Isha Upanishad - Super school - Auroville - Session 10: Seven-Fold Ignorance

10 February 2002)

We have come to a very, very important point in our investigation. What is the nature of ignorance? From the example that you have taken, you will see that ignorance is basically self-ignorance. Ignorance is the knowledge of that point, which makes you forgetful of the origin of that point. We were taking the example of an actor, who identifies himself with the character of the drama; he can be effective only if he becomes aware intensely of that character in such a way that he forgets his original self. If I'm acting the role of Hamlet in a drama, I become aware of that point of Hamlet, so that I forget myself altogether. I don't know that I am Kireet and I become Hamlet. So, ignorance is basically self-ignorance, you become aware intensely of one point, or a small field. And I become so acutely aware of that and all the rest is put at the back. It's not abolished, when I become aware of Hamlet myself, as Hamlet I don't cease to be what I am. I remain everything that I am, but in my consciousness. I am aware only of Hamlet of that moment that too not the whole of Hamlet only of that particular moment. ‘To be or not to be’, when I play this aspect of the drama, I'm aware only of that moment, all the rest is in the background, is not abolished, that's very important, other things are not abolished, not annulled. They are ignored, that is why it is called ignorance. They are ignored; ignorance is an act of ignoring everything except the small field in which I am engaged.

Question: To be able to concentrate so much on one point must also be tough otherwise it's not possible to concentrate so much.

Answer: But this is true only of relatively small fields. Actually you also take the opposite plunge, you forget your present moment altogether and you become aware of all the rest, then you forget altogether. Many yogis when they become aware of the Reality by an opposite plunge, you become aware only of that and you forget your present small little thing but even that is the kind of ignorance. You should be aware of the totality. Therefore, the goal is not only knowledge but integral knowledge,— totality, you should be aware of all. When the integrality of knowledge is put back and you're aware of only a small portion, of a small field, in that small field there are many ways of concentrating. As you rightly said that the concentration comes strongest at a given point if you are aware also of the other parts. True that is true only of the normal, ordinary, small field of psychology but not of the total psychology.

You will see in this case that ignorance is basically self-ignorance. If you analyse and ask yourself of what we are ignorant, what is it that is ignored in the state of ignorance? Then you may note the following things, first, the self in the totality is all that we are ignorant of, you are aware only of a small field in which we go round and round. In which there are of course, hundred points actually. There is no concentration even in that, we fly from one point to the other, in a distracted mind and no concentration either even of the small field. We go round and round, even in distraction, the field is limited and we are bound only to the small field. We are aware at present only of a few beings and few becomings. Secondly, we are aware only of our small egoistic consciousness, our small ego. Thirdly, we are aware only of the present moment very largely, a little bit of our past moment and a little bit of the prospect of what is to happen in a limited time field of which we are aware. The limited space field of which we are aware, most of our past we forget. Actually at a present moment we have to recollect, if somebody says, what happened to you at the age of eight or nine? You're not concerned with that, it is at the back, you are ignorant. Only if I ask you the question, you have to draw your mind to recollect and say wait a minute, I'll try to find out. Who knows this happened, when I was 8 or 10 years old, you have to make an effort.

Your time and space field is very limited. You are not aware of your subconscious, you are not aware of your subliminal self, you are not aware of your superconscience self. You are aware of only a small field of conscious being. So even in that little moment that you're aware of, you are not aware of your whole self, you are aware of only a small portion of your conscious being. Then you do not know, even in that small field, what is the relationship. There are many aspects of your being; you have got a body aspect, a vital and a mental aspect. And you do not know what is the relationship between them. Whether the body is the ruler of your life, vital desire is your life or mental desire is your life, it's all pell-mell. You do not know the real constitution of your being, how you are constituted. Constitution means interrelationship in which what is superior and what is inferior. That is called the constitutional development of any individual. To be aware of your constitution is to be aware as to what is prior and what is less prior. What is more important and what is less important, what is the governor and what is governed. And then you have a further ignorance in which when things are presented to you for doing this or doing that, we do not know how to give the right reaction to anything and constantly we ask the question, is it right, is it wrong. Because of the limitation of our consciousness, we do not know either ourselves or the world and when you put into contact with the outside world or even with our own little world, we don't know how to connect ourselves with it. How very often you are asked to meet XYZ and immediately you say, “Oh! I don't like this person; he is not such a wonderful person”. And therefore, you relate yourself in a different manner. So our relationships are all sometimes right and sometimes wrong and we're not sure whether we're really right, we think we're right. Sometimes we do not know whether it is really right or not.

