Ignorance is (not) bliss

7 February 2011 - 12:04am Comments Off

Being ignorant is not happiness. It is taking unnecessary risks.

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche

Most of us have heard the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’. Well, not according to Rinpoche. The terms ‘ignorance’ or ‘ignorant’ are derived from the word ‘ignore’. Therefore, the terms refer to the act of disregarding something. Usually, we ignore problems or situations which are unpleasant, thinking that it is the easy way out. Buddhists however, do not ignore problems but face them in order to get to the root of the problem. In fact, disregarding problems does not make them go away, and may only lead to a delay or temporary relief. Oftentimes, the effort to avoid or ignore a problem can create even more problems.

The bliss of ignorance is a deception. In reality, what is merely a temporary reduction or postponement of one’s suffering, we take to be happiness. Rinpoche however, has said that it is wiser to undergo short-term pain to get long-term happiness, than to choose short-term happiness which leads to long-term suffering.

There are two kinds of ignorance:


This type of ignorance is also called not knowing. This type of ignorance can be rectified by acquiring more knowledge. Take, for example, the case of a child playing with fire and getting burned, as he did not know about the dangers of fire. The experience of pain, and subsequent caution and explanation by his parents will ensure that he does not repeat the act. The child now knows why he should not touch fire.


This type of ignorance is what is often termed unknowing. This alludes to thinking we know something when there is nothing to be known. If we are to examine carefully, we are not really sure if things exist just because they appear to our mind. A good example? That of someone in a dark room, mistaking a coil of rope to be a snake. We are also not sure if anything really exists in the way they appear to exist. An example of this would be a rainbow – a rainbow looks real enough for people to chase after it.

The whole point of understanding the above is to lessen our grip and assumption that the things in our lives are solid and independently existing…to the point we have become deceived into thinking they have a reality of their own.

With this ignorance, we create our personality and identification with ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ which leads to a self-cherishing mind. From such a mind, all our other delusions like attachment, greed, anger, jealousy and competitiveness arise.

If we do not obtain a special wisdom which can break through this self-grasping ignorance, we will be at risk of bringing upon ourselves more and more suffering in whatever we do, even if our intention is a good one.

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