This is the conclusion to the expansive essay on overcoming ignorance. This essay is very detailed and filled with actions necessary to be one with Tao. I want to thank the author, Jos Slabbert, for allowing me to use his wise words to help light the way on my Path with Heart and hopefully to help others to find their way also. As I stated previously, I have a different and more serious perspective on Karma and will attempt to illucidate my position in a new post very soon.
D. Behavioral Symptoms of ignorance
Behavioral symptoms of ignorance may be clearly visible to outsiders, but the ignorant are mostly unaware of their own ignorance.
What follows is a list of what could be symptoms of ignorance. They might indicate where you can improve.
Many of these symptoms might seem obvious, but make no mistake. They can manifest themselves in subtle, discreet, almost invisible forms. Your own ego, too, has a way of presenting itself in forms acceptable to your conscience. Do not be fooled by it.
What all these symptoms have in common is a lack of compassion. In fact, ignorance can be defined as any state of mind other than compassion.
1. Talking too much
Talking too much is often based on an overestimation of your ability to grasp subject matter. It could also be the result of your underestimation of the difficulty of subject matter. Ignorant people are often too eager to give their opinions on complex matters. They often rush in “where angels fear to tread”. The wise are aware of their limitations, and with this in mind, they will carefully search for solutions.
Talking too much is often a manifestation of an inflated ego. For more information on this aspect, read the essay “Talking: A Problem and a Challenge”at http://www.truetao.org/the way/talking.htm.
2. Closed mind
In spite of their talkativeness, ignorant people do not want to get involved in true and vigorous exchanges of ideas. Their conversations are often monologues designed to impress. They are bad listeners, because they have usually made up their minds, and do not plan to change their minds. They are too insecure to change their minds. They are quick to criticize others, but cannot take criticism themselves. They are too scared to change their ideas or behavior. They will not admit being wrong, and they are more interested in appearance than true substance.
Ignorant people are egocentric. They are focused on themselves, their careers, their development, their agendas and their interests. They show very little interest in anyone else’s concerns but their own, except when somebody else’s activities could be of benefit to them.
Ignorance is often betrayed by inflexibility. Ignorant people often show off impressive agendas. Their agendas of self-interest often become their focus, and they refuse to deviate from their carefully planned strategies. They have no time for spontaneity and intuitive moments of compassion or just sheer joy. Ignorant people will often become slaves of schedules or aims, forgetting totally that life is there to be lived, and not to be enslaved to.
Ignorant people often tend to be exceedingly ambitious, and their ambition is clearly centered in the service of their own selves. An integral part of their ambition is to outperform competitors and opponents. It is to become the center of attention and admiration. Even when their work is of a “spiritual” nature, they will still be plagued by egocentric ambitions which diminish or pervert their work.
Ignorant people tend to be very vain. They are very worried about appearance, and what others think of them. Maintaining appearance is an obsession with them. For this reason they are susceptible to manipulation and corruption. Their fear of losing face will cow them into submission at the cost of betraying themselves.
7. Desire for status
Ignorant people crave status, or at least the appearance of status. They tend to see status as of greater substance than true performance, and they often surround themselves with superficial artefacts depicting status.
Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success of failure: which is more destructive?
(The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44)
Their desire for status often turns them into individuals easily cowed by the specter of losing the good opinion of society. Reputation is high and integrity low on their priority list. Their fearful little minds search desperately for the warmth of recognition and acceptance.
8. Envy, jealousy, meanness
Ignorant people are often so dedicated to the ego that they cannot tolerate people close to them being successful. The last thing they can do is genuinely rejoice in the success of their “friends” or peers. They are forever enviously measuring the success of those they deem to be in competition with themselves, and they live in fear of being outdone by someone. They often small-mindedly refuse to accept any new ideas that might endanger their standing or status. They would sometimes revert to meanness to “defend” what they feel is their rank or position. They are often discreet gossip mongers, or sly backbiters, manipulating people’s opinions to their own advantage. There is very little space for any form of real compassion in their lives, even though they would go to great pains to publicly demonstrate virtue.
9. Quick to condemn, slow to forgive
Ignorant people are often very quick to condemn. Their condemnation is often based on prejudices and uninformed assumptions. They prefer to reflect the popular prejudices and sentiments which promote their status. They are quite easily cowed by the group mind. In fact, they have few real principles they would not betray when faced by rejection. Often, ignorant people are slow to forgive because they refuse to take the bigger picture into consideration, and because compassion does not play a role in their lives.
The most dangerous form of ignorance is that of deliberately making the wrong choices, in spite of knowing they are wrong. People doing this are often beyond help, and can only be wrenched back to sanity by extremely traumatic experiences in their own lives.
11. Driven by emotions
Ignorant people are often driven by their emotions, and they tend to be as fickle and unreliable as their emotions. Their mood swings determine the level of their commitment and devotion. They tend to accept their emotions as reality, and would therefore often be enslaved by them.