So, you can see this is what is called many-sided ignorance, it is not one-sided: it is many sided ignorance such is the nature of her ignorance. Sri Aurobindo has spoken of the sevenfold ignorance. This is not in the Upanishad, but if you read Sri Aurobindo's exposition of ignorance; it's the most comprehensive exposition of ignorance. If you want to read anywhere, it is in The Life Divine.There is no book in the world in which ignorance has been expounded as fully, as comprehensively and as sharply, as in this book. One of the reasons why I recommend people to read The Life Divine, is because of this reason. I'll explain this problem. The most difficult problem of human life is to attain to knowledge; every human being is striving to know, you cannot help it, it is the very being of our individuality, is to seek knowledge.

We cannot know, what is that drive of that knowledge in us, how to really attain to that knowledge, unless you know the real nature of ignorance and the real nature of knowledge. All the time human beings are groping everywhere. You will read many books on physics, chemistry, biology, on politics, on sociology, hundred and one subjects, are all supposed to be books of knowledge. But we don't have the real key because you don't know what is our ignorance and we don't know what is true knowledge. So unless we know this, all human life is in a sense a kind of a groping, which may not end in any kind of fruitfulness and that's why you’ll see that most of the human beings end their lives in a sense of vanity, and a sense of uselessness.

When Alexander was dying he is supposed to have said that I came with empty hands and am going back with empty hands. Napoleon was one of the greatest personalities, a very potent personality and many were sent into prison on that island. You can see the misery of life. He had to remember that he was Emperor at one time and used to behave as if he's Emperor, without anybody obeying him. A person who won a lot would lead armies marching, now and here he was with a few individuals working with him as servants and valets and even there he used to feel, what is it and who will bother about him. Why, why this condition in human life, why do we face this condition of life? Because we are ignorant of ignorance and we are ignorant of knowledge. This is the most important problem of human life that is why I said to everybody that if you have time please visit The Life Divine. There is a secret given to you as nowhere else, of this I am certain. As nowhere else, you will get the exposition of what is ignorance and what is knowledge.

This is one very important chapter in this book which is called ‘Reality and Integral Knowledge’. And there he speaks of seven-fold ignorance and seven-fold knowledge. If you remove seven-fold ignorance, you'll have seven-fold knowledge. So let us see, what is this seven-fold ignorance? I've already spoken in a way but now I will systematically speak of this sevenfold ignorance.

First there is the original ignorance. Second, we have got cosmic ignorance. Third, we have egoistic ignorance. Fourth is the temporal ignorance, connected with time. Fifth is the psychological ignorance. Sixth is the constitutional ignorance. And seventh is practical ignorance. This is seven-fold ignorance, totality of all that can be said about ignorance. Sri Aurobindo summarised into these seven parts.

What is the original ignorance? It is ignorance of the origin of all that is here. So ignorance of the origin is original ignorance. We are aware only of origins at borders but not beyond borders. We are aware of partial facts; we are never going right up to the end of the partiality, going to the absolute from where everything emerges. A few beings and a few becomings that is all that we are aware of, this is original ignorance.

We are not aware of that which does not move. You remember, we had the description in the Ishopanishad, ‘that moves and that moves not.. We are aware only of that which moves but that which does not move. But we are not aware of the Silence, beyond Silence. We are not aware of that Reality, which is immobile. We are aware only of becoming, all that is moving about. So we are aware only of the cosmic movement but not of that which is immobile behind the movement. This is cosmic ignorance.

We are aware only of the cosmos. So much that all the rest is forgotten therefore, it is ignorance due to cosmic occupation. Even in the cosmos, you're not aware of the whole of the cosmos. We are not aware of everything that is happening. We are aware only of a small little being that we are round which we are moving round and round and round, the small little thing that we call ego only that we are aware of and even that partially. So because we are occupied with our ego, we are not aware of the cosmos. So therefore, this is called egoistic ignorance. To be aware only of our ego and not of the cosmos, which ego is a part and our occupation with this ego makes us oblivious, we put off the whole cosmos behind us that is why it is egoistic ignorance.

Even in the egoistic ignorance, we are aware only of the little bit of the past, a little bit of our present and a little bit of a perception of what may happen that is all. We are not aware of the soul. For example, behind the ego there is a soul. What we call ourselves, the real self is not our ego. Ourselves is the real soul, our psychic being, which is immortal. Our ego is slightly all the time becoming, more and less, the soul is immortal. It is the soul which knows, if you can get back to it for lives after lives, after lives. But we are aware only of the present life and the present body condition and that too, a little bit of it. You're not aware of the immortal time, off our being, which is immortally alive, which does not die at all. This is called temporal ignorance.

