Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

Ignorance is bliss is a well known saying in our society. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was first written in in the 1700’s by poet, Thomas Gray. He was no stranger to heartbreak and loss, and so coined the term in his poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College:

To each his suff’rings: all are men.

Condemn’d alike to groan,

The tender for another’s pain

Th’ unfeeling for his own.

Yet ah! Why would they know their fate?

Since sorrow never comes too late,

And happiness too swiftly flies.

Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more; where ignorance is bliss,

’Tis folly to be wise.

Since then, the term ignorance is bliss is referred whenever finding out particularly bad or unsettling news.  But is ignorance really bliss? Are we really better off not knowing something?

According to yogic philosophy, ignorance is the first root cause of all human suffering. Avidya, as it translates in Sanskrit, is the first Klesha, or obstacle, that humans face as they journey through life. Yogi sages refer to avidya as ignorance of our true selves. But what is true? Yoga believes we are all part of a larger, infinite consciousness that makes up the universe. Therefore, we are all manifestations of this cosmic energy, and thus intertwined in a dance of shakti and shiva.

When we are born, and more specifically, when we begin to speak, we forget we are perfect, divine creatures, and instead come to believe we know who we are. First through those who raise us, and then by culture and society.  We believe what others tell us about ourselves, as well as what we think from past experiences. Yoga says the way to break free from this prison of false belief is through meditation. Yoga asana (postures) is merely a tool to prepare the body and mind to meditate.

By drawing awareness inward and focusing the mind on a single object, our limiting beliefs of who we think we are start to fall away, like leaves on a tree in autumn. It is here, in meditation, where our true selves are revealed as unconditional love and light.

We are not our thoughts, nor our beliefs, and we have the capability to choose our thoughts, just as what we choose what to wear each morning. In this way, we can choose love or hatred, happiness or sadness, thereby changing our behaviors, habits, and actions.

Meditation allows you the space to choose how to respond to any given situation which arises. Instead of ignorantly reacting, a consistent meditation practice helps to train the mind in slowing down, stepping back, and discerning what is really true. By dis-identifying from our thoughts, we come to know that nothing is personal. Everyone is divine. But it is when we act out of fear and past conditioning that we ultimately suffer. And thus, cause suffering to others.

Click here for the full poem by Thomas Gray.

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