An ignorant man ages like an ox. His flesh may increase, but not his
A fool who recognises his own ignorance is thereby in fact a wise man,
fool who considers himself wise -- that is what one really calls a fool.
Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
As Buddha said in his first teaching, the root of all our suffering in samsara is ignorance. Ignorance, until we free ourselves from it, can seem endless, and even when we have embarked on the spiritual path our search is fogged by it. However, if you remember this, and keep the teachings in your heart, you will gradually develop the discernment to recognize the innumerable confusions of ignorance for what they are, and so never jeopardize your commitment or lose your perspective.
There could be no bigger mistake than to think that ignorance is somehow dumb and stupid, or passive and lacking in intelligence. On the contrary, it is shrewd and cunning, versatile and ingenious in the games of deception, and in our wrong views and their burning convictions we find one of its deepest and, as Buddha said, most dangerous manifestations:
What do you have to fear from the wild elephant
Who can only damage your body here and now,
When falling under the influence of misguided people and wrong views
Not only destroys the merit you have accumulated in the past,
But also blocks your path to freedom in the future?
Lifetimes of ignorance have brought us to identify the whole of our being with ego. Its greatest triumph is to inveigle us into believing its best interests are our best interests, and even into identifying our very survival with its own. This is a savage irony, considering that ego and its grasping are at the root of all our suffering.
Yet, ego is so terribly convincing, and we have been its dupe for so long, that the thought that we might ever become egoless terrifies us. To be egoless, ego whispers to us, is to lose all the rich romance of being human, to be reduced to a colorless robot or a brain-dead vegetable.
Enlightenment for Gautama [the Buddha] felt as though a prison which had confined him for thousands of lifetimes had broken open. Ignorance had been the jailkeeper. Because of ignorance, his mind had been obscured, just like the moon and stars hidden by the storm clouds. Clouded by endless waves of deluded thoughts, the mind had falsely divided reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and non-existence, birth and death, and from these discriminations arose wrong views—the prisons of feelings, craving, grasping, and becoming. The suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death only made the prison walls thicker. The only thing to do was to seize the jailkeeper and see his true face. The jailkeeper was ignorance. . . . Once the jailkeeper was gone, the jail would disappear and never be rebuilt again.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddha’s Enlightenment
April 6, 2011