How does ignorance come about?

Buddha taught that ignorance is what imprisons us. The Tibetan word for ignorance is ‘marigpa,’ sometimes translated as ‘not seeing,’ whereas ‘rigpa’ means ‘seeing’ or ‘pure awareness’. As I mentioned in one my last posts, the only difference between a Buddha and a sentient beings is this: Buddhas are able to see the world as it is whereas we have lost this ability. The teachings tells us that we all inherently have this capacity but, at the moment, it is obscured.

We might wonder, “How did we get obscured? How did ignorance come about?”

Buddha Shakyamuni — This statue is seated in the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, the place of Buddha Shakyamuni's enlightenment. It is more than 5 m high and at least 1700 years old. © Rigpa

This sounds like a good question, but Buddha actually refused to answer it. He gave the example of a man shot by a poisonous arrow. He said when you are shot by a poisonous arrow, what is the point to ask questions like: “Where did this arrow come from? Who shot it? Why did they do it?”  Instead, the Buddha recommended to remove the arrow as quickly as possible! Then focus on investigating the nature of the poison so we can apply an antidote.  In this example, the arrow can be compared to ignorance and the poison to the five poisons, the destructive emotions that arise from ignorance.

In his answer, the Buddha cautions us not to get lost in philosophical speculations about questions like: “Doesn’t it say we all have Buddha nature? If that is the case how could ignorance happen? How could we possibly get deluded?” It is quite clear that it happened! We clearly got deluded! Therefore, we better do something about it!

However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand the nature of our ignorance. While it is recommended not to dwell too much on the question, “How did we get deluded,” helpful questions to ask are: “What is ignorance? How does ignorance work?”  Investigating the nature of ignorance will help us to remove it. My teacher has explained that this aspect of ignorance is a very important to understand. I will write about this more in my next post.

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2 Responses to How does ignorance come about?

  1. kristen drake says:

    Hello up there in Hawaii!
    This was good to think about again, Bernie. Two happy thoughts for me reflecting on this: Without this “arrow” I probably would never have discovered the truth about our Buddhanature. Better yet, without Rinpoche, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to go about pulling it out. Thanks!

  2. Bernie says:

    I am sure the third Dodrupchen would be very happy to see you turn your suffering and your happiness into enlightenment like this! Wonder why? Click here:

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