Now even that little thing that we know, we are ignorant of the psychology of what we are. When you ask the question, what am I? I'm aware of my body, life and mind that is the most and that too not the whole of the body. I don't know my own body, for example when the doctor points out that this is deficient in you: it comes to me like a surprise. I don't know, although it is my body and I live in this body all the time. I'm basically ignorant of my body. Only a few features I know of my body, the rest I don't know. I don't know what I desire. Only a few desires I know that I want this and I want that but when desires can be ignited, what am I capable of I don't know.

Macbeth did not know that he had a tremendous ambition to become king but this ambition was ignited and he was overtaken by it afterwards. So much that perhaps he could have never imagined that the great devourer, the great tiger was in him to become the king, to such an extent that he could kill his own master. Quite unaware of it he had this desire in him, lurking behind somewhere. We do not know our own mind. We have to learn, what is the mind, sensation and perception, ideation, volition, motivation, so many aspects of my mind and I'm quite unaware of it; I can't even distinguish between sensations and perceptions. I do not know the exact difference between ideation and perception. I don't know what is ideation and what is volition. All this I need to become aware of gradually and that too very partly. There is so much in the mind, much of it we are not aware of and then apart from body, life and mind, which to some extent we are aware of, we are totally ignorant of the subconscious that is in us. There are many memories which are put into the subconscious. So much that they are forgotten completely, you can never recover them and yet they affect you very much. A small child standing on the top step of a ladder, being asked to come down, suddenly falls down from the ladder. He’s hurt, after 10 or 15 years he forgets completely. The child doesn't remember many things but whenever he stands at the threshold of a ladder he hesitates to climb down. He himself may not know why, subconsciously is now afraid of coming down. There is a subconscious in him, he is forgotten completely, it is gone and he can never recover it. Sometimes of course one can recover, under great pressure or in a dream, he may see that scene again and he might remember, perhaps.

Question : He can overcome it, if he remembers?

Answer: He can overcome it, of course. If you develop a great bravery and a great courage in your personality then these things can be conquered. Certain things are not conquered, that is why some mental doctors bring them back to you. They find out what is troubling you, that is one of the uses of mental doctors. They know that there are various things, which are lying in a subconscious of which we are not conscious but still they are effective and if you can find out, what is effective and sometimes when you become aware and then you master it. Even without that process, if you can become yourself very courageous and your mind becomes luminous, many of these things can be wiped out.

The subconscious, which is lying in us, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, is a big layer, a dam, almost an ending dam. All that is there, you are completely ignorant of it. There are many other things which are happening, not below you but behind you and that is what is called subliminal consciousness, not subconscious but subliminal. There are individuals who are growing up, a few of the individuals who are growing up together, you find some are growing very fast and some are growing very slow. This is because in the subliminal some are open and some are not open. If you're open then there's a huge world of mind, mental thoughts and they are constantly pressing upon you but if you are closed, too much occupied with your present immediate movement then that which is coming from above or from behind, you may not receive them therefore, further progress is slow. Some people become philosophers by the age of twenty one, quite mature philosophers. Some philosophers become great poets by the age of twenty five, wonderful poets why does it happen?

Of which we are not aware at the present moment of life. You write a poem in your dream which you are not ordinarily capable of. Sometimes you do have a memory of a poem in your dream, which you write when you wake up, without much effort because it is already being driven down. It has come up, of this you are completely ignorant and then there is even deeper knowledge for which a soul is aspiring, we are not aware of our own soul’s aspiration. There is a preparation going on secretly is it where and because you're not aware of it, we take a long time to allow the soul to come to the forefront and sometimes we find that suddenly the meet somebody and in a minute we are a different person. Why does it happen because a lot of it was being prepared behind without your knowledge. There was a big aspiration that was rising inwardly but you were too busy with many things. So you were not aware of it but suddenly in a moment of leisure you meet somebody—a little ignition, a little meeting with somebody and you are transported into something quite different. You become a new person, you are reborn. And then there is the superconscious and huge ocean of superconscious. We shall talk later on about the superconscious but all that is around us here, right from superconscious, subliminal, psychic and subconscious and we are aware only of a small little thing. So we are having psychological ignorance, we do not know our own psychology.

