A Slave To Ignorance


Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

While we have this perfect human body we must take this opportunity to cross the ocean of saṃsāra to full enlightenment. As the great bodhisattva Śāntideva said, we can use this body endowed with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses like a boat to attain not only liberation but also, by eliminating subtle defilements and the dualistic view, full enlightenment.[1]

As long as we are ignorant we shouldn’t sleep, because in future this boat will be difficult to find again.


While we are still under the control of delusion and karma, while our mind is stained by the ignorance grasping at true existence, and while our mind is totally overpowered by this deluded concept, we should not waste our life by engaging, even for a minute, in meaningless activities.

This is what Śāntideva means by not sleeping. Not only should we prevent ourselves from coming under its power now, but from coming under its control, again, and again.

We become a slave to ignorance, a slave to attachment, a slave to anger.

Since beginningless time we have been under the control of these delusions, allowing them to dictate to, torture and abuse us continuously.

For example, even though we may not remember very well, simply suspecting that our father or mother might have abused us in our childhood makes us angry and upset. If clear memories come back we think, “The worst, most hopeless, most terrible thing has happened to me!”

Yet here, even though these poisonous deluded minds have been abusing us from morning to night, from birth to death, from lifetime to lifetime since beginningless time, we do not have a single question for them. We do not have a single doubt. Not for a moment do we consider what it might be to live without their dictating our life. We do not even wonder what other kind of life there might be. Instead, we follow attachment by becoming its slave, all the while basing our servitude on the total misunderstanding that by so doing we will gain personal freedom. Similarly, we believe that ignorance and anger will ensure our release.

By thinking, “Oh, I want to be myself. I want to be me,” we experience a life filled with problems with one confusion following another. Worries and fears are unending. It’s like a whole boxed tea set crammed with all the plates, saucers and cups. We experience the same package of difficulties, such as relationship problems, over and over again, one following the other without a break. This is why we mustn’t sleep by being distracted by meaningless activities.

ship with seamonsters crop___

[1] Śāntideva writes,

I should conceive of my body as a boat,
A mere support for coming and going,
And in order to benefit all others
Transform it into a wish-fulfilling body.

See Guide, ch. 5, v. 70.

“Subtle defilements” refers to obscurations to knowledge/omniscience (shes bya’i sgrib pa, jñeyāvaraṇa), while “dualistic view” refers to dualistic or discordant appearance-making (gnyis snang) which continues even for the bodhisattva who has removed afflictive obstructions. As Hopkins outlines, due to the remaining influence of the non-afflicted form of ignorance (nyons mongs can ma yin pa’i ma rig pa), there is “the appearance of inherent existence and the stains of viewing the two truths as separate entities.” Meditation, 108. Only upon achieving enlightenment (hence Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s emphasis) are both subtle defilements and dualistic view overcome. This means that up till then: “All phenomena except emptinesses appear to the cognizers that certify them as existing as if they exist inherently….Even for Foe Destroyers and eighth ground Bodhisattvas, who have totally and forever overcome the conception that phenomena inherently exist, phenomena still appear to exist inherently, to be their bases of imputation, but these liberated beings know that they are not” (ibid., 417).

Regarding  the precise point when even the subtlest imprints (or traces/stains) of the dualistic view are finally expunged:

While the yogi is in deep contemplation on emptiness only, he passes into a condition wherein, simultaneous with continuous direct cognition of emptiness, all the phenomena that are qualified by emptiness appear to him. He passes to the final path of release, and while in a meditative equipoise in which there is not the slightest interference of duality, this same consciousness directly cognizes all the many varieties of knowledge as clearly as one sees an olive in the palm of one’s hand. Since the potencies of mistaken dualistic appearance have been eradicated, the yogi attains the divine eye that has no impediments with respect to objects of knowledge and is not impeded from seeing one object by seeing another.

(ibid., 118, italics mine)That being is now worthy of being labelled and venerated as fully enlightened. 


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