Matija Poppy
Matija Poppy

What is Ignorance?

A question from a reader:

Eric, I have a question for you… if you have time. The question is, within nonduality, how would you BEST describe 
the concept of IGNORANCE. 
Thanks…. Hope all is well


The first inquiry is: why ask about ignorance in the first place? 

As a practical matter, the topic comes up – assuming it’s not just worrying over words and concepts – because “there is suffering” as a Buddha said. Happy children running around playing don’t normally sit around asking about spiritual ignorance. 

Interestingly, the question is phrased as the “concept of ignorance”, not about ignorance itself. It didn’t ask, “What is ignorance?” or “What is the nature of Ignorance?” 

I’ve only used the word “ignorance” in the past because it’s used in the field of spirituality and non-duality. And, offering the Sanskrit origin of its use in spirituality, is handy, because that’s how it came into non-duality, via Hinduism and Buddhism. That is the concept of “avidya“. 

No Need To Worship the AI Gods Yet

Being that this here is duality, this place – where we’re having this conversation –  avidya has an opposite, namely: vidya, meaning “knowledge”. Implied in this use of the word “knowledge” is that it requires understanding, not just information. It is not mere learning in the usual sense. It is not repetition. Saying “I am pure consciousness” ten thousand times, and reading a hundred thousand books of nondual wisdom, does not give an entity understanding. It is not computerized knowledge, derived from memory, mechanism, and blind action. If that were real understanding and wisdom, then an AI programmed to absorb all textual and sound information about non-duality and wisdom teachings from around the world would be our ultimate sage. Such is not the case. A machine has zero understanding. 

Implied in the Sanskrit use of vidya is not just any kind of understanding, but understanding of the Self, with a capital “s”. However, we usually have a hard time with the capital “s” type self in the West. How does one differentiate self-ish-ness, and higher forms of self-centeredness potentially, as seekers seek a higher, more spiritualized version of themselves? Especially, given this is the orientation of the whole culture, and the modern world, not just the brute condition of the man on the street identifying with the body. Western culture, with it’s basis in the European enlightenment, science and technology, and the rejection or at least separation of Religion into it’s own department (useful for democracies)  is one that presumes objectivity, a footing that presumes the existence of independent material entities, and the use of reason and evidence, beyond mystical revelation, as the basis of knowledge.

The Good Ol’ Small Self

One of these entities is a self, the person (in law, as well as popular culture): a self with a future, a past, responsibility, individual separate doership, and most crucially, a fragile foundation.  Such seeming fragility of existence, and the threat of absolute disappearance,  necessitates this entity having perpetual defense and maintenance, not to mention general improvement, always. But in spirituality, some redemption would appear to be on the offer. The future looks bright…

As I keep saying, non-duality is not spiritual: it’s merely a description of reality. It’s not a path or method, and in fact tends to undermine religion, despite religion’s origin within, from a heart of mystical insight and revelation. Spirituality too derives from non-duality, as Source. Come to think of it, what doesn’t derive from The Source? (You see how ridiculous it is to try and put such things into words?). 

Non-duality as a Topic

Non-duality as a topic – something that is about something – is usually placed alongside other topics in the “Self Help” section of a bookstore, along with books on how to set and meet goals, find your purpose, live a passionate life, do mindfulness training, etc. It would likely be placed near the psychology section, which is sometimes combined with self-help: “Psychology & Self Help”… If called “Advaita vedanta”, it would be placed in the Religion section. Or, it could possibly be placed in the Philosophy section, depending on how the title and description were worded, and how serious it looks. 

Damn, Words Again

How the hell are we even going to communicate – something that seemingly challenges our very purpose, hope for a future, and basis for action – to this supposed self entity? It’s going to be caught and either deflected, or used to build and maintain the self project. Another self-help program. Become one with the Oneness, don’t be dualistic and ignorant. Feel a higher purpose: non-dual realization, Self Realization. That should keep you busy for lifetimes. 

A sense of self is not going to give up it’s sense of self, such as via surrender, because that would be more self, to do that: “self can’t get out of self”. 

How can we communicate such a seemingly difficult and mind-bending, reality-challenging subject, which reaches into the heart of our view of the world and reality, which is partly programmed by language – unless we fuck around with words and language? That re-definition of words gets us in a mess too… In any case, onward we forge, artfully using words … but the “self can’t get out of self” issue seems to be an insurmountable barrier. Checkmate. 

I would suggest, as far as the concept of ignorance, that the only thing that matters really, is how a tool is used. That’s what defines its tool-ness, so to speak: in this case, the language tool. The sound, and what the sound does to seeming minds, to an experience… might be useful. It might not. So would going to satsang. 

The truth is though, nothing matters – what you do or don’t do, what teachers you visit, and what they do or not. All the cards are being played all by themselves, all the time, without knowing it, since you are the cards. If you see that, get a sense of it, nice things happen, or not. But it’s not up to you. Freedom happens, harmony happens, joy happens, love happens, a batting average of things not mattering so much goes up… 

Dr. Ignorance, I Presume? 

It’s good, in a way, that the question is not asking about ignorance itself, as if it exists, or presuming it exists. For who? We’re one step ahead of the game in that sense. Because, in a sense, assuming ignorance exists is in itself ignorance. 

