Saturday, January 15, 2011

Killing Ignorance?

I have seen a few people comment on this article by Spirit Rock Meditation Center co-founder James Baraz. In it, he suggests our common enemy is ignorance.

The real villain in this story is not Jared Loughner. It's not the media. And it's not the gun rights advocates. The real villain is ignorance. Because of ignorance, people project their fear and turn those who are different into enemies -- both in their minds and in actuality. This is the history of war, as Sam Keen brilliantly pointed out in Faces of the Enemy. Once you demonize the "other" they become less than human and you can inflict pain on them without guilt or shame.

Seems pretty accurate, right?

Well, then I reading the chapter in Zen Teacher Reb Anderson's book Being Upright about the first precept, and he says this:

If you try to kill ignorance, then you will kill the actual life of your body and mind.

I don't think these two teachers are in conflict, but the focus on ignorance as a "villain" is perhaps a nice metaphorical shift (i.e. moving our anger and blame from a person or group and placing it on ignorance), but it seems to be a good way to lead people astray.

Villains are usually despised, even often by other villains. And violence tends to be about harming or eliminating perceived villains. So it's not hard to see the leap that could be made here. Instead of harming or trying to eliminate others, the sword or gun or weapon of choice is turned inward. In the vast majority of cases, not literally, but more of a sense of "self hatred" for all the ignorance that is found within (and is mirrored in the world).

I have often identified with the bodhisattva figure Manjushri, whose sword is said to cut through delusion. It's easy to get drawn into imagining that he is constantly swinging that thing, like a samurai, but it's really more a representative of realized wisdom which cuts through delusions. So, actual swinging and cutting or not isn't the point.

So, while I agree with Baraz that a collective shift of individuals focusing on the ignorance that leads to demonization and violence would be a good thing, it's important not to slide into something like a war on ignorance, whether as individuals or as members of societies. That's just another dualistic trap in my opinion.

1 comment:

spldbch said...

Wouldn't a "war on ignorance" really just be an effort to spread knowledge? There's definitely nothing wrong with that. The old cliche "knowledge is power" is completely accurate in my opinion. Still, we wouldn't have to frame it as a "war on ignorance," which could, as you say, be rather unproductive. Let's just call it spreading knowledge, which is almost always a good thing.