I is for Ignorance

Having already tackled greed and hatred in this Quaker Buddhist alphabet, it seems appropriate to take the third of the three poisons next, so here is I for ignorance.

Like the other terms in this list, the sanskrit source word can be translated in various ways: confusion, bewilderment, delusion and sometimes, stupidity. These help us to gain a sense of the breadth of meaning in the original word and stop us getting to stuck on one particular interpretation.

What is it that we are ignorant of? The truth of the way the world is I suppose is what is meant, the basic Buddhist teaching and understanding of the way the world is. The four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. (Yes, more lists.)

So how can we dispel ignorance? I think it needs to be tackled in lots of ways. We can read and study, using our brains and our analytical, logical thinking. This lets us learn on one level, but I can repeat the four noble truths and write them on my exam paper, without them making any impact on the way I live my life. So book-learning and study and listening to dharma talks are not enough on their own. I also need to practice the teaching, apply it in my life. Live the noble eightfold path, follow the five mindfulness trainings, coming back to read them from time to time to remind myself of them.

Not a big problem in that I always understood that to follow Christianity I should be living as Jesus taught, following his example. I found, among Quakers, people who were doing that, as best they could, without getting bogged down in unnecessary rituals. Following the Quaker way, accepting the guidance of Advices and Queries, and keeping the five mindfulness trainings, all seem to amount to the same things on a day to day basis.

Only a big problem in that to do this properly is a huge challenge, I continually fail to do as well as I aspire to. ‘I will not kill’ says the mindfulness training – clear commitment, easy, until there are ants in my kitchen. I squash them. There’s a slug on my lettuce when I come to wash it, I carefully take it outside and let it go, but I used slug pellets on the allotment earlier in the day (albeit they were organic gardening approved for occasional use). I’m a vegetarian, but is my pension fund investing in arms manufacturers? Do I know, can I make the effort to find out?

What about the ignorance of others? Should we share this message, and if so how? Buddhism has the concept of ‘skilful means’, that teaching needs to be in a way the recipient will understand. So I can share my practice and my understanding in different ways.

I might explain to a colleague who tends to trip and fall, how practising mindful walking helps me to avoid falling over, and to another that taking three breaths before answering the ringing telephone makes me much more patient with the caller. To someone else I may comment how practising mindful walking has increased my compassion for the people who live in my neighbourhood, how being in the here and now makes me more aware of those living immediately around me. With my guides I provide short readings at the close of meetings, that hopefully provoke thought about the spiritual aspects of life. To a fellow Quaker I may explain how practising silent meditation and mindful breathing on a (nearly) daily basis makes it easier to settle into the silence of meeting for worship. Or I could write a blog about my experiences in trying to live this Quaker Buddhist path.

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