The intricacies of ignorance | Daily News


The intricacies of ignorance

There are many layers to self-deception. The more you practice and investigate things, the less you feel like claiming to know. Instead, you'll simply see the harm of your own many-faceted ignorance and foolishness. Your examination of the viruses in the mind gets more and more subtle. Before, you didn't know, so you took your views to be knowledge — because you thought you knew. But actually these things aren't real knowledge. They're the type of understanding that comes from labels. Still we think they're knowledge and we think we know. This in itself is a very intricate self-deception.

So you have to keep watch on these things, to keep contemplating them. Sometimes they fool us right before our eyes: That's when it really gets bad, because we don't know that we've got ourselves fooled, and instead think we're people who know. We can deal thoroughly with this or that topic, but our knowledge is simply the memory of labels. We think that labels are discernment, or thought-formations are discernment, or the awareness of sensory consciousness is discernment, and so we get these things all mixed up.

As a result, we become enamored with all the bits of knowledge that slip in and fashion the mind — which are simply the illusions within awareness. As for genuine awareness, there's very little of it, while deceptive awareness has us surrounded on all sides.


We thus have to contemplate and investigate so as to see through these illusions in awareness. This is what will enable us to read the mind. If your awareness goes out, don't follow it out. Stop and turn inward instead. Whatever slips in to fashion the mind, you have to be wise to it. You can't forbid it, for it's something natural, and you shouldn't try to close off the mind too much. Simply keep watch on awareness to see how far it will go, how true or false it is, how it disbands and then arises again. You have to watch it over and over again. Simply watching in this way will enable you to read yourself, to know cause and effect within yourself, and to contemplate yourself. This is what will make your mindfulness and discernment more and more skillful. If you don't practice in this way, the mind will be dark. It may get a little empty, a little still, and you'll decide that's plenty good enough.

But if you look at the Buddha's teachings, you'll find that no matter what sort of correct knowledge he gained, he was never willing to stop there. He always said, "There's more." To begin with, he developed mindfulness and clear comprehension in every activity, but then he said, "There's more to do, further to go." As for us, we're always ready to brag. We work at developing this or that factor for a while and then say we already know all about it and don't have to develop it any further. As a result, the principles in our awareness go soft because of our boastfulness and pride.

To open the door so that you can really see inside yourself isn't easy, but it's something you can train yourself to do. If you have the mindfulness enabling you to read yourself and understand yourself, that cuts through a lot of the issues right there. Craving will have a hard time forming. In whatever guise it arises, you'll get to read it, to know it, to extinguish it, to let it go.

When you get to do these things, it doesn't mean that you "get" anything, for actually once the mind is empty, that means it doesn't gain anything at all. But to put it into words for those who haven't experienced it: In what ways is emptiness empty? Does it mean that everything disappears or is annihilated? Actually, you should know that emptiness doesn't mean that the mind is annihilated. All that's annihilated is clinging and attachment. What you have to do is to see what emptiness is like as it actually appears and then not latch onto it. The nature of this emptiness is that it's deathless within you — this emptiness of self — and yet the mind can still function, know, and read itself. Just don't label it or latch onto it, that's all.


There are many levels to emptiness, many types, but if it's this or that type, then it's not genuine emptiness, for it contains the intention trying to know what type of emptiness it is, what features it has. This is something you have to look into deeply if you really want to know. If it's superficial emptiness — the emptiness of the still mind, free from thought-formations about its objects or free from the external sense of self — that's not genuine emptiness. Genuine emptiness lies deep, not on the level of mere stillness or concentration. The emptiness of the void is something very profound.

But because of the things we've studied and heard, we tend to label the emptiness of the still mind as the void — and so we label things wrongly in that emptiness... Actually it's just ordinary stillness. We have to look more deeply in. No matter what you've encountered that you've heard about before, don't get excited. Don't label it as this or that level of attainment. Otherwise you'll spoil everything. You reach the level where you should be able to keep your awareness steady, but once you label things, it stops right there — or else goes all out of control.

This labeling is attachment in action. It's something very subtle, very refined. Whatever appears, it latches on. So you simply have to let the mind be empty without labeling it as anything, for the emptiness that lets go of preoccupations or is free from the influence of thought-formations is something you have to look further into. Don't label it as this or that level, for to measure and compare things in this way blocks everything — and in particular, knowledge of how the mind changes.

So to start out, simply watch these things, simply be aware. If you get excited, it ruins everything. Instead of seeing things clear through, you don't. You stop there and don't go any further. For this reason, when you train the mind or contemplate the mind to the point of gaining clear realizations every now and then, regard them as simply things to observe. 

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