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The Glory of Ignorance

recently there was mention in NondualitySalon of the value
 of eliminating ignorance. as the apparently lone expositor
 of the Avidyana (Vehicle of Ignorance) tradition, it is my 
 duty to defend the sadly neglected and maligned skill of 
 ignorance which serves as the foundation from which most 
 if not all knowledge-based mystical paths obtain their authority

to ignore a thing is to, intentionally or no, keep it from
 one's conscious attentions. as a child the ability to ignore
 portions of our oceanic and chaotic experience is one of the 
 first skills we learn. without it we would never develop
 a personality, orient to the world, or focus on tasks

as we grow up we are informed by guides like parents and
 teachers of the limitations and problems which ignoring
 things can bring when taken too far or misplaced (e.g. 
 ignoring the feelings of others, information about the
 world such as the history of oppressed peoples, and objects 
 or complexes which interfere with our development).
 it is this type of 'misplaced ignorance' which people 
 generally identify AS ignorance and of which they seek 
 to rid themselves

when it comes time for personal refinement and spiritual
 growth, ignorance becomes very important. ignoring everything 
 but what we've identified as the 'self' and ignoring the self 
 for the benefit of others are both commonplace. meditation 
 often involves the active focus on a single object, ignoring
 all competing perceptions; it is in fact a refinement
 of the ignoring skill so as to refrain from misplacing
 our application of it which provides the fuel for most
 mystical disciplines. we are taught INTENTIONAL ignorance
 in most spiritual practices, even while being taught that
 we are setting out to 'destroy ignorance'

the history of religion with respect to ignorance is a litany
 of disrespect, demonization, and antagonism. in order to
 bolster the aspirant to combat misplaced ignorance, spiritual
 traditions assault ignorance as The Enemy, The Problem, and
 The Cause of All Our Ills, conveniently ignoring the fact
 that ignorance underlies all spiritual training and mature 
 human experience. entertaining simplistic notions about the 
 cosmos, we may rest easier in our ignorant certainty and 

to take just two illustrations, the iconographic depictions 
 of many Indian and Tibetan gods have them standing atop a dwarf 
 or child (the famous Dancing Siva Nataraja for example) which
 is often said to symbolize 'victory over ignorance'. while this
 icon can be said to mean many things, inclusive of the 
 possibility which I have been instructed that the gods 
 themselves stand atop ignorance as their foundation (i.e.
 that without ignorance there would be no gods), tradition
 has it that these icons indicate that ignorance is to be 
 dominated, destroyed, and eliminated even as a personal 
 being (crushed out of existence; what this says about 
 dwarves and how they should be treated I leave for others 
 more persistent than I to pursue)

another illustration is the way that 'vidya' is glorified in
 Indian and Asian traditions to the detriment of *a*vidya 
 (sometimes personally, sometimes as just a metaphysical 
 principle of perfection). pages and pages of sutras, hours and 
 hours of lectures, detail the many fabulous qualities of what 
 is often translated 'wisdom' and 'spiritual knowledge', but
 only those of the Avidyana tradition have come to understand
 the supreme importance of avidya.  faint exceptions to this
 are occasional reference in Zen Buddhism to a strong anti-
 intellectualism, or the wisdom of Laotse and his description
 of 'emptying the mind and filling the belly' (Tao Te Ching:
 this phrase describing how the sage should help the people,
 by emptying their minds and filling their bellies, is often 
 ignored or passed off as a reference to emptying their minds
 of something specific like intrusive worries)

traditional Buddhist teaching has it that avidya is the
 FOUNDATION of Conditioned Arising, the context within
 which most if not all sentient beings find ourselves,
 and this serves as the basis for the development of a 
 series of 11 elaborations in a kind of 'Wheel of Samsara' 
 (the 12-link Chain of Causation).  it is avidya which is 
 given the place 'sin' has in Western religion -- the 
 reason that spiritual and religious enterprises have 
 become necessary and important

like sin in Western religion, very often the aspirant is
 told that avidya is a particular kind of ignorance
 (say, ignorance of the Real, or ignorance of the
 fabulous teachings of the Buddha or some bodhisattva)
 rather than ignorance as a whole, yet never is this
 general avidya described as necessary or integral to
 the human experience. the general concept (e.g. sin as
 'missing the mark' -- aiming for an ideal and failing to 
 attain it; an event which happens to most people 
 throughout their lives) is often left behind for
 some cosmic Bad Thing one does (e.g. against the dictates
 of the divine) or experiences. in the East the aspirant 
 is told that hir ignorance is a kind of SICKNESS, and 
 that the spiritual authority will attempt to help hir
 CURE hirself of it, remove its troublesome symptoms by 
 addressing its root cause: ignorance

this medical-type assessment is accepted as a condition
 of ALL sentient beings by many Buddhists ("all life is 
 suffering") and it colours a sometimes dour and depressive 
 vision of human and nonhuman life. instead of seeing 
 ignorance as an important and necessary aspect of living 
 in the world which is sometimes misapplied, it is treated 
 like a 'problem' which must be solved in the same way that
 one must do penance for the sins one has committed
 (through one's own efforts, guided by the masters, one can 
 be saved/cured/fixed)

the lack of understanding and the propaganda campaign
 surrounding ignorance merely attests to the severe
 lack of successful introspection taking place in the
 places of mystical development!