11/26 2019

Is Ignorance Truly Bliss? Tristan Johns

There’s a paradoxical nature to the relationship between awareness and suffering that I'd like to explore. The platitude is that ignorance is bliss, and this might be true to some degree, but bliss isn’t the only thing to strive for.

There are two poles to a human’s subjective opinion: pleasure and suffering. These poles are not distinctly separate, as they originate from the same point (your mind) and they define each other through their contrast.

Let’s summon an artificial subjective opinion for the sake of example. Say you are a human who spends your entire existence in one room. All of your memories are contained within this small room. If you only knew of this room, you couldn’t be upset about being trapped in that single room, for everything outside of it is unknown to you. In your mind, only that room exists.

In this one room, food automatically appears for your consumption. Imagine that for the entire time you have grown up in this room, you only received a bland tasting nutrient pellet. Then one day you were given a delicious dessert, and then never again. Your awareness of “what food is” expanded. Before, you were only aware of nutrient pellets, and now you are also aware of the existence of dessert, and you must compare each new nutrient pellet you consume to the dessert you once tasted. In contrast, the pellets are now dissatisfying, as you know how good they could taste, if only you were given that dessert.

In this sense, your new awareness of the potential pleasure of dessert decreases your satisfaction of the nutrient pellet you have always had. The nutrient pellets tasted better before you knew what dessert tasted like. This is a basic example but it illustrates the interdependence that pleasure and suffering have with each other.

So it appears that ignorance truly is bliss, and that a greater awareness (or wisdom) of life doesn’t necessarily mean less suffering. This is where the paradox can make itself known. Greater wisdom does not mean less suffering, but it changes your relationship with suffering. An increase of wisdom can give purpose to the suffering, it can show what’s truly at stake, or it can even reveal the reason behind the suffering. If you understand the reason for the necessity of suffering, it’s easier to have a productive relationship with that suffering instead of a tiresome battle.

Back to our example: before, the nutrient pellets might have been nothing to you, just another facet of routine. But now that you are aware of tastier food, the nutrient pellet becomes a stepping stone to that dessert. You eat the nutrient pellet not because it is the best tasting, but because it keeps you alive and you know there are better tasting foods out there that are worth suffering for.

Now expand that idea out from food and apply it to everything. Wisdom is a means of converting suffering into a usable element; it’s the alchemical process of expanding your potential and rectifying the polar opposites of pleasure and pain that are now unified into one coherent and sustainable system. Ignorance might be a form of bliss, but with wisdom we can reach greater heights than the purest bliss could ever dream of.

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