IGNORANCEMany religions regard the evils of the human condition as a result of ignorance. Being ignorant of the truth about Ultimate Reality and the purpose of life, people's values become confused, and consequently they act wrongly. In Hinduism and Jainism, this blindness (avidya) is what binds people to the wheel of birth-and-death (samsara). In Buddhism, this ignorance (mithyajnana) leads to grasping after self, and hence to error. In the Christian Bible, the apostle Paul taught that ignorance of God lay at the root of all forms of license and immorality. In Islam it is the condition of forgetting God; as a result, people ever since Adam have deviated from the path and lost their souls. Taoist sages condemn knowledge of worldly things as a source of confusion about true values, and similarly we find in many scriptures warnings against the illusory goals and vanities that infect worldly life.
This selection of passages is arranged in roughly the following order: We begin with the practical observation that ignorance of Ultimate Reality spurs evil and demonic behavior. Next, it is due to ignorance, according to the religions of India, that humans are bound to suffer on the wheel of samsara, going through continual deaths and rebirths. Humanity's spiritual blindness is the subject of the third group of passages, beginning with passages which describe ignorance as a veil that obscures the faculty of insight. Other passages describe humanity's blindness by such metaphors as frogs in a well and moths drawn to perish in a lamp. In our blindness, we are attracted to the vanities of this world which are ephemeral and deceiving, according to the next group of passages. We conclude with passages which reason that even evil itself is an illusion or a bad dream.
My people go into exile for want of knowledge.
1. Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah 5.13
Be not like those who forgot God, therefore He made them forget their own souls!
2. Islam. Qur'an 59.19
Only when men shall roll up space as if it were a simple skin, Only then will there be an end of sorrow without acknowledging God.
3. Hinduism. Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.20
Whoever wants to do some evil against another does not remember God.
4. African Traditional Religions. Proverb
In sleep our nights wasted, in filling our belly the days:
This life, precious as a jewel, is forfeited for a cowrie shell.
Ignorant fool! You who have never realized God's Name, In the end into regrets shall fall.
5. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Bairagani, M.1, p. 156
Although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
6. Christianity. Romans 1.21-25
The fool says in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are all corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none that does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
upon the children of men,
to see if there are any that act wisely,
that seek after God.
They have all gone astray,
they are all alike corrupt;
there is none that does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge,
all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?
7. Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 14.1-4
Romans 1.21-25: Cf. Philippians 3.18-19, p. 407; Qur'an 45.23, p. 416.
Rabbi Hananiah ben Hakinai said, "No man lies to his neighbor until he has denied the Root. It happened once that Rabbi Reuben was in Tiberias on the Sabbath, and a philosopher asked him, 'Who is the most hateful man in the world?' He replied, 'The man who denies his Creator.' 'How so?' said the philosopher. Rabbi Reuben answered, '"Honor thy father and thy mother, thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, thou shalt not covet." No man denies the derivative [the Ten Commandments] until he has previously denied the Root [God], and no man sins unless he has denied Him who commanded him not to commit that sin.'"
8. Judaism. Tosefta Shebuot 3.6
The demonic do things they should avoid and avoid the things they should do. They have no sense of uprightness, purity, or truth.
"There is no God," they say, "no truth, no spiritual law, no moral order. The basis of life is sex; what else can it be?" Holding such distorted views, possessing scant discrimination, they become enemies of the world, causing suffering and destruction.
Hypocritical, proud, and arrogant, living in delusion and clinging to deluded ideas, insatiable in their desires, they pursue their unclean ends. Although burdened with fears that end only with death, they still maintain with complete assurance, "Gratification of lust is the highest that life can offer."
Bound on all sides by scheming and anxiety, driven by anger and greed, they amass by any means they can a hoard of money for the satisfaction of their cravings.
"I got this today," they say; "tomorrow I shall get that. This wealth is mine, and that will be mine too. I have destroyed my enemies. I shall destroy others too! Am I not like God? I enjoy what I want. I am successful. I am powerful. I am happy. I am rich and well-born. Who is equal to me? I will perform sacrifices and give gifts, and rejoice in my own generosity." This is how they go on, deluded by ignorance. Bound by their greed and entangled in a web of delusion, whirled about by a fragmented mind, they fall into a dark hell.
9. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 16.7-16
Psalm 14.1-4: Cf. Isaiah 1.2-3, p. 456. Tosefta Shebuot 3.6: Cf. Pesikta Rabbati, pp. 167f.; Mekilta Exodus 12.6, p. 404. Bhagavad Gita 16.7-16: Cf. Isaiah 5.21, p. 409; Bhagavad Gita 3.41, p. 417; Acarangasutra 2.1-3, p. 421.
