What is ignorance?

In Buddhism, we always talk about the 3 afflictions. Craving, hatred and ignorance are responsible for all the sufferings in the world. What is ignorance? Let us explore ignorance in a simple manner.

Ignorance of pain

Are we aware of our mental stress and emotional pain? What about worries and fears? Or that nagging dissatisfaction? Some of us fear losing our happy situations in life. For example, marriage or romance, career, wealth, etc. Some of us experience sadness but do not know why. Some of us want to be loved or be appreciated. Pain is not a big word. It includes every single discomfort that we experience.

Most of us live with such affliction by ignoring it. We train ourselves to be oblivious about our mental pain, and in that manner, we become ignorant of it. It is like living with a bit of physical discomfort without going for a health checkup. That minor discomfort can actually be something more serious than we thought.

As long as we are ignorant of our mental situations, we will not seek a cure proactively. Therefore, ignorance is a cause of suffering.

Ignorance of causes

After knowing there is something troubling our minds, we may not be able to pinpoint the cause of it. This mean, we suffer in silence or in despair. There seems to be no cure for it. Buddhism teaches that likes and dislikes drive all emotional outbreaks. Being ignorant of this means that we continue to miss the point. Put simply, we do not know how to manage ourselves. Therefore, ignorance causes suffering.

Ignorant of karma

Our thoughts direct our speech and actions. When we do it repeatedly, it becomes habitual. Habitual tendencies will affect our future rebirth. The situations that we are born into are a result of our past karma. How we continue to habitually react in this life will affect our next one.

Being ignorant of this will cause us to tumble from one life to the next helplessly. Therefore, ignorance creates suffering.

Ignorance of non self

We think there is a unique presence in our bodies because we experience life. That causes an ego. In that manner, we establish “I” versus “others”. We like people who are similar to ourselves and we group with them. We detest others who are unlike us and try to avoid them. When avoidance is not possible, some of us try to drive others away or make them similar to us. In that manner, we create strife and suffering,

Buddhism teaches that that sense of self is nothing but mistaken identity. Ignorance of that creates suffering.

Ignorant that there is an end to suffering

All the above imperfections of existence can be ended. There is another state of being which is completely free of suffering. Being ignorant of it means we do not how to seek or what to seek. In short, not many people know about the good news of Nirvana. This ignorant is a cause of suffering too.

Ignorant of the method that leads to the end of pain

Last but not least, not knowing how to end suffering causes us to continue suffering. For example, we know that “wanting” something badly and not getting it is suffering. But how can we stop ourselves from wanting? Without the skills to stop, we continue to suffer. Therefore, knowing the way to end suffering is not just theoretical knowledge. Being able to memorise all the Buddhist scriptures is still not enough. We need to actualize them. Thus, ignorance of the method means we cannot end suffering.

May all be well and happy.

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