If you think “oh my gosh, I’m in ignorance” that can be ignorance, depending on where it came from. If you see the mental pretzel though, you are the awareness of the pretzel, and not the pretzel.

A funny thing, that.

Oh No! I lost It! 

You may be familiar with the common question heard from students of nonduality, who having had a great non-dual awareness experience. They felt so wonderfully conscious and clear… then, oh dear, something happened. They now are bemoaning this apparent fact, saying “I lost it! What happened?! And this keeps happening – I keep falling into ignorance! Teacher, what do I do?!”

And the teacher gently reminds them, one way or another, that they cannot lose something they already were and are; that they are in fact the gold from which the gold ring is made. In this case, a gold ring shaped like a pretzel – or like ignorance – is still gold. Imagine that. You got richer by reaching into you own pocket. 

Neo-Advaita, and All That Jazz

Instantaneous Enlightenment, or Gradual? Please press button One or Two below.

And critical teachers and students of non-duality will try and point out that there are methods, paths, and transmissions, and don’t be so stupid to fall for “Neo-Advaita”. Yet those same teachers will be called “Neo Advaita” by some other practitioner of spiritual wares, claiming his brand is the real, authentic deal, derived from the (even more) ancient, traditional, valid teachings of Advaita, such as Adi Shankara, and distilled on a mountaintop in the himalayas…

Well, very good. If it works for you, it works. But don’t call the salesman that doesn’t have a shoe you want a charlatan for not making you happy. That’s up to you. You and your comfortable blind spots.

Despite apparent evidence to the contrary, you are what you are regardless of conditions, appearances, and events. The evidence it can be lost, but not the treasure.

But who is in bondage

and who is free?

Certainly not

me me me…

– A little song for you.

That stubborn little ‘me’….

Ignorance in General Only, Really

The concept of ignorance can be useful to describe a general condition within the unified field of consciousness, as it is manifested in the apparent world of phenomena. The duality of the world can be dismissed as ignorance, not in a smug and dismissive way, but simply observing. Duality it is still seen, when needed. It can be quite entertaining actually. And some would argue there is a secret joy, a fun in our own suffering, and in observing the suffering of others, whether we admit it or not. We enjoy the news – the advertisers depend on that, frankly…  Strange that. Jiddu Krishnamurti had a harsh view of this sick species, the human race, and how it seems to relish violence. Was he giving too much reality to the movie? You decide. 

And of course, the word “ignorance” can also have judgmental connotations. An alternative, as far as a single word, would be nice… any suggestions out there? 

Knowledge, Again 

Vidya obviously has nothing to do with relative knowledge either, which is how the word “ignorance” is commonly used:  “I was ignorant of the fact my car’s fuel pump was not working, and filled it with gas, thinking it would fix it.” or “The protesters were ignorant of the lies about the issue they were supporting in their activism.” etc.

Nor does it have to do with stupidity – relative minimal native brain intelligence – since one can be extremely stupid and have little or no ignorance. My dog friend for example, is wiser than most people, having a kind of simple common sense, even though he’s a dumb brute. I prefer a kind of informal definition of ignorance as “ignoring one’s True Nature”. In action terms, this ignorance is being more interested in what’s not the case in the Now, or what’s not happening, than in reality. 

In action terms, this ignorance is being more interested in what’s not the case in the Now, or what’s not happening, than in What Is. 


Does Ignorance Really Exist?

There’s a real sense in which ignorance doesn’t really exist. Or as soon as it seen, it no longer exists. It’s kind of like Self-blindness – it is like a blind spot in universal awareness (the only kind there is). 

So then people ask, why does it exist? Why would Consciousness or God create ignorance – it doesn’t make any sense.  
Or it can be put in the form, “why does suffering exist? God must be very cruel”. Good questions to inquire on.

It’s akin to the question “why does duality exist?” – which is a pretty funny question, when you think about it. Ignorance is baked into the world-experience from the get-go. Perhaps God was bored. Or lonely. 

Suffice it to say that there’s some justification for suggesting that so-called Pure Consciousness (Pure Mind in Buddhism) is really the only thing that exists. “So called” because, compared to what? But to actually see that or know it at a deep level, is different from believing it or repeating it. 

I would kindly suggest, rather than focusing on ignorance, focus on understanding. And instead of worrying about all the ignorance out there – and there is practically an infinite supply – rather than seeing the ignore-ing of your neighbors, look at the plank in one’s own eye.

Blind Spots Are Blind 

It’s easy to see the blind spots in others. But can you see the blind spots in yourself? If they were visible, it wouldn’t be a blind spot. It’s an interesting seeming quandary:

How do I know I have a blind spot if I can’t see it? Oh dear, I could be acting like, thinking like a big asshole, and not even know it. I could be studying and practicing spirituality, and non-duality, and instead of it softening and freeing up one’s being to be more loving, it’s just becomes tiresome, the final journey of the sense of separation, the false self, now spiritualized, trying hard – to be better and maintain that better-than-others, better than one’s bad past self, better better better – another addiction – covering over the underlying doubt.

Liberation from Ignore-ance

There’s nothing a seeming separate self can do. It doesn’t really exist. That is the resolution of the concept of ignorance. Once it is no longer needed, if forgotten, dropped as a tool that has outlived its usefulness, one is liberated from the need to be liberated. The play of illusion is seen for what it is, and life is experienced ever anew.

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Eric Platt

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