Then you have constitutional ignorance, we do not know that our soul is our king working. It is hardly known about it as Sri Aurobindo says that the soul is like an exiled King. A king who has been exiled, so the real constitutional king is exiled, we don't even know that it is the real master of our being, we think that the mind is the king. Really speaking, the mind is never the king, even when you think that the mind is your king, it is never the king or sometimes you think my vital power or ambition is my king, as many great warriors and conquerors have felt in their life. They are ruled by their passion of ambition to capture power to rule the vital desire that is the king as far as they are concerned. Some people regard their body to be their king. To take care that your breakfast is arranged properly, lunch is prepared properly, your dinner is prepared properly and your life is so organised that you've no difficulty with lunch, dinner, or breakfast. Your whole life is ruled by their bodily needs. And how many people are upset that their breakfast is not ready in time and the dinner is not according to their right cooking. This is not soft, this is so very hard you can't eat nicely and your whole day is finished. It is because they think that the body is the king, the ruler is the body. So we have this constitutional ignorance, we do not know who is the ruler. We are not able to give to the ruler the real reins of power. In fact, to take a decision, I do not normally ask that let me ask my exiled King. He is the real king but he is exiled that I should be able to go to him and ask him: ‘Please, I have to take a decision, what is your will? You are the real king.’ If you're able to do that then you'll get the right advice because he is a real ruler. Instead I go to my desires and ambitions, which desire is more prominent, which is less, from where I shall get more from where I shall get less and I compare and take a decision. Most of the human beings are encircled in these decisions in which we refer only to the hierarchy of my desires. I have a possibility of becoming a doctor, or engineer, or a lawyer. And I ask myself, in which I shall get the best, if I'm engineered I'll earn more, or if I'm a doctor I shall earn more or whatever the small little things we decide. And then I say, ‘I'll be a doctor because then I can charge anything afterwards. I will spend five years studying and then I can make money.’ There was one very big lawyer at one time and I happened to meet him and he said, ‘Kireet, you join me and we will make money together. You and me together, we shall mint a lot of money. I said: ‘Thank you very much; I don't want to earn money in that way. You have to refer to the soul, what is the wish of the soul. Because of our constitutional ignorance we are constantly being snared by this little thing, that little thing.

And then as a result of all these six ignorances, the seventh ignorance starts the seventh ignorance is practical ignorance. Because all this ignorance accumulates and ultimately at every moment we are obliged to do something, all human beings are obliged to do something. As Sri Krishna says in the Gita that there is none in the world who can escape action,− the minimum action that you are obliged to do is to breathe. It’s also an action, breathing although you may not feel it is an action. When you are very tired and you can't breathe then you realise that breathing is also an action. So every moment we are obliged to do something, act, and since we do not have this six-fold knowledge and since we are obliged in the six-fold ignorance every action of ours is imperfect.

In every action of ours there is a mark of imperfection. Our action is either weak, that is one imperfection, or incomplete, or it is wrong,—these are the three maladies of a work, three sicknesses of a work,—weak action, incomplete action, wrong action.

And we're constantly in that net; all human beings are subject to this condition. This is the sevenfold ignorance.

Now you take sevenfold knowledge. You become aware of the origin of all. We have seen in the Upanishad that we read, ‘that which moves and that which does not move’, we saw that ‘he who perceives all things in the self and the self in all things, all things in the self and the self in all things and one who sees that the self has become all things,, it's a threefold knowledge. Sri Aurobindo has regarded these two verses as the loftiest description of the experience of true knowledge. When all things are seen in the self, when the self is seen in all things, oneself is seen in all things and when you see oneself becoming all the things,— when this threefold knowledge comes together then the original ignorance is lost. This is, you might say, the most fundamental knowledge. Now, in that knowledge you realise that which is absolutely stable and mobile, the knowledge of immobility.

Question:Why have we lost the original?

That's a deeper question. If you permit me, I’ll come to that question a little later because it's a deeper question and I will branch off into something else. Keep that question alive but for the moment we are only seeing, what is the nature of knowledge, what is the nature of ignorance and then we shall ask a question, how has it come about? It's a very important question we shall certainly deal with because without it this Upanishad will not be complete.

