Ignorance and the Mind

If you are a student of Vedanta, you will learn that Ignorance causes the Mind to arise. Your mind, my mind, the mind of any living being is caused by Ignorance. This Ignorance is not your typical ignorance; it is not like your ignorance of the Inuit language; or of any subject matter, for example, astronomy. It is a special type of Ignorance. It is the Ignorance of not knowing your true nature. Not knowing your inner Self – not knowing the answer to ‘Who am I?’. Lack of this knowledge is Ignorance. If we knew our true nature, there would be no Ignorance. If there is no Ignorance, there would be no Mind, in fact there would be no universe. Since all of us have a Mind, this   means that we are all Ignorant about who we really are, about our true nature.

What is beyond Ignorance and the mind? The simple Vedantic answer is – Self-Awareness. Self-Awareness or SatChitAnanda is our inner core. This Self-Awareness is always present; it is present now and will always be present in the future.  Self-Awareness is like a bulb, it radiates Awareness, just as a light bulb radiates light. It does nothing other than shine with Awareness. Self-Awareness always exists. Whether there is Ignorance or not, Self-Awareness is always present.

It is important to understand Self-Awareness and Awareness. As mentioned, Self-Awareness is our inner core and Awareness is the nature of Self-Awareness. Please read my post ‘Analyzing Awareness’ for a detailed explanation. Here is a quick run-down.

If Awareness is analyzed, it will be found to have three things: Subject, Intelligence and Object. If any one of them is missing, there will be no Awareness.

  1. There must be a Subject, who is Aware of the experience. The subject is the knower of Awareness
  2. There must be an Object, which must be experienced. This object is the known part of Awareness
  3. There must be Intelligence by which the subject gets to know the object. This is the knowing part of the Awareness

Awareness = Subject + Object + Intelligence

Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Knowing + Power of Known

Awareness is made up of Subject, Intelligence, and Object and it has three different powers – Knower, Knowing and Known. It must be understood that the Subject, Intelligence, and Object and the three powers are not something outside in the world, but they are within Awareness and they make up Awareness. Wherever there is awareness, Subject, Intelligence and Object are present with all the three powers. Right now, you are aware of reading this article, therefore Subject, Intelligence and Object are present within your Awareness of this article. 

What is Self-Awareness? There must be a Self who is Aware. Vedanta teaches us that this Self is our inner core, which is full, complete and it is stand alone. For Awareness to be full and complete, it must be Self-Aware. Self-Awareness means that ‘Awareness is aware of Awareness’. It is like saying ‘I am seeing a tree’. Here ‘I am’ is the subject and the tree is the object. Seeing is the intelligence connecting the object with the subject. Applying this to Self-Awareness, you will notice that the subject is Awareness, object is Awareness and the intelligence is Awareness. Awareness plays the role of subject and object. In other words, both the subject and object are the same. This is not easy to grasp, but there is only one entity in which subject and object are the same It is therefore non-dual. This complete, self-standing Self Awareness is our inner core. There is no separation between the subject and object. Even the power of Knower (subject/witness) is the same as Power of Known (Object making ability). Self-Awareness is non-dual and homogenous. It is Self-Shining.

This Self-shining Awareness is like a Bulb of Awareness and it is our inner core. It is not dependent upon anything else and it generates its own light of Awareness. 

Ignorance and Creation of Mind

If our nature and inner core is Self-Awareness, why don’t we know it, why don’t we feel it? The simple answer is that we are ignorant of our inner core. Since we have forgotten our true nature, Ignorance covers up Self-Awareness. When we forget, who we really are, Ignorance pops up and like a veil, covers Awareness.

This veil of Ignorance is made up of a countless number of pixels, each pixel representing a living being. Each pixel of Ignorance has its unique profile depending upon on the degree of Ignorance. There is a complete spectrum of Ignorance.

  1. Ignorance about our inner core – A self-realized person will have zero ignorance and at the other extreme there are living beings with 100% ignorance, who have no clue about their true nature. Each one of us falls somewhere in between these two extremes.
  • Ignorance about External Objects/Topics – No one knows everything about external objects. Some people have a lot of knowledge about one subject but are ignorant about something else. This way a profile is created for each living being about their knowledge or ignorance of all external objects/topics

If you add the above two, you get a combined profile of ignorance. This profile can be divided into countless number of pixels of ignorance. Each living being thus has their own unique pixel of ignorance, depending upon on their degree of ignorance. You have a pixel of ignorance; I have one and every living being has a pixel of ignorance. You could say, that the veil of ignorance with its countless pixels covers Self-Awareness.

Ignorance has a strange power; it can separate the subject and object from the non-dual Self-Awareness. Yes, it has that power! How does this happen? Because of ignorance, we forget we are both the subject and object, we do not know that both subject and object are one and non-dual. If we do not know that we are both the Subject and Object, it means that the subject and object are no longer a single entity but are separate and independent entities. Non duality becomes duality by the simple fact of forgetting. This forgetting or not knowing is the power of Ignorance.  