Desperate and ignorant people
search for peace
on perpetual waves of inconstant emotion
or in the possession of things.
The Taoist sage knows
neither a condition,
nor a possession,
nor an emotion.
(The Tao is Tao, 92)
12. Easily captured by ideas
Ignorant people lack the critical faculties to evaluate concepts and ideas, and they therefore easily fall prey to ideologies. In this way, they would easily allow a concept to influence them and govern their actions. They lack the awareness that they can easily be ruled by things they are not aware of, particularly destructive tendencies in their own minds.
13. Lack of perspective
Often the thinking of ignorant people lacks perspective. They do not have the detachment to evaluate their own ideas. They refuse to think critically about their own thinking. In this way, they become slaves of their own thoughts.
The Taoist sage
(The Tao is Tao, 65)
14. Feelings of superiority
The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 39)
Pride is mostly a symptom of ignorance. Humility is a natural product of true understanding. The moment you understand the whole, you realize that you are not better than a person who has fallen by the wayside. Looking down on others is a sign of ignorance. When you truly understand, you will stop condemning others. Feelings of superiority prevent compassionate action. They allow prejudice and hatred to flourish. They constitute a terrible form of ignorance.
The most obvious symptom of ignorance is a life devoted primarily to material gain beyond basic necessity. People focused on material gain are often chasing illusions of permanence, and will never find real satisfaction. You find this form of illusion even among religious people, who will rationalize their greed with “spiritual” argumentation. Materialism is linked to ego and dependence on status. It is a terrible form of captivity. Freedom linked to materialism is an illusion. Democracy based on greed and material wealth will never bring true justice and freedom to its people. True liberation is a spiritual one.
16. Impatient action
In ignorant people, impatience and action often combine in a very destructive way. Driven by their ego and their own ambition, ignorant people lack the patience to wait for the right moment to act. Thirsting for honor, they would not sit back and allow others to take the credit for solving problems, even if they are better able to. They are geared to short-termed strategies and solutions. Their impatience is often a result of their own greed, and it therefore often has destructive results in the long term.
E. Overcoming ignorance
Ignorance is a condition encompassing all aspects of life. Overcoming it is an essentially holistic venture exacting changes of a far reaching nature. Conquering ignorance is a deeply spiritual process. As such, this process cannot be described adequately in language. Its final condition is one of complete harmony with the Tao.
What follows is an incomplete list of a few important steps that can be taken to overcome ignorance, or at least to reduce it.
1. Expand your knowledge
The kind of knowledge referred to here is knowledge about relevant matters of the spirit. In spite of warnings that the intellect is not the main force in spiritual development, it nevertheless still plays an important role, particularly at the beginning of one’s development. There are many things one could learn through reading or conversation. Through texts, one could “meet” many great minds, and learn from them. By discussing central concepts with more advanced minds, or with compassionate and wise friends, one could learn tremendously.
2. Kill your ego
Reducing the ego is essential. It is the source of too much suffering and delusion to tolerate. It is a tall order, though, for it could involve a total change in one’s attitude and approach to life.
To learn more about dealing with the ego, go to the essay titled “Reducing the Ego: Strategies and Tips” at http://www.truetao.org/the way/ego.htm.
3. Become compassionate
The best way to start is to leave one’s comfort zone and to become deliberately and actively compassionate. It is amazing how compassionate action can help to reduce the ego, and how it naturally increases wisdom in you. But it is essential that your compassion is not in the service of your own self. It must be true compassion, where the self has become unimportant.
To learn more about compassion, read the following essays:
“Wisdom and Compassion: Two sides of the Same Coin” at http://www.truetao.org/theway/wisdom.htm.
“The Tao Te Ching: Qualities of Compassion” at http://www.truetao.org/theway/ttc.htm.
Never give up. Remember that the path you have taken might be a long and strenuous one. You will need discipline as well as patience with yourself. And lots of faith.
Find ways of disciplining and expanding your mind Make it part of your daily routine. It is essential that you learn to be in control of your mind and your thoughts.
For more information, read “Thinking: Winning the Battle of the Mind” at http://www.truetao.org/the way/thinking.htm.
6. Accept the mystery
As has been pointed out earlier in this essay, faith does play a part. Particularly at the beginning of your development, you have no choice but to tentatively accept certain premises in good faith. As you grow in spiritual experience, you will have ample opportunity to test these premises, and uncertainties will then become certainty. But the mystery of the Tao will remain, and faith will always be essential.
For more information on the role of faith, read “The Power of Faith in Tao” at http://www.truetao.org/the way/faith.htm.
Who can think the unthinkable?
Only the sage
in total harmony with Tao.
Yet his thinking
is an act of complete faith
(The Tao is Tao, 94)
~ Jos Slabbert, 2001