To be aware of the immobile self, then you will be able to see that all this becoming has behind it an immutable rock, an unshakeable reality. So the cosmic ignorance will be cured and you will not be overwhelmed by the becoming. Because you are in a state of complete immobility, storms may pass through you but you remain unshaken. Then thirdly you become aware of the whole cosmos, not a portion of the cosmos, what is called cosmic consciousness. There is a third level of knowledge: cosmic consciousness, cosmic superconsciousness, cosmic mind, cosmic life, cosmic matter. Then you're cured of egoistic ignorance then you become aware of your psychic consciousness, psychic being, knowledge of the psychic being, in which you find that you yourself are a portion of the Supreme, who is not bound to this body and present time-frame that you are an ancient immortal self. Ancient immortal soul as a result you are cured of the temporal ignorance. Then you become aware of your superconscient being, of your subliminal being, of your conscious being, of your subconscious being then you are cured of the psychological ignorance. Then you become aware that our soul is the master of our being and that our soul also has another master. Our soul is not only an exiled King, beyond it is a king also; there is an emperor, supreme Master, supreme Lord. He is the ruler, so we are the lord of constitutional ignorance. As a result of all this you have practical knowledge not practical ignorance but practical knowledge. All that you need to know at a given time you know, including the physical things all around. If I want to know you just need to ask and it will be given to you. If I want to know what is happening in your mind, it's practical knowledge. I want to know what you're thinking of, I just need to concentrate and I'll know what is in your mind.

I'm saying that if you have all this, whatever you need to know, once somebody wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo saying how much Mother knows? What the President of America spoke to his wife at the time of breakfast, can Mother know? Sri Aurobindo said, ‘Yes, if She wants to know, She can immediately know’. Mother’s capacity of knowledge is integral knowledge. Once Mother was standing at what is called the sports ground of the Ashram and there was a question of building a swimming pool. Question was where to find water? Engineers were discussing and my friend Udar, who was also a very big engineer, had a very beautiful idea and he said: ‘Why not ask the Mother. So we asked the Mother, ‘Mother, tell us, we do not know, anywhere in the whole ground there is no water according to us. Please tell us where the water is? So Mother said exactly where I'm standing, below that there is water. They dug up and there was water. It is said that Mother was shown the chart where exactly ‘Matrimandir, has to be, the centre of Auroville. Mother had just put her finger here, and even physically it is true, it is the centre and there are many consequences of it. This is practical knowledge.

There is no knowledge that is denied to that consciousness, for example you bring a substance, you don’t know the nature of that substance, but if it is brought to that state of consciousness, something will happen and the substance will reveal itself. Like a beautiful experience with the Mother in Japan, She was concentrating upon the cherry tree and when she concentrated upon it, Mother said that the cherry tree just said to her: ‘I’m the cure of all diseases of the summer’. This is how practical knowledge is revealed. If you have to pass an examination and you have all this, you will know all the questions that'll come in advance. Actually Mother gives an example that when they were playing cards, She would know the cards, She would know the cards of everybody, so it is so easy to play the cards. As a result if anybody comes to meet you, you will know his motive and he will tell you himself what he is, in one way or the other. You may have a very high opinion of him, he will do one gesture to show how mean he is, he may be very high in many ways. A small example, a Minister of Education came to meet the Mother and I was standing out and he had gone inside the chamber of the Mother. Udar, my friend was with the Minister. Mother was seated, he goes there and says: Oh! What a beautiful view of the sea. He revealed himself, he was in front of the Mother and he was occupied with the sea. So human beings reveal themselves. Actually this is happening all the time, only we are not aware. Every human being is self revealing actually. Every little thing in the world is self revealing, only we do not know how to observe and where to observe, it's just before you. As a result you can do the right action spontaneously there is no need to find out whether this is right or wrong, this choice that choice, all the dilemmas of human consciousness in which we are caught all the time they are dissolved. All the actions will be spontaneous, they are the right action. Every time you smile at the right time, you will frown at the right time, you will look in the right way, you relate yourself in the right way the kind of delicacy required in relationships, the kind of firmness that required in relationships, the way in which you speak, the length of your speech, automatically will be the right proportion, the right measure. What you call perfection of your life, perfection of your being will be manifest. So you have the practical knowledge, not the practical ignorance, practical ignorance will be cured.

All this is a kind of a panoramic view of what is ignorance and what is knowledge. Now the question comes which he asked how this has come about. I think tomorrow we shall deal with it, keep that question ripe because then we shall understand these two or three verses that we are dealing with. If you follow ignorance you enter into darkness, if you follow knowledge alone you enter into greater darkness but really speaking it is not so. Really speaking, you must follow ignorance, crossover death and by gaining knowledge you will attain to immortality. These three verses, real understanding will come now after seeing how this ignorance arises, whether true knowledge is not abolished, knowledge is always there but we are all ignorant. How does this happen, why does it happen? These are the important questions.

In the history of philosophy these two questions have been answered fully only by Sri Aurobindo that is why I always recommend people to read The life Divine. Nobody has answered these two very important questions, which are centrally related to human fulfilment. We shall read tomorrow.