Knowledgeable Ignorance

Going To All the Wrong Places

I am not complaining, I merely state an observation: most people are knowledgeably ignorant. The pseudo-spiritual say that in order to understand reality “you have to go inside” but they never tell you inside of what. I’m already inside my office so where else is there to go? Well, maybe to the bathroom after I finish this cup of coffee.

Shades of the pop culture “New Age Gurus”, who teach people to keep telling us to go inside ourselves. Students and well meaning “spiritual people [whatever the hell that means], shout “Go inside yourself and you will find all your answers”. You can hear them militantly shouting from the highest rooftops [in Chicago that would be Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower].

If you don’t understand what is inside and what is outside then you go to all the wrong places.

What or where is “inside” exactly? Is it your body? Your body accumulated over years of time. What is accumulated can be said to be yours, I suppose, but it cannot be you. So, if you are “going inside” the inside cannot be your body.  Is inside your mind? The whole content of your mind is accumulated over time depending on what you have been exposed to in your life. Let’s call this past karma. This means your body is no more than a heap of food, small heap or large one [rather large in my case]. Your mind is a heap of impressions, again small or large. Between these two heaps where the hell am I? They don’t tell me. Why don’t they tell me? It is because they don’t know.

We ought to leave the words “inside” and “outside” behind. When it comes to language there is only a little wiggle room. Words mean different things to different people. For example, to some people congress is a legislative body; to me, since “con” is the opposite of “pro” then “congress” must be the opposite of “progress”. We don’t know in what context the New Age gurus are using the words “inside” or “outside’, “within” or “without”.

These people who consider themselves spiritual types, at least the ones I have experienced, like to say things like “everybody knows you need to go inside”. They put everybody into a bundle and claim “they need” or “they said” or “they know” or “they are…”. I have to wonder who these “they[s]” are.

Wise people look at other people around them and employ a variety of methods finding those that are best suited for the people they wish to help. We call this upaya or “expedient means”. You do this if you are genuine. If you are genuine you don’t work with concepts you found somewhere. You work with people. Sometimes the popular New Age gurus are very genuine sometimes they aren’t. Many of their followers have learned inauthenticity. They are not speaking about your or my inwardness or outwardness or even you or me but a generic inward and outward and a generic “you”. So they should have determined what is inward and what is outward.

Everything is outward right now. The world is outward, so is the body of external materiality, and all the material in the mind is also external. So what is the “inward” they are talking about? Usually they will immediately say “spirit” or “soul”. Now we have entered a belief system of concepts. Why? It is because they don’t know what is inside and what is outside. They are merely repeating words that have pleasant connotations to them — connotations but no real definitions.

We know that we have bodies. All you have to do is go to a shopping center and see what a body looks like. We even seem to believe we have a mind. To some extent we have knowledge and wisdom but the rest is merely belief and has value only to the belief’s holder. Belief is an opinion received from someone else. Opinions are without value. If they were rare they might have some worth I suppose, but since everyone has an abundance of opinions then opinions and the body of belief is is of little value.

I’m not questioning the validity of belief but as a belief it is not yet in our experience so we really don’t know if our beliefs are true or not. If you talk about something which is not yet in your experience you’re just a foolish and blatant liar. But because lies are holy they are written in Scriptures, repeated by all kinds of people who are supposed to be holy even when they are just being ridiculous. Because of the holiness of the pseudo-gurus, and by extension their words, we are not supposed to question the words they speak. We can extend this to the White House now, I suppose — we’re told not to question the ridiculous man in the White House no matter how ridiculous his words.

Religious people often ask me about the state of my soul. I tell them, let’s not talk about something that is not in our experience. Right now, the body in to an extent in our experience as is the mind. The rest of it we just son’t know, but we can infer. If I have to accumulate as much body as I have or as much mind as I “possess” something more fundamental must be there — we just don’t know what the hell it is. For the sake of convenience, let’s call it “you” or “self”. There is no “self” per se, it’s just a label we slap on something we conceive is at the heart of the matter. I can go into my home and I can go out of my home but how do I go into my “self”?

