Ignorance Is a State of Mind: Part 1

In Buddhism, there are four distortions of mind:

  1. Seeing permanence in the impermanent;
  2. Seeking pleasure in suffering;
  3. Believing that there is self where no self exists;
  4. Seeing attractiveness in the unattractive.

Understanding these distortions (in some translations, the stronger word “perversions” is used) is important to understanding the Buddhist concept of ignorance. An ignorant or deluded mind is one which has misunderstood aspects of its experience. No negative judgment is implied here; it’s not a “bad” or “deficient” mind. In attempting to make sense of the world, the unawakened mind draws conclusions which are skewed or incorrect because they are made with limited or incomplete information.

The suttas explain that we can make errors in sense perception, thought and view. These errors are progressive and a loop system; that is, we might perceive what is happening incorrectly. When we reflect on our perception, since the foundation is incorrect, our thinking about a situation may be incorrect. If our thinking becomes solidified into view, nothing will shake us out of our beliefs. These beliefs then corrupt our perception and the system reinforces itself. Have you ever met someone with strong opinions and you realize it is futile to try to argue them out of their beliefs (“don’t confuse me with the facts” they seem to say)?

Ignorance and delusion are the state of a mind entrenched in views. The degree to which we are unaware of our assumptions and opinions is the measure of our ignorance. Mindfulness helps us see these distortions and correct for them.

Posted by Deb.