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How to Avoid Ignorance Disguised as Wisdom

Turning Wisdom Upside-down: Ignorance as WisdomA continuation of Fool’s Gold in Religion, about how to discern between wisdom and ignorance in religion.

A profile of ignorance

Krishna has already told us that the sole purpose of yoga is the realization of the Self and the liberation that produces. It is not hard to conceive that this should also be the intent of religions.

But it rarely is. For, lacking true knowledge and wisdom they set forth ways and means that are oriented toward just about everything material and egoic–but not toward knowledge of the Self or the means to attain it.

Just the opposite, they push their followers further into the mire of material consciousness, even promising them eternal physical embodiment after a “resurrection from the dead.” Imagine: a resurrection into matter instead of resurrection into spirit!

I do not mean to be pointing the finger only at Western religion. The popular religion of the East is even more adept at turning words of wisdom into nonsense–and very intelligently and plausibly, too. To gauge the truth of this assertion, read the upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and then take a broad look at contemporary Indian religion, and even yoga, in their “popular” forms.

Are they the same? Almost never, no matter how much the upanishads and Gita may be invoked by those whose entire religious practices are contrary or extraneous (irrelevant) to the philosophy of the ancient sages. This is a very serious and unfortunate situation.

So often those who want to follow the way of the Gita and the upanishads are deflected from that path by the very ones who claim to teach it and whom they trust as viable authorities. As Swami Prabhavananda’s translation puts it: “Those who lack discrimination may quote the letter of the scripture, but they are really denying its inner truth.”

Krishna outlines the character and methods of such misleaders.

“Full of desires, intent on heaven, they offer rebirth as the fruit of action, and are addicted to many specific rites aimed at the goal of enjoyment and power” (Bhagavad Gita 2:43).

“Full of desires”

I must confess: these words of Krishna take me back to the religion of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a spiritually serious church. The theology was full of holes and absurd in many (most) aspects, but the attitude was right on the beam:

“Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

We understood that the “world” spoken of here was not the world of divine manifestation but the artificial structure of “society” based on the egoic ignorance of human beings. To be a friend of the world means to be trapped in the realm of time and space as well as the delusions perpetuated by humanity through the ages.

Not only Jesus, but we, too, can say with confidence: “I am not of the world” (John 17:14). For the “world” is everything that denies and covers who we really are. It is only rational, then, to heed the admonition: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15, 16).

We must note that the evils here listed are not said to come from “the devil,” but from the world. Most religion is sociopathic, and a fundamental trait of a sociopath is denial of any responsibility. Everything and everyone is responsible for the sociopath’s problems–never himself.

So religion usually teaches people that some invisible evil forces or visible instruments of those forces are what makes them do or be “bad.” But Saint John tells us that it is the distortion produced by our association and identity with the material and the relative world that impels us to folly.

Speaking of the desire-filled teachers of religion, the Apostle says: “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them” ( I John 4:5). As Krishna states, these religionists are full of desires. Their minds are so warped by the fever of these desires, they see themselves and others in a completely twisted perspective. Their fundamental impulses are corrupted and lead to increasing corruption and ultimate destruction. Their whole way of looking at life is hopelessly distorted. And being sociopathic their major intent is to force everyone into their world view.

These people are the enemies of both the wise and the foolish. The wise they wish to subvert, silence, or destroy lest truth free their dupes from their grasp. On the other hand they are determined to keep the ignorant in the dark and in servitude to them and their ideas. So vast is the number of the ways in which they accomplish this, it difficult to delineate them. Just take a look around, and everything you see will be–or at least reflect–their wiles and ways. If they were not a real danger to the sadhaka, Krishna would not bother to speak about them to Arjuna.

“Intent on heaven”

They obsessively grasp at every wisp of the world they see and proudly proclaim that their possession is a sign of divine favor, fulfillment of God’s “precious promises,” proof that they are “pleasing” to God and right in their views. Yet they know that earthly gain inevitably ends in loss, and that even before the loss many defects are encountered and many failures to please or satisfy.

This would turn any sensible person away from externality to seek the true satisfaction that is only found within. But they are not sensible, these dwellers in their own mirage, so they look, not within themselves but beyond this world to “a better world,” a heavenly world of blessed reward where no defect can mar their enjoyment of astral materiality. Consequently their scriptures and their propaganda is filled with descriptions of bright, beautiful, and happy worlds which will be the reward of those who subscribe to their religion and follow their demands.

Although they seem to have their sights on heaven, they are really hankering after the things of earth without their innate deficiencies. So even when they supposedly yearn for heaven they are really desiring earth. Some of them are so mired in this obsession that they assure their adherents that some time in the future they will all rise from the dead in immortal physical bodies and live here in an earth that has been somehow cleansed and perfected.

Of course these delights are not just for the picking up. They are “rewards” of a pleased and placated divinity. They are the carrots held out to the eager donkeys that follow them.

“They offer rebirth”

Yet, as Krishna points out, all they really offer is “rebirth as the fruit of action.” How true this is of most religionists, whether clerical or lay. Desire for external material things or situations must come to fulfillment–this is the fundamental law. For karma is thought as well as act. Those who desire aught of the world shall inherit the whole world over and over through constant rebirth.

Even desire for a “heaven” that is really only the earth without fault or loss brings us back to the earth itself. What to say, then, of the doctrine of the eventual resurrection of the body and eternal dwelling in that body? Such a “hope” can only lead to more and more births in a physical body. Even the heaven of such people is only really the earth–just as their “God” is only themselves.

The great Teachers come and proclaim that freedom from karma and rebirth is possible. And they show us the way to freedom. But their “devotees” instantly degrade the message and build up a religion that only perpetuates the old bondage. They promise life and deliver death. “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30, 31). (This is proof that no one religion has a franchise on ignorance and bondage.)

Further Reading:

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