We have seen earlier that Self Awareness and the power of Awareness is made up of the following:

  • Self-Awareness = Self + Subject + Intelligence + Objects
  • Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Knowing + Power of Known

When subject and object separation take place, Mind is created. Duality is created – subject ‘in here’ and object ‘out there’. Ignorance is the underlying force which creates the mind, and our perception of the duality in the world.

The process of separation of the subject and object is like refraction. Place a prism in front of light and we can see the 7 different colors on the other side. In the same way, the pixel of ignorance refracts the light of Self-Awareness into the following 4 different components. 

  1. Manas (Mind)– The home of the objects  
  2. Buddhi (Intellect) – The home of the intelligence
  3. Sakshi (Witness) – The home of the subject.
  4. Ahamkara (Ego) – The home of the self

These homogenous and integrated parts of Self-Awareness become the 4 independent parts. The word “Mind” is also used described the 4 parts collectively. Thus, Ignorance of the Self has the power to create the mind.   

So, there are a countless number of pixels of ignorance – one for each individual living being. The process of refraction takes place in each pixel and thereby countless number of minds are created, one for each living being. Each mind is different, depending on the knowledge and ignorance profile for each pixel. The more the ignorance, the less efficient the mind. It will have a lower intelligence level. The opposite is also true, lower the ignorance, the mind will be more evolved. A pure mind will have no ignorance of the Self.

The 4 parts of the mind are located in different “departments”. The Intelligence is sitting in the Buddhi, the objects part is sitting in the Manas, the subject part is sitting in the Sakshi and the self or ‘I-ness’ is sitting in the Ahamkara. These four parts are separated but there is a natural tendency for these 4 parts to combine to create Self-Awareness. There is a mutual attraction to come together so that they can collectively achieve their original status of being Self-Awareness and therefore feel complete. When the subject, object and intelligence are separated out, the self feels incomplete, it feels inadequate and it wants to feel full and complete. The only way self can feel completeness is when the subject, object and intelligence combine into one entity. 

The mind is trying to achieve this on a continuous basis. The 4 parts are combining to feel full and complete. Let us see how the 4 parts attempts to combine in the presence of Ignorance.

  1. Ignorance and Manas:
  2. Ignorance and Buddhi
  3. Ignorance and Ahamkara (ego)
  4. Ignorance and Sakshi

Ignorance and Manas

Manas is the home of the objects. It is made up of the Power of Known and Ignorance. Power of Known is a power within Awareness. It is the power which deals with objects. The Power of Known has the power to become any object. This power does not create any objects but becomes the object which is superimposed on it. A good metaphor to explain this is that it is like a lump of playdoh. You can manipulate the playdoh to any shape. You can make a tree, car, house, or a person with the playdoh. In the same way, the Power of Known can be manipulated to become any object in this universe.

This awesome Power of Known rubs on the Ignorance present in the Manas. Ignorance in the Manas acquires some of this power. This gives the Manas the ability to wield the Power of Known. Manas made of Ignorance now has the power to become any object, limited by the 5 senses.

Manas = Ignorance with the Power of Known

So how does it work?  The subtle version of the 5 sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin pick up their respective inputs from the external world. The inputs from the 5 sense organs encounters ignorance in the Manas, they combine with Ignorance to form a waveform. If the input from the eye sense organ is a tree, this will combine with the ignorance in the Manas to create a tree wave form. Please note that the tree waveform is covered or made up with ignorance only, nothing but ignorance. Since it is covered with ignorance, the Power of Known does not know that it must become a tree. Why? Because the waveform is covered by ignorance. The waveform made of ignorance has the potential to become the tree, but it is unknown to the Manas. In the same way, all the input from the sense organs combine with ignorance and create their own unique waveform made up of ignorance. 

Manas needs help in decoding what the ignorance waveform represents. The Manas can become the object only after it knows what object it represents. It must gain the required knowledge before it can act.

Ignorance and Buddhi

Buddhi is the home of the Intelligence and Ignorance. It has the power of Knowing, knowledge, or intelligence. The Power of Knowing has unlimited intelligence and it is the storage of all possible knowledge. There is no knowledge which is not present in this Power of Knowing.

In the Buddhi, this unparalleled power rubs on the Ignorance. This Ignorance acquires the Power of Knowing. Unfortunately, it does not acquire the unlimited power. Why? Because of the ignorance, it is unable to absorb the unlimited Power of Knowing. The Power of Knowing is limited by the Ignorance/Knowledge profile of the individual pixel of Ignorance.  

Buddhi = Ignorance with the Power of Knowing.

This Buddhi has the power to decode the content which is presented to it.

