This sutra makes a profound proclamation of the truth - a very bold proclamation. Such an announcement can be made only by a sage. It is declared that those who tread on the path of ignorance lose their way and wander here and there in this world; but those who walk on the path of knowledge - that is, the path of "I know" - lose themselves in greater darkness. It is difficult to find another statement as bold as this in the whole history of mankind - to find a parallel to a statement that dares to say that the ignorant grope about in darkness, but those who claim, "I know," grope about in greater darkness. Whoever said this arrived at it through very deep thought.
That the ignorant wander in darkness is easily understood by us, there is no difficulty in it. The statement is straightforward and clear. The ignorant do get themselves lost. But the sage says they lose themselves in darkness - not in deep and great darkness. The ignorant wander in darkness only. Then why do the so-called learned wander in greater darkness? And where is the remedy to be free from darkness when the ignorant wander in darkness and the so-called learned wander in greater darkness?
The ignorant wander in darkness only, not very deep, because however much wandering ignorance may cause, it cannot be very deep. The thing that leads into greater darkness is not ignorance but ego. Mistakes may occur through ignorance, but ignorance is always prepared to correct the mistakes, so there is little likelihood of straying far. Ignorance is always likely to make mistakes, but it is also always ready to correct them. Ignorance has its own humility. This is why children can learn quickly and the old cannot. Children are ignorant and ready to improve. When a mistake is shown to them they will correct it; but when old people are shown their mistakes they are displeased and refuse to correct them. On the contrary, they will first try to prove that it is not a mistake at all. When children are shown mistakes they are ready to admit them and will soon correct them; hence they learn so quickly.
The old cannot learn in years what children are able to learn in days. Their capacity to learn decreases. What is the cause? The capacity of the old to learn should increase, but no, it does not. The old are in a delusion that they know. The child is only in darkness, the old man has fallen into a deeper and greater darkness. The delusion is established in him that he knows something.
The child knows he does not know anything, so he is willing to learn. He is happy to learn whatever you teach him. Thus children can wander in darkness, while the old wander in greater darkness.
The ignorant man, if he becomes conscious of his ignorance, becomes very humble. If we remember our ignorance, if we can remember, "I do not know, I am ignorant," then there are no grounds on which the ego can stand. Where can ego build its structure when it has no foundation? It is interesting to see that if the ignorant man becomes conscious of his ignorance, then his wandering loses momentum, he finds himself still, and his mistakes cease to happen; he begins to travel on the right path. And the learned person who is sure in his belief that he is a learned person has begun his journey into greater darkness. When the ignorant becomes conscious of the fact that "I am ignorant," then his journey towards wisdom begins. Consciousness of one's ignorance leads to humility, whereas the delusion of knowledge, the claim to knowledge, leads one to ego - and the real hindrance is ego.
Ignorance is not deep darkness, it is like evening. There is no sun now, there is no light of understanding now, but at the same time neither is there the dark night of ego. It is just evening.
Ignorance stands on the threshold from where it is also possible to go towards the light. But as the boast of the learned becomes stronger and stronger and his notion, "I know, I know, I know," becomes firmer and firmer, his night becomes darker, his evening disappears, and he sinks deep into the darkness. And as his boast grows from strength to strength, his night will become as dark as a moonless night.
Ego leads man into great darkness, and an interesting paradox emerges in man's world; the wise see themselves as ignorant - not knowing - and the ignorant assert their claim, "We know!" Then where should we go for true knowledge? What should we do? Which is the way?
Two things are to be remembered. We need always to go on enhancing our awareness of our ignorance. Remembrance of ignorance is the destruction of ignorance. To become aware of our ignorance is to dissolve our ignorance. This awareness that "I am ignorant" is like a person who has lighted a lamp and has taken it into a room to look for darkness there. That person had said, "Let me light a lamp so that I can see where the darkness is," and he begins to search for it with a lighted lamp in his hand. Of course, wherever he looks he finds no darkness. When there is an awareness within to know where ignorance is, a desire to go where ignorance lies and a desire to know it, then the knowing, the understanding, can happen. Wherever you go with this lamp of awareness, ignorance will vanish from there.
So the first thing is the remembrance of ignorance - that "I am ignorant." If you wish to enter the world of light, of wisdom, of true knowledge, you must be fully aware of your ignorance and remain constantly in search of where your ignorance lies. Wherever you find it, admit it at once, don't linger even for a moment. And bow down at the feet of anyone who shows you your ignorance - he is your teacher, your master. And don't try to prove that your ignorance is knowledge, as your mind will goad you to do. Your ego will say, "Don't believe in him." Your ego will coax you to say, "What are you talking about? I an ignorant person? Impossible!" This is how we are all perpetuating our ignorance. We all persist in protecting our own opinions and attitudes.
Those who know nothing at all make great claims that they are right. Those who do not know anything even about a stone lying on a roadside, go on making claims about God and assert that their God is the only true God. There is no end to the claims of those who know nothing at all.
Ignorance is a great supporter of its claims and it goes on claiming. Save yourself from such claims.
If you want to make any claim at all, then make only the claim of being ignorant. Say boldly, "I do not know." Whatever occasions arise, whatever chances you get, and whatever conditions you meet with where your ignorance is exposed, stop, and know that, "I am ignorant." Acknowledge as your master anyone who points out to you your ignorance, who draws your attention to your ignorance.
