Main Pages

By Region




Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ignorance?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ignorance

Beginning to Penetrate Ignorance

Our understanding of the conditioned mind supports the revelation of new aspects of being. We see that even though the causes of suffering keep becoming more subtle, one thing runs through all of them: ignorance. We just don’t know what is real. As our exploration and inquiry deepen our awareness, understanding, and knowledge, we begin to penetrate the ignorance. The new understanding might inevitably make us aware of much more suffering than we were conscious of before the exploration. We might even begin to experience our suffering in a previously unimagined but actually beautiful way: the sense of the “dark night of the soul,” the sense of being in hell. Everyone who does the work goes through this. If you haven’t been through this dark night yet, you can count on its happening if you continue on this path. The time will come when you will have to struggle with deep suffering as you confront deep beliefs about yourself and about reality. And there is no one you can blame for this suffering; it is not a matter of history. It is a matter of beginning to see reality and beginning to confront your ignorance. This is a great struggle because the mind is deeply habituated, and it is hard to let go of those entrenched beliefs and attachments. Suffering and conflict will become intense for all of us. Although there is no way around the suffering, it helps somewhat to know that it is a normal part of our work.

Continual Illumination

The ignorance that is implicit, innate ignorance, is not a constructed ignorance. It is not anything that we have experienced, learned, and then adopted as true. Innate ignorance refers to what we have never known. It is the ignorance of not knowing living reality in its completeness. And we can never know everything about living reality because living reality is alive and creative. But we don’t simply stop inquiring because it is impossible to know everything about reality. Rather, realization continues to practice and continues to inquire, revealing further possibilities, revealing a runaway realization. Living realization is a continuing illumination, not only continuing to be aware of the ground of Being but also continuing to reveal further ignorance and delusion. This continuing illumination transforms, deepens, and expands realization in various ways. We begin to discern the true implications of various realizations, which have been occluded by our innate ignorance. Seeing the full truth of any realization gives rise to further realizations.

Deficient Emptiness is Space Experienced Through the Filter of Ignorance

Now, if our true identity, as Winnicott says, is Being, then obviously taking ourselves to be a certain image means we have a lack of knowledge or understanding about our nature. In other words it means there is ignorance about one’s Being. In fact much of the personality consists of wrong ideas and beliefs about what one is, plus the emotional affects associated with them. This content of mind obviously—since it is ignorance and lack of understanding—must cloud the clarity of the mind. It acts as an obfuscation, a dullness, a darkness which interferes with the clarity of mind. But we have seen that the nature of the mind is ultimately space. Thus this ignorance, which is mental dullness or darkness, interferes with and obscures the sharpness and clarity of space. Space made dull and dark by the obscuring effect of ignorance is deficient emptiness. In other words, deficient emptiness is nothing but space experienced through the filter of ignorance (which is composed of images from the past taken to define oneself, accompanied by wrong beliefs and emotions associated with the images). This explains why when the deficient emptiness is experienced it transforms into space as soon as the wrong beliefs and their accompanying emotions are seen and understood. Of course, the ignorance has in it, connected to it, the memories of the original childhood experiences that led to the various self-images. Psychodynamic understanding removes the dullness and darkness of ignorance by shedding light on its specific content. This brings about the clarity of understanding, which dissipates the ignorance and reveals the true nature of the deficient emptiness which is immaculate space.

The Void, pg. 137

Ignorance of the Inner Child

In other words, a deep and central part of you thinks like a child. Rational things neither reach nor touch it. We need to approach this part of us with love, gentleness, kindness, and understanding. We need to understand its helplessness, fear, vulnerability, hatred, anger, dependence, and ignorance. Ultimately, the inner child isn’t real, but it doesn’t know that. You know that, but it doesn’t. The inner child takes for granted that it is you. It feels terrible about itself, angry, guilty, but it doesn’t know how else to be. This is a real dilemma. We each have an inner child that is ignorant, scared, and disconnected from the real essence, that is not touched by our lofty and transcendental experiences, that still needs to be cared for and loved. We cannot try to get rid of it, nor does it simply vanish because of our enlightenment experiences. Trying to get rid of it is both impossible and the wrong way to go. If we try to get rid of it, the inner child only becomes more obstinate and more scared. We need to educate it gently and lovingly. Then, in time, the inner child will dissolve, mellow out, and become softer. It will naturally melt into essential nature and get integrated. But it will allow itself to melt only if it feels loved and secure. If we reject it and judge it, it will tend to isolate and protect itself.

