DR SANJAY TEOTIA explains how the Buddhist meditation practice of mindfulness of ignorance can set us on the path of wisdom
When we develop meditative awareness of our ignorant, unskilful ways, we create better conditions for transforming our ignorance into wisdom.
Western psychology explains the model of the ‘self’ based on the assumption that there exists a ‘self’ or ‘I’ entity. Most people are convinced and believe that they inherently exist, and the existence of a self or I is both a logical and yet, a scientific implausibility.
If a person is referred to as ignorant, then according to the accepted meaning of this term, it is generally assumed that the ignorant person has a low level of knowledge or intelligence. However, Buddhism and other eastern contemplative traditions, describe the term ‘ignorance’ somewhat differently. According to Buddhist thought, if a person is said to be ignorant, it normally means that they are ignorant about the ultimate manner in which the self and phenomena exist.
The practice of mindfulness of ignorance is concerned with cultivating awareness of the ignorant beliefs, behaviours and perceptions that we have allowed to take root in our minds. Mindfulness or awareness is a spiritual or psychological faculty that forms an essential part of Buddhist practice. It is among the foremost factors among the seven factors that lead to enlightenment. In fact, correct or right mindfulness is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path.
Our spiritual guides often tell us that meditation shouldn’t be confined to the cushion in your comfortable corner at home. They encourage us to bring meditation off the cushion and into our everyday lives. They explain that a meditator’s sole purpose is to remember to be aware. Whatever state you may find yourself in, whether standing, sitting, lying down or walking, if you remember to be aware, then you are meditating and you are cultivating positive qualities of the mind at all times.
The key is to always start with awareness. It is that quality that grounds us and eventually leads us to wholesome mind-states, especially the quality of wisdom.
When awareness combines with wisdom, we benefit immensely and we feel good, peaceful and blissful. We gain the confidence and motivation to embark on a deeper practice of meditation that helps us to explore the uncharted regions of our minds – the regions where suffering begins at a subtle level. What sensations, thoughts, perceptions and emotions the mind is aware of is not really so important. What’s significant is the quality of the observing mind that is always working in the background. The more we remember to be aware, the more we nourish the wisdom that dissolves stress and suffering. Every day when we wake up, we automatically open our eyes and begin to see. But how often do we consciously notice this? But it is our wisdom that helps us to understand the true nature of reality. It becomes the compass that leads us to the path that we must follow. It helps us to understand that we must remove the mind’s unwholesome cravings, aversions and delusions. As you grow more aware with your practice of meditation, you find that wisdom grows within you. Buddhist teachings tell us that a meditator who reaches this level soon understands why greed, hatred and delusion are labelled as the three poisons, the three unwholesome roots and the three fires of destruction.
Only with wisdom will the meditator understand that these poisons lead to dangerous afflictive thoughts and emotions and only wisdom gives us the strength to change and transform them into positive emotions. Ultimately, these poisons of greed, hatred and delusion are products of ignorance – and arise because of ignorance of our true nature that centres around wisdom and compassion. It is only then that we will understand how our ignorance allows these poisonous states of mind to sprout forth as nonvirtuous and unskilful thoughts, speech and action that cause suffering and unhappiness both to our own self and to others who surround us, namely our families, friends and colleagues.
Dr Sanjay Teotia is a senior consultant eye surgeon at District Hospital, Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh. He is a prolific spiritual writer and his articles appear regularly in Navbharat Times and in Times of India, apart from YoursPositively