This term ignorance is considered in Buddhism to be the prime mover, the prime originator of our suffering. It’s not that we’re evil or fatally flawed or sinful, but there is this quality of not knowing, ignorance, or avijjā. These are all translations.
So when you use the word ignorance, it sounds either like an insult—“You’re stupid. Thick—or that it can be cured by more information, which is our normal understanding of ignorance, being a cognitive problem. You didn’t know how to mend a bike. You didn’t know how to do geometry. You didn’t know how to whatever. So, here’s how to do it.
But that’s only ignorance in regard to cognitive sense, which isn’t really the prime problem. It helps to have some cognitive savvy in terms of meditation. The main thing with ignorance is not being in touch with or not being aware of or being shut off from something that is released, is boundless, free, pure… The Buddha said, “There is this. The Deathless. The Unconditioned.” We don’t know that. We’re not in touch with that. We’ve lost touch with it.
Because of this, what is happening is that our center, our center of attention is always going into “do it” programs and the stuff that is there to compensate for not being in touch with freedom, with purity, with release, with the Unconditioned.
We don’t know what this Deathless, Unconditioned is. Maybe it’s just an idea. Who knows? Maybe the Buddha got it wrong. What we can know perhaps more certainly is where we get tight, edgy, flustered, defensive, rattled somewhere or another. It could be we feel ashamed of ourselves or inadequate. We can feel irritated by other people or whatever. You’ve got to prove yourself or you get this kind of hardening, tightening, speedy, or you feel yourself caving in. That’s not good. Does anybody enjoy that experience?
So, we say, forget about Unconditioned, Deathless, Nibbana. Maybe that’s just that the Buddha got it wrong. But this is what we can know: we can notice this dukkha, this suffering. And we want to get past that, through that.
The Buddha said there is a way through this. That’s interesting. Let’s forget what’s on the other side. Is there anything on the other side or not? Perhaps that’s one way of looking at it.
We’re looking for something that will give us that place of being really, really okay; a way out of this stress state, this agitated state, this regret state, this attack-defend state, trying to prove one’s self state, not feeling you’ve done enough state, always wanting something from other people state, fearing other people state…
And we don’t feel it. It’s almost like something called intuition that it could be… Could it be another way? This really was the Buddha’s trigger.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the talk, Releasing Compulsive Programs Of The Mind, 16 116 The Buddhist Retreat Centre, South Africa.