Ignorance of What it is to Be Oneself

According to my perception, it is this lack of understanding, the ignorance of what it is to be oneself, that is the main reason why people do not expand. It is why people do not develop in a real way; why people continue having the same issues, problems and difficulties. To truly develop means first you need to be yourself, and that your self will develop. If you are being something else, that might develop, but it’s not you. People talk about self-development, but who is there who is going to develop? If you don’t know what it is to be yourself, what is developing? You can take self-development classes, self-assertion classes, and develop something, but who says that’s yourself? You can develop capacities, abilities, perceptions, experiences, and ideas if you work at it. But that doesn’t mean you are developing yourself. Many people go to very deep places, and have very high and refined experiences and insights, without knowing what it is to be oneself. Even when people really work on themselves, they are usually taking a detour. They get to states of being very open, very loving, very compassionate, even universal, without ever knowing what it is to be oneself. Although it might be wonderful, their experience becomes very limited, very restricted. The only way we can experience all that is possible for a human being is to be ourselves. If we are not ourselves, any other development is only a sector of human experience. To be a complete human being, to be a totality and experience wholeness, to be able to experience all possibilities and all potential for a human being, first we need to be ourselves.

Innate or Basic Ignorance

The second kind of ignorance is called innate or basic. This primordial ignorance is something we are born with, something inherent to the soul that isn’t mature. So waking up is seeing through not only learned ignorance but also innate ignorance, the unclarity or the lack of understanding of what reality is. Innate ignorance has two sides: one to do with recognizing the ground of reality, the other with understanding the relationship of particulars to this ground.

Learned Ignorance

Learned ignorance has to do with our previous experience, the accumulated knowledge and impressions and influences from past experiences. We can understand and work through learned ignorance, which includes the beliefs and ideas we have accumulated from having lived. Our past experiences influence us in all sorts of ways. Much of what people work on, in terms of the content of issues, conflicts, and obstacles is the accumulated ideas, beliefs, and knowledge from our past.

Profound Ignorance is Ultimately Our Salvation

So today we learned something about knowing. What we call our knowledge is nothing but a recognition based on concepts taken from the past. It is labeling things. I mean not just rugs, but things like divine light, angels, love. All these things are concepts too. They are just as conceptual as a rug or a tree. They’re not more spiritual. They are the same thing, ultimately. They are created by your mind in the sense that they are concepts too. We’re not saying concepts are bad, we’re simply saying they are concepts. We have to see what the knowledge of the mind is, what true perception is. One of the most powerful ways of waking up is to see that what we think we know, we do not really know. To acknowledge our profound ignorance, our deep, fundamental, unchangeable ignorance. And that ignorance really, that profound ignorance, is ultimately our salvation rather than our deficiency. That ignorance is the entry, the door to the wonder, and the mystery.

Seeing Through Innate Ignorance

By seeing through the innate ignorance about the underlying ground of what we experience, we arrive at this paradoxical mystery of the totality and the fullness and the emptiness of this ground. Enlightened awareness, the Kernel of the Kernel, seamlessly includes everything we know about our True Nature, all of what we know at once together, without being a collection of things or qualities. The complete stillness and privacy of the emptiness adds to the clarity a searing, sharp, smooth quality. And the clarity and the fullness add to the emptiness a kind of brilliance, a kind of shine—a shine made more intensely luminous by its total emptiness. This full, luminous emptiness has a kind of lightness, a kind of freedom that is beyond the idea of freedom, a kind of total relaxation and ease.

Subscribe to the Diamond Approach

See past editions of the Diamond Approach newsletter