He who does not clearly understand Heaven will not be pure in virtue. He who has not mastered the Way will find himself without any acceptable path of approach. He who does not understand the Way is pitiable indeed!
10. Taoism. Chuang Tzu 11
This vast universe is a wheel, the wheel of Brahman. Upon it are all creatures that are subject to birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns, and never stops. As long as the individual self thinks it is separate from the Lord, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death, and rebirth....
The Lord supports this universe, which is made up of the perishable and the imperishable, the manifest and the unmanifest. The individual soul, forgetful of the Lord, attaches itself to pleasure and thus is bound.
11. Hinduism. Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.6-8
By reason of the habit-energy stored up by false imagination since beginningless time, this world is subject to change and destruction from moment to moment; it is like a river, a seed, a lamp, wind, a cloud; like a monkey who is always restless, like a fly who is ever in search of unclean things and defiled places, like a fire which is never satisfied. Again, [thought] is like a water-wheel or a machine: it goes on rolling the wheel of transmigration, carrying varieties of bodies and forms... causing the wooden figures to move as a magician moves them. Mahamati, a thorough understanding concerning these phenomena is called comprehending the egolessness of persons.
12. Buddhism. Lankavatara Sutra 24
Intoxicated by the wine of illusion, like one intoxicated by wine; rushing about, like one possessed of an evil spirit; bitten by the world, like one bitten by a great serpent; darkened by passion, like the night; illusory, like magic; false, like a dream; pithless, like the inside of a banana-tree; changing its dress in a moment, like an actor; fair in appearance, like a painted wall--thus they call him.
13. Hinduism. Maitri Upanishad 4.2
Owing to delusion, one again passes through cycles of birth and death. In this unbroken chain of births and deaths, delusion keeps cropping up again and again.
14. Jainism. Acarangasutra 5.7-8
Chuang Tzu 11: Cf. Chuang Tzu 10, p. 799, on ignorance that comes to pervade even the world of nature. Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.6-8: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 15.1-3, pp. 382f.; Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.7-10, pp. 861f. This wheel is a Buddhist symbol of bondage to samsara, due to ignorance. Lankavatara Sutra 24: The impermanence of the world is essentially the impermanence of thought, out of which it is made. Cf. Dhammapada 171, p. 959; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 3, p. 220; Bhagavad Gita 15.1-3, pp. 382f. Maitri Upanishad 4.2: See Bhagavad Gita 5.15-16, pp. 535f.; cf. Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 86, pp. 959f. Acarangasutra 5.7-8: Cf. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 3.1-7, p. 315; Acarangasutra 2.55-56, p. 412; Pancadhyayi 2.57, p. 387.
Few see through the veil of maya.
15. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 7.25
Long is the night to the wakeful; long is the league to the weary; long is samsara to the foolish who know not the sublime Truth.
16. Buddhism. Dhammapada 60
This world is as a juggler's show,
Wherein various disguises he assumes.
As he puts off his makeup, ended is His expanse [of creation].
Then is left the Sole Supreme Being.
How many various guises has He assumed and cast off?
To where have they gone? From where did they come?
From water arise innumerable waves;
From gold are shaped ornaments of various forms;
Many are the kinds of seeds sown:
As ripens the fruit, again is left the Sole Supreme Being.
Into thousands of pitchers falls reflection of the one sky;
As the pitcher is broken, the sole Light remains.
While thoughts of maya last, doubt, avarice, and attachment are found;
When illusion is lifted, only the Sole Supreme Being is left.
17. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Suhi, M.5, p. 736
The unbelievers... are like the depths of darkness
In a vast deep ocean,
Overwhelmed with billow,
Topped by billow,
Topped by dark clouds:
Depths of darkness,
One above another:
If a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it!
For any to whom God gives not light,
There is no light!
18. Islam. Qur'an 24.40
Within the Essence of Mind all things are intrinsically pure, like the azure of the sky and the radiance of the sun and the moon which, when obscured by passing clouds, may appear as if their brightness had been dimmed; but as soon as the clouds are blown away, brightness reappears and all objects are fully illuminated. Learned Audience, our evil habits may be likened unto the clouds; while Sagacity and Wisdom are like the sun and the moon respectively. When we attach ourselves to outer objects, our Essence of Mind is clouded by wanton thoughts which prevent our Sagacity and Wisdom from sending forth their light.
