88 Turning Up the Heat on Learned Ignorance

The session begins with a guided meditation on variations of taking the mind as the path, beginning with maintaining peripheral awareness of fluctuations of the breath before single-pointedly focusing awareness on the space of the mind and whatever arises there. Alan then returns to page 182 of Natural Liberation for further commentary on the lines we concluded with yesterday, “Due to being obscured by the three kinds of ignorance, they do not know the manner of their liberation.” Viewed from the perspective of rigpa, even hatred will self-release without any additional antidote. Before we reach that sage, however, it is important to maintain conscientiousness along with mindfulness and introspection in our practice. Conscientiousness is established in non-attachment, non-hostility, and non-delusion, and coupled with enthusiasm, it expresses itself as intelligent, ethical concern. Shantideva discusses conscientiousness in the fourth chapter of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Alan cites a number of passages highlighting the theme that when it comes to mental afflictions, Buddhism is neither pacifistic nor “non-judgementally aware” of whatever comes up in the mind. The Great Bodhisattva declares he is obsessed and with vengeance will wage battle against the enemy, the perpetual causes of all miseries. Returning then to the three types of ignorance, Alan describes the first, “ignorance regarding a single identity”, as the most deeply ingrained. This is the ignorance of our “one nature” as Samantabhadra, primordial wisdom. The second form of ignorance, “connate ignorance” is the delusional identification with a self that is permanent, unitary, independent, autonomous, substantial, and existing prior to and independent of conceptual designation. The third form of ignorance, Alan translates as “speculative ignorance.” It is fabricated, conjured up, and acquired with learning. The most pernicious acquired ignorance of our time, Alan says, is materialism, and perhaps we have not been honoring the fierce attitude of Shantideva in our accommodation with it. Alan reads from an article printed in the current New York Times with the headline “Are We Really Conscious?” The author, a Princeton neuroscientist and psychologist, presents what he claims is a scientific resolution of the mind/body philosophical issue with the assertion that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way it seems. The brain is not subjectively aware of the information it processes, the author states, but rather is accessing internal models that provide wrong information. It is all an elaborate story about a seemingly magical property, awareness, and there is no way the brain can know it is being fooled by the illusion. There is no subjective experience of the color green or the sensation of pain, there is only information in a data processing device, he concludes. “This is the most grotesque false view I think that I have seen in the history of humanity,” Alan responds. “He says we are mindless computers!” This speculative, learned ignorance, Alan states, is the most superficial of the three types, but it can destroy civilization. “This is my hot kitchen,” Alan says. “And I will torch, I will incinerate, and I will not stop until that is looked on with contempt by everybody.” Meditation starts at 0:20

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