Getting advice from a guru seems like a blessing, but it might make you angry to learn that you are unhappy because of your own ignorance. If you look up ignorance in the dictionary, you’ll see other words such as blockhead, dunce, or numbskull. Although it sounds like a complete insult to be called ignorant, in the context of spirituality, there is some truth to it.
Avidya, the Sanskrit word for ignorance, is one of the 5 kleshas, otherwise known as obstacles to enlightenment. Avidya is believed to be the root of all suffering because it squelches any chance of having an open mind. Those whose minds are closed are those who are likely to stay stuck in the rut of conformity within the world around them, and that is a painful way to live life.
It seems as if everywhere we look there are ads trying to mold our thoughts into believing we should be good little consumers who dress, think, and act alike. When all we see are suggestions of what to wear, what to drive, and what to buy next, our view of the big picture becomes very limited.
The Buddha once said, "Don't blindly believe what I say. Don't believe me because others convince you of my words. Don't believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don't rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don't infer or be deceived by appearances."
Knowledge is crucial. It's paramount to releasing the chains of ignorance, but believing everything we are told is a horrible trap. We must question, test, and try out concepts and constructs before we claim them to be right. And even that is not enough.
The Buddha also said, “Know all things to be like this: As a magician makes illusions of horses, oxen carts and other things, nothing is as it appears.”
If the world is but and illusion and nothing is real, how are we supposed to escape the perils of Avidya?
It's not a question of right or wrong, true or false, real or unreal. It's about knowing who we are. According to Vedanta philosophy, far beyond the layers of our physical exterior, deeper than what we think, and more substantial than how we feel, lies an absolute truth.
This realization is shrouded by the ego’s desire to conform to common beliefs about how things should be, based on how the world appears on the outside through the eyes of Avidya.
Back in the day before Internet, television evangelists, and self-help books, there lived a group of spiritual seekers who sat in the forest for years and years, searching for the answers to the mysteries of the universe. How did they gain knowledge? They inquired within.
Today’s world offers a challenge to those seeking enlightenment. On one hand, information we need to learn, grow, and advance is readily available to us. On the other hand, we are constantly being bombarded by narrow-minded bullsh*t.
Perhaps Bob Marley said it best when he said, “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you are riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake up and live!”
Life is good, and an informed life is even better. Our obsession with knowledge is what makes us so tragically human. The problem arises when we forget, or worse, close off our minds to who we are at the core. We will never truly understand unless we ask ourselves to withdraw from all that we think we know, and take a solo dive into the place called self. I suspect it might take a lifetime, so we better get busy.