19. Buddhism. Sutra of Hui Neng 6
Bhagavad Gita 7.25: Cf. Chandogya Upanishad 8.3.2, p. 219. Qur'an 24.40: Cf. Qur'an 24.35, p. 536; Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 86, p. 959f. Sutra of Hui Neng 6: Cf. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 3, p. 220; Anguttara Nikaya i.10, p. 453; Chandogya Upanishad 8.3.2, p. 219; Bhagavad Gita 5.15-16, pp. 535f.
It is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts within the breasts.
20. Islam. Qur'an 22.46
Fools dwelling in darkness, but thinking themselves wise and erudite, go round and round, by various tortuous paths, like the blind led by the blind.
21. Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 1.2.5
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.
22. Christianity. 2 Corinthians 4.4
Confucius said, "In vain I have looked for a single man capable of seeing his own faults and bringing the charge home against himself."
23. Confucianism. Analects 5.26
They have hearts, but understand not with them; they have eyes, but perceive not with them; they have ears, but they hear not with them. They are like cattle; nay, rather they are further astray. Those--they are the heedless.
24. Islam. Qur'an 7.179
You shall indeed hear but never understand,
and you shall indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and their ears are heavy of hearing,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should perceive with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.
25. Christianity. Matthew 13.14-15
Blind is this world. Few are those who clearly see. As birds escape from a net, few go to a blissful state.
26. Buddhism. Dhammapada 174
Qur'an 22.46: Cf. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 6, p. 218; Luke 11.34-36, p. 218. Katha Upanishad 1.2.5: Cf. Udana 68-69, p. 68. 2 Corinthians 4.4: Cf. John 8.43-45, p. 436; Yasna 32.9, p. 436; Qur'an 35.5-6, p. 441. Matthew 13.14-15: Cf. Mark 4.10-12, p. 803n. Dhammapada 174: Cf. Udana 75-76, p. 417.
As is a well full of frogs
Ignorant of the wide world,
So is my mind deluded by evil passions
Keeping out all thought of the Beyond.
Lord of all universes! show me for one instant a sight of Thee.
Lord! my senses have been fouled;
Thy state I cannot encompass.
Shower on me Thy grace;
Remove my delusions; confer on me true wisdom.
Great yogis for all their praxis
Comprehend not thy Reality inexpressible.
Through love and devotion mayst Thou be known,
Thus says Ravidas the cobbler.
27. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Purabi, Ravi Das, p. 346
On a certain occasion the Exalted One was seated in the open air, on a night of inky darkness, and oil lamps were burning. Swarms of winged insects kept falling into these oil lamps and thereby met their end, came to destruction and utter ruin. Seeing those swarms of winged insects so doing, the Exalted One saw the meaning in it and uttered this verse of uplift,
They hasten up and past, but miss the real;
a bondage ever new they cause to grow.
Just as the flutterers fall into the lamp,
so some are bent on what they see and hear.
28. Buddhism. Udana 72
The life of this world is but comfort of illusion.
29. Islam. Qur'an 3.185
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
30. Judaism and Christianity. Ecclesiastes 1.2-3 and 1.14
Parable of those who reject their Lord: their works are as ashes on which the wind blows furiously on a stormy day. No power have they over aught that they have earned. That is straying far, far from the goal.
31. Islam. Qur'an 14.18
Gauri Purabi, Ravi Das: Cf. Jaitsari, M.5, p. 410. Udana 72: Cf. Udana 75-76, p. 417. Qur'an 3.185: Cf. Qur'an 57.20, p. 328.
Men think much of their own advancement and of many other worldly things; but there is no improvement in this decaying world, which is as a tempting dish, sweet-coated, yet full of deadly gall within.... It is as intangible as a mist; try to lay hold of it, and it proves to be nothing!
32. Hinduism. Yoga Vasishtha
God, or good, never made man capable of sin. It is the opposite of good--that is, evil--which seems to make men capable of wrongdoing. Hence evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis.
33. Christian Science. Science and Health, 480
The Tathagata knows the polluted minds of beings for what they are. For he knows that the minds of ordinary people are not actually polluted by the polluting forces of perverted views, which, being nothing but wrong ideas, do not really find a place in them.
34. Buddhism. Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 12.3
The power that is not good--that is, the power that causes misfortune--is, after all, only a bad dream.
The life that is not good--that is, disease--is, after all, only a bad dream.
All discords and imperfections are, after all, only bad dreams.
It is our bad dreams that give power to disease, misfortune, discord, and imperfection.
It is like being tortured by some demon in our dreams;
But when we awaken, we find that there is actually no such power,
And that we had suffered at the hands of our own mind.
35. Seicho-no-Ie. Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines
Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 12.3: Cf. Surangama Sutra, p. 454; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 6, p. 442; Pancastikaya 38, p. 453.