennings

The contemplative traditions are relatively unanimous on the status of “illusion” as an obstacle to contemplative insight. What is the source of illusion, insofar as you understand it?

In the spiritual terrain, this is a key question.  And as you might imagine, in the psychological one, too. As a Buddhist psychoanalyst, I appreciate the critical importance of exploring the role of illusion as a way to both facilitate and potentially run from healing.  In religious life – regardless of the tradition – we intentionally cultivate relationship to feelings, sensations, and beliefs that cannot be proven. There’s no testable data to confirm the presence of a Buddha, or awakened being, angels or God. We use our minds, and our capacity for imagination, alongside strong affect and associations to cultivate a felt sense of being surrounded by caring entities, however you configure them.  This is a long way of saying that the source of illusion is the mind. It may also, depending on the nature of the illusion, originate in the brain.  For instance, optical illusions result from the brain’s misinterpretation of what the eye perceives.  But in religious life, our illusory experience is generated through our mind’s capacity for imagination and meaningful symbolic representations.

This is Member-Only Content

To access all member-only content, choose a subscription plan.