Let us see how this works. In the previous section, we saw that the manas has the object waveforms covered with ignorance. The manas has no clue what these objects are. The manas forwards these waveforms of ignorance to the buddhi for decoding. Buddhi receives this waveform and checks if this waveform is a known waveform or is a new or unknown waveform. Depending upon this, it will take one of the following actions: 

  1. Known Waveform: It checks its memory and if it finds this to be an existing waveform, it will retrieve the knowledge about that waveform.
  2. Unknown Waveform: If it is an unknown waveform, Buddhi will use its intelligence to decode the waveform. Because of the Ignorance in the Buddhi, it may not always make a correct interpretation. However, it will make progress and learn about the unknown waveform. A repeated effort will enhance the learning and finally the learning process will be complete. An intelligent Buddhi will learn faster as compared to a Buddhi with limited intelligence. This is how the learning process takes place. Slow and repeated effort.

The incoming waveform from the manas is made of ignorance. The Buddhi will de-code this and when the decoding is complete, the outgoing waveform is made up of intelligence or knowledge. The output waveform made up of intelligence is called Vrittis or mental waves. These mental waves are now made up of Knowledge. Yes, Knowledge. If the incoming waveform is for a tree covered with ignorance. After decoding the waveform is made up of the knowledge of the tree. The waveform knows it represents a tree. Please think and reflect upon this. Knowledge is the substance of the waveform.

Ignorance and Ahamkara (ego)

Ahamkara means the maker of ‘I’. It is the self or ego within us. There is a Self within Self Awareness. This Self is refracted to become the self (with a small s). This self is the Ahamkara or ego. The small self is the combination of Self and Ignorance:

Ahamkara (ego) = Ignorance in the presence of Self

Ignorance in the presence of Self in Self-Awareness creates the self/Ahamkara or ego. This ego is nothing but Ignorance, but thinks it is the Self. The Self is full and complete, the ego is also looking for the same fullness and complete happiness. It wants that complete peace, not momentarily but on a continuous basis.

What does the ego do? It starts looking for this peace and happiness in the world. We just saw that the Buddhi decodes objects (waveforms) coming in from the 5 sense organs in the manas. These objects are presented to the Ahamkara or ego. What does the Ahamkara do with these object waveforms? The ego has a clear goal – it is looking for continuous happiness. It evaluates the object waveform against this key criterion. If the ego thinks this object can provide that happiness, it will like that object.  If the ego thinks that it will not provide that happiness, it will dislike that object. In Vedanta this is called Raga(like)/Dvesha (dislike). The ego will run towards the object it likes and run away from objects which it dislikes. Ego undertakes this task for all the thoughts and objects which it encounters.   

This is how the ego interacts with the object waveform presented by buddhi. The ego updates the object waveform with its likes/dislikes.

Ignorance and Sakshi

Sakshi is the witness and is the home of the subject and Ignorance. It has the Power of the Knower. This power allows the witness to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste everything coming from the 5 senses and memory.

Sakshi = Ignorance with the Power of Knower

The power of the Knower rubs on Ignorance and Ignorance seems to acquire some of the powers of the knower. This allows the Ignorance in Sakshi to witness the objects which is presented.

When the object waveform made up of knowledge comes in the presence of Sakshi – magic happens at two levels:

Level 1 – Awareness happens: When you combine the powers of Known, Knowing and Knower, Awareness is created. This is what is happening here. The Power of Known in the Manas combines with the Power of Knowing in the Buddhi and when this comes in the presence of the Power of Knower in Sakshi, Awareness is created.

Level 2 – Form of Object: Ignorance with its acquired powers creates the object. The originating waveform is from manas – the home of the objects. This waveform is decoded by buddhi – the home of intelligence. When this waveform comes in the presence of Sakshi – the home of the subject, the Object is created by the Power of the Known. 

This is not a twostep process but happens simultaneously. The 3 powers create Awareness and Ignorance creates the objects. When they combine, awareness of the object is created. These are the gross objects we are aware of in the universe around us.

We have just seen the multifaceted role ignorance plays in the mind. In manas, it acquires the power to become objects. In buddhi, it acquires the power to know the objects. In ahamkara, it acquires the power of ‘I’ ness or self/ego. Finally, in Sakshi, it acquires the power to perceive the objects. Ignorance is the source for the objects. All the objects in the universe out there are made up of only Ignorance. The tree you see, the music you listen to, the taste of mangoes that you eat, all these objects are made up only Ignorance. Not easy to understand this, but it is true.

The question now is, where is Awareness? The Ignorance in the objects is covering up Awareness. Ignorance is hiding this Awareness. If you remove Ignorance you will know the truth about the objects you see and of your own true nature; you will realize that the content of every object, including yourself, is Awareness. There is only Awareness out there. The objects we see are only an illusion created by Ignorance, like seeing a snake superimposed on a rope. Get the knowledge of the rope, the snake disappears.

The question is how to remove the Ignorance? This is a major topic and we will discuss this in another post shortly.