WordPress offers this topic for today’s Post A Day 2011 exercise:

Is it always better to know the truth, even when it hurts? Or is ignorance bliss? Or are they both true some of the time?

I thought this would be a quick, easy post – short and to the point. But the more I think about it, the longer it’s getting… So I’ll get the short and to-the-point bit out of the way in the beginning, and save the personal-experience bit for the end, for those who have the time. There’s also a link to one of my videos down there – thank you if you have the time to check it out!

Last fall I created a series of inspirational cards about Using The Mind (the images can be found on Flickr), and one of the cards elicited a number of questions:

“Accepting Ignorance Is The First Step Towards Damnation.”

Several people asked about the use of the word “damnation”…

It’s a strong word; thinking about damnation probably falls way down near the bottom on most people’s to-do list.

I was given the word, and questioned it myself at first…

(It came from one of my guides; I talk about him a little in this post on my other blog)

I think I was given such a strong word precisely so that it would catch attention and encourage people to think and question.

“Damnation” refers to the state of mind in which we seem to find ourselves in constant, pervasive conflict with the world around us. In this state, we struggle continuously against the lessons that come our way.

“Accepting Ignorance” refers to the state of mind in which we feel we must submit to the expectations of others without questioning.

As we go through life, if we take the view that every experience offers a lesson intended to lead us to true happiness, we can refresh our feelings about the challenges we face.

Zen koans lead us to understanding in a similar way: the teacher poses a question… We quickly find out that we can’t reason our way to the “answer”… we might even get angry and frustrated that the answer’s not coming freely… finally we realize we need to “go inside” to get to our own answer. And our answer might be different from another’s… Damn.

Life resembles a vast, unrelenting koan. Again, again, again, we run into riddles. How do I answer that question my boss just asked? Do I let the baby cry himself asleep? Is red meat really bad for me… always? Who on earth should I vote for?

If we expect clear-cut answers that arrive effortlessly, we’re damned.

Damnation and Hell are states of mind. Ignorance is a state of mindlessness.

We can find ourselves living in a quiet, subtle hell if we live a life that goes against our grain, without questioning and being willing to take risks in order to extricate ourselves from that hell.

Here comes the personal-experience part…

Sometimes in life, we’re faced with situations in which we must make decisions, and we really wonder about the consequences. For instance, I was a Buddhist nun for 4-1/2 years, and in the tradition I had joined, to “disrobe” means certain damnation (in the sense of going to “hell”)…

(btw, Buddhist traditions vary on their views on this matter, not all hold this belief)

I enjoyed being a nun, and I really did expect to continue nun-hood for the rest of my life. I love teaching and helping others, and it seemed I had found a wonderful outlet for that. As the years passed and I gained more experience in the more advanced teachings (emptiness, Vajrayana, etc.), I began to feel called to move back out into the “world”, and connect more with people who might not be drawn to formal Buddhism. I had found that with some people, the robes and shaved head created unnecessary distance. Or worse, a sort of reverence that was bestowed arbitrarily. Robes=perfection. Not true. Need to question.

I began to see that I was most likely going to decide to return my vows.

I considered the decision for about a year… I had been reading, studying, meditating, teaching, practicing for several years. Making spiritual progress was really what mattered to me most. For a few years, I had been nearing the conclusion that my Guides (whom I had met through that tradition) were pointing me in the direction of moving beyond that tradition. Did that make sense?

Conflict and contradiction presented themselves constantly. I felt I knew clearly what my next step needed to be, but it didn’t make sense that it would involve cutting away from my beloved friends and teachers (another tenet of that tradition is that if you “disrobe” you must separate from the community completely for at least a year afterwards), and subjecting myself to a state of “damnation”.

That lead me to think a lot, that year, about the nature of “damnation”. And “Hell”. And that’s how I arrived at the understanding I share above.

I realized that the real shame, the real damnation, would be if I chose adhering to expectations (including mine) over continuing to learn and grow, and venturing into the unknown.

So I took the step outside the circle. I knew I was well-guided, and that eventually I would find a way to connect directly with those who could help me the most. I could feel the invisible hand, and that it belonged to a “being” that was more vast, profound, and powerful than words, images, or music could describe. I knew we would meet, and that we would meet on a ground that was free from the constraints of any formal religion or doctrine.

And we did meet, after a bit of stumbling.

In the three years since I returned my vows, I’ve discovered that the rocky road can lead to peace. I’ve learned that intention is everything, and as long as we strive to improve ourselves, be kind to others, and give when we can, then a state which others may perceive as “damnation” can feel like a profound blessing.

Knowing that you’re guided is the most important point to understanding that damnation is only for the ignorant, those who refuse to question. Our guides pose the riddles that we ponder day and night, and if we hold this view, it can help us understand that even the most baffling and painful challenges are lessons that are as illusory as dreams.

I’ve been making videos to share some of what I’ve learned, and this one uses the ideas from the “Using The Mind” card series. It’s almost 5 minutes long, and each of the 12 points is intended to provoke thought, rather than provide pat answers or “instructions”. If you find the time to watch it, I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful. I’ve almost completed another video, titled “Vows”… you can guess what that one explores!

Thanks to everyone reading these blogs – I feel so fortunate to have found a way to share, and if it manages to help anyone – in even the smallest way – to discover more happiness, then… very good! In turn, I have my guides to thank, for showing me that anything is possible.