My last post examined attachment as a root of suffering. This post examines the role of ignorance, the second of three roots of suffering in the Buddhist philosophy. This concept is simple when explained in 21st century terms.
First, the dictionary definition of ignorance is “a lack of information or knowledge”. But the ignorance involved in suffering is more a “lack of awareness”– of the subtle truths involved in our human condition. In a word: Un-mindfulness!
Through meditation we practice mindful awareness of these less obvious truths; with awareness we discover subtle sensations of the body that occur unconsciously. For example, if we focus on breathing we can bring previously unconscious sensations into consciousness, becoming aware of the subtle sensation of the belly and chest rising and falling, the delicate cooling sensation of air passing through our nose and throat.
These always-occurring sensations are only obscured from our consciousness by our lack of awareness, or ignorance. We have relegated them to our unconscious, thinking they aren’t important. By employing the conscious mind to change breathing we penetrate our ignorance of the sensations of breathing. Doing so, we have transcended unconscious breathing, expanded our consciousness. Wow!
Each practice increasingly develops the faculty of concentration. Moving deliberately between unconscious to conscious compartments of the mind is like navigating to a complicated new destination; it gets easier with practice. Because ignorance, wilful blindness of self, is “hidden” in the unconscious, having a direct route to the source is essential for its removal.
Progressing if we wish, we become less ignorant, and more aware of the of subtle sensations in the body and their powerful unconscious connections to the mind. Though tiny, this is a potent step for removing ignorance. Discovering and believing what’s true about ourselves is always emerging from ignorance
Meditation now becomes a consciousness expanding activity instead of entertainment or a relaxing timeout. We only need to just give it a chance to make a difference.
With practice we can detect and reject snap reactions rooted in previously ignored and conditioned prejudices, opinions, beliefs and self-protection strategies. We choose to reformulate, forming responses mindful of today’s conditions instead of reacting blindly from unconscious habit.