But in fact we make a teacher of the man who boosts our ego. We go to him, pick up some stray pieces of wisdom, and return home full of vanity and hypocrisy - and then say that we also know.
He who inflates our boast of knowledge we call our master. But he is the real guru, the real master, in whose contact we come to know that there is none as ignorant as we. He is the real master who takes away our knowledge, who destroys our boast of knowledge, who smashes our structure of ego to the ground, who throws us to the ground and says, "You are nothing at all, you are nowhere, you have known nothing!" Such a person is the master; not the one from whom we get knowledge, but the one through whom we are reminded of our ignorance.
Remember that remembrance of ignorance leads one to understanding and the accumulation of knowledge leads one into great darkness. So the first thing is to be mentally alert to ignorance, to be fully conscious, to know ignorance and to look into it. Know yourself as a deeply ignorant person.
The other thing to remember is that whenever you think, "I know," stop a while, and reconsider your thought; ask yourself, "Do I know it really?" It will be enough if you reconsider once. Be honest in your attempt. Be fully aware and reconsider your thought before you say, "I know." Be mentally alert to the discovery of your ignorance, as well as to knowledge; and when you start to check yourself you will know that you know words, you know principles, you know scriptures, but you have no idea at all of the truth. Those so-called pundits whose minds have been stuffed with scriptures and words, who have been burdened with words and who make false claims of knowledge, have become figures of fun for the sage, who says such people grope about in great darkness.
I have heard: a Christian priest used to give sermons in the evenings in his church every Sunday.
He was by repute a learned person. One day, he left his spectacles at home. Half of his knowledge was at risk because the sermon was written and now he could not read it. But he thought it improper to tell the congregation that he had forgotten his glasses - they were eager to listen to him - so he decided to make do without the glasses and started speaking, glancing at his paper. Functioning as he did from memory, mistakes were bound to occur, because he had left his memory aid behind.
Nothing he said was the imparting of true knowledge; wisdom can speak without the help of eyes, without need of spectacles. All he ever said was drawn from his crammed memory. But today the means to look into his memory was left at home.
Talking about one of Jesus' miracles he made a mistake. Jesus was in a forest with four thousand followers, and had with him only seven loaves of bread. With these he not only fed all, but the seven loaves were not eaten. There were four thousand followers but the priest made a slip and recounted that there were seven followers and four thousand loaves, and that after Jesus had fed all, the bread still remained. This, he said, was the miracle.
As usually happens in a temple or a church, most of the people were dozing and paid no attention to the error; only those who were awake heard it. Even so, having left their reasoning faculties at home, as people do who go to church, they were unresponsive. They merely heard the words. Only one person became alert and thought, "What kind of miracle is this? - only seven people and four thousand loaves?" He got up and asked, "Sir, is this a miracle? Anybody can do that!"
On hearing this, the priest was enraged. He had no idea that he had made a mistake, so he was all anger and exasperation. He asked, "What do you mean, anybody can do it? You are blaspheming against Jesus."
The man replied, "Why, I myself can do it!"
The priest was puzzled and asked the congregation about what he had said. Someone replied, "You made a mistake. You said the opposite of what you meant; you said there were four thousand loaves and seven followers. This feat can be accomplished by anybody, there is no miracle in it."
The priest was very troubled by this incident. He was by repute a wise man, so he was much agitated and resolved to put his challenger in his place. The next Sunday he came fully prepared.
During his sermon he raised the matter of the miracle again. "Once Jesus went to a forest," he said.
"Listen properly! He had four thousand followers and only seven loaves of bread with him, and he fed everybody. All were fed to their hearts' content and yet the bread was not consumed." Then he looked at the man who had put him into difficulty the Sunday before, and asked him, "Dear friend, can you now perform such a miracle?"
The man stood up and replied, "Yes, I can."
The priest was very nervous and asked, "How can you do it?"
The man replied, "I can do it from the stock that was left over from last time!"
Shifting of words here and there, punning of words, memorizing words - the scriptures are all a great joke. There is not much meaning in such things. It is a great folly to try to correct others, and it is sheer vanity to try never to admit our mistakes. That poor priest could not even say, "There was an error in my statement." It was a trifle, and he could have simply asked their pardon. But our ego never lets us admit our mistakes, though we are eager and pleased to get others to admit their mistakes.
So the other point to remember is this: reconsider whether you know a little or not. Ask yourself whether you really know, or whether all this is a jungle of mere words, scriptures, principles and memory. Ask yourself, "Have I known anything? Have I lived it? Have I practiced something of it?
Have I tasted it from my life's experience? Have I danced in that supreme experience of godliness?
Have I experienced that vibration? Or have I merely burned the midnight oil to commit to memory the words of the scriptures?" The nauseating smell of kerosene oil emanates from those who have crammed the scriptures into their memories. Kerosene oil burns with thick smoke. It is very difficult to find people more ignorant than the learned.
Hence, says this sutra, the ignorant grope about, but the learned grope about in thick darkness. It is better to be an ignorant person than to be a learned one. Ignorance will show you the way. Do not try to enter the great darkness; to remain in simple darkness is far better. From this darkness it is easy to enter light, but the journey from the great darkness will be long and arduous.
Enough for today. Now let us go into meditation. Let us take a few steps from darkness towards the light.