Mindful Ignorance

Posted: 19/09/2013 in Insight, Struggle
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Upbringing is a belief system, it is the dream that is imparted by your society. It includes all that education offers, it include the customs and mores of a society, and it can also include its religion. Enquiry wants to break the totality of this belief system so that we can see the truth that lies underneath, so that we can experience insight; this is an enquiry that usually comes with a process of meditation.

However fear and ego are clever in the way they misuse upbringing. Once the process of enquiry begins then upbringing is questioned, as it should be. Then there is fear of the truth, and unless that process of enquiry is backed up with insight there is no strength to counter that fear of truth, and the ego will seek ways of returning to the upbringing – returning to the original dream.

It is interesting how this package of ego fear and upbringing can fit together, and how belief systems can work with it. Remember a belief system is a set of ideas, and they can be ideas that appear to be the truth. But when those ideas are not found through insight – they are ideas of intellect, these ideas can easily be approriated as part of the dream.

I met someone whose mind resisted enquiry; her upbringing included chauvinism – a pride in their country, something that is instilled through education. I was able to demonstrate that there were weaknesses in the chauvinism through enquiry backed up by rationale. This was because at the time the person trusted my little insight into Buddhism. However they did not develop the insight necessary to give real strength to that development through enquiry – they were unable to develop a meditation routine. Then they discovered a Buddhist belief system that fit in with the chauvinism and that allowed them not to pursue enquiry. The belief system with its lack of emphasis on enquiry and insight has rekindled the upbringing. The dream that was the upbringing was developing leaks, but the belief system which was created by a member of the society has blocked those leaks and has brought the person firmly back into the dream of the society.

This remembering of the upbringing process has been happening for a while, but it came home to me yesterday. She had met someone whom she had helped but who continually attacked Thailand – conflicting her chauvinism, this sort of attack is not uncommon amongst the expats. She was extremely surprised when I said “why doesn’t he go home?”; this is also what the chauvinism of her upbringing says. But she said I said the same thing as this expat, and her changing belief system was filling the leaks of the enquiry that I had tried to build in her and she had equated me with this complainer. She had not remembered the enquiry and the rationale, she only wanted to return to the chauvinism because it was comfortable – she could remain in the dream. And the tool she was using to do this was an intellectual version of mindfulness. Instead of the mindfulness being 100% awareness that started deep within as insight, this was a mindfulness that was brought in to reinforce the chauvinism. When enquiry threatens the belief system opening people up to the possibilities of the truth, there is an emotional reaction, maybe anger or frustration, leading to personal discomfort. In this case I surmise that this is anger directed to me because I am the source of the enquiry. Positively mindfulness calms the anger, but if misused it can ignore the enquiry. So this intellectual version of mindfulness ended up protecting the dream, protecting the upbringing, and protecting all that is wrong with that upbringing espcecially the chauvinism. This is disappointing, and could possibly lead to a break in contact something practically I don’t want. I have to stop introducing enquiry into the chauvinism.

And then horror of horrors I realised what this intellectual process of mindfulness had done, it was a false practice of mindfulness used as mindful ignorance to protect the upbringing, the dream. This is the Land of Smiles, and what is happening behind the smiles? The chauvinism wants to reject any criticism of itself so when there is criticism there is a process “mindfulness, focus on mindfulness, don’t get angry, stay calm”. This sounds good, eh? Keep calm. But what isn’t happening? Listening and learning. As soon as the chauvinism is under threat, in comes the mindfulness and out goes the listening. This is not mindfulness but mindful ignorance – horrific. Thailand has much to talk about that is positive, but there is much chauvinism that is negative. I stay here because the positive balance suits me as compared with what happens in the UK – and elsewhere. In the UK there is their own version of mindful ignorance – indoctrination. This indoctrination is much more dominated by the corporatocracy, but the justifications that British people use to describe what is better with their own lifestyle under austerity are getting more and more tenuous. I make the comparison only to clarify that Thailand has its advantages, but there is chauvinism and there is racism, and there is mindful ignorance where deaf ears are turned onto the truth. There is never an excuse for not listening. And mindfulness cannot occur if there is not enquiry and there is not truth. I am absolutely certain that the monk who described this mindfulness did not have the intention that his focus on mindfulness would be turned to mindful ignorance but from what I have read of his work there is not enough emphasis on insight and enquiry, so mindful ignorance is a likely consequence. Judge for yourself – Phra Pramote.

This issue of mindful ignorance masquerading as mindfulness has been troubling me. I could not leave it alone. It was only when I meditated that it became clear. I had focussed this understanding of mindful ignorance on the chauvinism I had met, on the way in which her practice of mindful ignorance had returned her to the dream, her upbringing that incuded chauvinism. But this is not where the problem ends in Buddhism. Removing Avijja, ignorance, is one of the key elements of Buddhism, so why is there so much debate about being Engaged? In our daily life Buddhists should be at the forefront (not necessarily leaders) for any movement for change because that awareness of global suffering comes with mindfulness. But I do not mean this in a “ranting and raving” intellectual sense. Struggle is calm, it is natural, it stems from recognition of suffering, it stems from the calm acceptance that there is suffering, it comes from a recognition of the origins of suffering in the mind, and that cessation of suffering comes through the good practice of magga – 4 Noble Truths. But in that practice there is compassion, and compassion means the end of suffering, and to do that action is needed. This is mindfulness, and leads to Engaged Buddhism.

But what if we become selfish and see this mindfulness only in terms of our own suffering. We feel our lack of calm daily, our minds suffer through interactions with others who are also suffering so we want to calm down. And along comes a monk who teaches us mindfulness. So whenever something disturbs us we use mindfulness. Sounds great until you ask the question “Does truth disturb us?” And that is the crunch, how can we be mindful if the truth disturbs us? Mindfulness as mindful ignorance has come to be used as a tool mindful repression, we choose to repress dissent because it causes personal suffering. For some it becomes easier to accept the norm, the dream, and when truth comes along we use mindfulness to repress it – “mindfulness, focus on mindfulness, don’t get angry, stay calm”.

This is even more horrific than I had originally thought because this is a problem endemic in the religion. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. But sometimes this mindfulness doesn’t have to be mindful of the truth. Mindfulness as removing avijja can be rephrased as learning about the suttas, learning about abhidhamma, learning about all kinds of mental proliferations. Mindfulness can fill the minds with endless ideas and theories and Gods and stuff, depending on which version of Buddhism you accept with mindful ignorance, and this mindfulness never gets to see the truth.

So we must start to look at the teachers of Buddhism – the monks. At one stage I had contact with a particular monk, and I began discussing that contact here. Eventually there became a dissociation because the monk believed Tony Blair. In some ways this monk was moving in the right direction, but his approach was wrong. Primarily the function of the monk is to meditate and then promote the teachings. This monk recognised there was a need for engagement, this is positive but monks cannot know about engagement unless they had been working in daily life before ordaining. Monks who have lived in cloisters cannot know the issues of daily life as their lifestyle is bought and paid for. This means there needs to be a symbiosis between the monk and lay Buddhists in which the monks learn the meaning of engagement. This monk’s mind had deluded him that he could be aware of life outside cloisters by applying his dhammic mental training. Equally lay Buddhists have to know that they cannot understand the dhamma without having the time to be in cloisters to devote themselves to the practice. This is a lovely dilemma, without the symbiosis between the teachers and daily life there can only be avijja.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Other blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Matriellez.

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  1. […] Mindful Ignorance […]

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