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Streams of Ignorance

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"The very admission 'I am ignorant' is the dawn of knowledge. An ignorant man is ignorant of his ignorance. ... To know that you do not know and do not understand is true knowledge, the knowledge of a humble heart."

- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

To address the ignorance in us takes courage and time. To address the ignorance in others without addressing our own takes, well, ignorance, but also time. If we are to spend our time wisely, wouldn’t it make sense to spend it courageously, rather than ignorantly?

How can we expect to understand the problems afflicting the outside world if we don’t understand the issues populating our own inner landscapes? If we think we have no ignorance, that thought is most likely proof of our ignorance. Ignorance is the absence of clear understanding. When we investigate our perceptions of ourselves and the outside world, we always find things we don’t understand clearly—which is not necessarily a problem in itself. A problem arises when we try to convince ourselves or others that we have a clear understanding of a matter, without taking the time to understand the matter clearly, or for that matter—understanding the person doing the understanding (by that I mean us).

Without understanding the environment within us, how could we expect to understand the environment outside of us? When we put in the effort to conduct our internal investigations, we see that people are not solely to blame for their ignorance; it is the ignorantly fueled wrong perceptions forming the basis for their thoughts, words, and actions that we should hold most accountable. But to seek such justifications, we must become aware of the ignorantly fueled perceptions populating our own hearts and minds. It’s like trying to see the stars through a dirty telescope lens. The lens is us, and the stars are others. We need to take a gentle cloth and tend to the lens before we can expect to see the outer world clearly.

Only when we go inward and study our own perceptions can we gain a clearer understanding of others and recognize how our perceptions and ignorance are more to blame for wrong actions than the people who fell under their spell. Because when we understand the nature of our perceptions, we see the many causes and conditions that must be for any of our perceptions to come to be. Therefore, we can never say that we are the sole proprietors of our perceptions—we are just the most recent condition to a long stream of causes and conditions. We should focus more on damming the streams of ignorance that are allowing such wrong perceptions to continue flowing through our world, rather than put all the blame on the people who unwittingly find themselves swept up by them.


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