Everything that is not me, I leave it aside. These “things” may be precious to me. My cats are precious to me but are they me? I have some passion about these things but I leave them aside. Let’s see, my wife, is she me? That’s easy. She’s already informed me that she’s not me. The clothes I wear are not me. The body that I wear is not me. My thoughts and emotions are they me? No, they are not. If I actually owned these things I could exercise at least a modicum of control over them. Can anyone control their body? No matter what we do it still becomes ill, ages and dies. Does anyone really control their minds? Then why do we accept illusion, that which is not real, for that which is real? Illusions are real only in that they really are illusions.

Everything that is not you keep it in one pile. Make a mental heap out it and keep it aside. 

If the pseudo-spiritual types practiced this then they would find that one day, when they have successfully kept everything aside that they were not, then what they truly are will be there —in front of them. Only then they will know what is inside and what is outside.

If you go by your perceptions you’ll be all wrong. Don’t rush to make conclusions. If they paid a little more attention the spirit people would recognize that they themselves are a worthwhile life and everyone else is also a worthwhile life. Every life deserves some attention. [Even the treacherous bastard in the White House — aren’t you going to ask “Which one?”]. We don’t need other people’s attention, we need our own attention. Doesn’t this very life deserve attention?

One more word or ten more words doesn’t get us any nearer to reality. We’ll just have more words to say to somebody else. Words also have little value except to the one who is enchanted by them.  Words are just symbols that distract us from ourselves. Often useful symbols but still symbols. By definition, a symbol is not that which it represents. 

This kind of hearsay evidence spreads itself throughout the world. It is very much in vogue. Everybody seems to know where god is, for example. They say “he” is within me, but they don’t even know where that “within” is. So they hedge their bet by saying “god is everywhere, he is within and without.” The way they don’t have to know where inside is or where outside is. It’s all covered. They can remain blissfully ignorant of inside and outside and continue to be ridiculous believing themselves to be ultra-cool and wise — knowledgeably ignorance to life.

They know where they live, who their spouse is, how many kids they have, their address, and everybody else’s business, but they don’t know a damn thing about themselves. This is very knowledgable ignorance — but it is also very dangerous. Being fixated on our concepts and symbols keeps us distracted. We become less aware of ourselves and our environment. We only experience what we expect to be in front of us. We only accept that which conforms to our belief system and we know how valuable beliefs are.

This is the very meaning behind the Buddhist word avijja — literally “not seeing” or “blindness”. We translate the word as “ignorance”. Perhaps “confusion” would be a more accurate translation. This ignorance may be knowledgable, but it is still ignorance.

Not knowing is not a problem. If I say, “I don’t know” that admits the possibility of coming to know. The possibility of knowing is always there. If I think I know but I don’t really know then I’ve destroyed all possibilities of ever knowing. It’s time we paid attention because everything we know, we know it only in the way it is projected in the firmament of our mind. We don’t know anything in any other way.

We are seeing everything in a mirror. This mirror is our mind. What we need to fix is the mirror of our mind. This mirror is warped; the reflection distorted. We need to fix it by making it stable so we can see everything the way it is. Does a flat mirror reflect everything the way it is? No, it reverses it. We have to flip the image to see it accurately — and this takes a little more skill. Most people can’t even flip a pancake. How are they going to flip the whole universe, the whole life that is reflecting in the mind? To flip it over without shattering it into a million pieces will take much more skill but the first thing is to reshape and flatten out the mirror so that it shows you everything the way it is — not some other way.

Right now everything that is seen is dependent upon how we identify with something.  Every identity we appropriate distorts the mirror of our mind and it shows things in a completely different way than the way it is.

First thing to do is to stop talking about things we do not know. Stop talking about soul, atman, Adi Buddha, god, divine, heaven, emptiness, and going inside. When we identify with such things it distorts the mirror of mind. Instead, talk about something you know, something you have actually experienced. Then the longing to take the next step will become strong. When you believe you know the geography of paradise what need do you have to pay attention to anything? This is called dependent co-arising, what arises is dependent on the condition of my mind-mirror.

Ask a child residing in Chicago, “Which s closer Denver or the moon?”  They might answer with “The moon.” Why would they say that? Because. They can see the moon. They cannot see Denver. From that perspective the moon is much closer. The logic is quite charming. tt95.jpg

About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.
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