Ignorance is the Cause of Suffering
The Buddha taught that it is ignorance that is ultimately the cause for our suffering, and that our greed and anger, selfishness and ill-will are themselves only conditioned responses that are the result of ignorance. What he means by ignorance is not paying enough attention to what is happening to the point that we become confused about our lives.
While greed and aversion may be conditioned by our inability to see life for what it is, another significant karmic effect of ignorance is numbness. In effect, if we fail to pay attention to what is happening to us we gradually lose our ability to feel what is happening.It has been obvious to all of us who are willing to look with open eyes that the way we have been living for the past 50 years or so has rapidly become ever more unsustainable.
In a world of finite resources it is a certainty that if we continue to take out more than we put in, it is only a matter of time before those resources that we rely upon for the support to our lives are used up.
It has been clear for some time that we will need to reduce our planetary impact as a species if we are going to even survive, let alone flourish. If ignorance is to not pay attention to what is happening to us, then we have certainly chosen not to pay sufficient attention at the most fundamental level.
And as I have said, the longer term effect of doing that is numbness. The longer we choose to ignore what we should be paying attention to, the more numb we become. The more numb we are, the more willing we are to sanction and tolerate things that are actually causing us suffering. And the longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to reverse its effects.
The more we allow our Consciousness to Degenerate through Ignorance and Numbness, the Harder it is to Reclaim it
The more we allow our consciousness to degenerate through ignorance and numbness, the harder it is to reclaim it. And this goes on until there arrives a point where we perceive no way out of the suffering we are in and lack the conviction and energy to bring ourselves out of that suffering. By pretending to ourselves that we do not see and feel the things that we do not want to see and feel, we gradually lose our ability to feel at all.
The more that we habitually refuse to pay attention to things the harder it becomes to reverse the habit. The longer we smoke after we know it is harming us, the longer it takes to recover. The longer we continue to do anything that harms ourselves or others, the longer and harder it is to reverse the effects of the damage we may have caused. The more numb we allow ourselves to become, the harder it will become to reclaim our consciousness.
The Buddha taught us that if and when we come to see for ourselves the living truth behind our lives, the experience of seeing this changes the way we function so profoundly that the tendency and propensity to bring ourselves to suffering is cut off. This is what he meant when he said that it is only not understanding what life really is that causes us to live in ways that bring such suffering.
In effect what he is asking us to do is to look deeply into the true nature of our existence to perceive its profoundly sacred nature for ourselves. Failing to find a sacred context to life is one of the reasons we turn to the pursuit of our desires in our efforts to add meaning to it.
Without a wider context and a deeper understanding of what our existence signifies and represents, we simply come to the conclusion that the pursuit of our desires IS the very reason for our existence. To lose our ability to connect to life at a deeper and more meaningful level itself is one of our greatest causes of suffering.
While we may not be experiencing unbearable levels of hardship or physical suffering, the suffering we experience through becoming numb is capable of causing every bit as much anguish, because it allows us to justify behaviour that we would never sanction if we were really seeing clearly its effects.
For most of us, most of our suffering is mental suffering. Many of us may well not be suffering at the obvious level of physical affliction, but most people when asked would say they are not as happy as they would like to be. To not be at peace, to not be happy, to feel despair, to fail to find meaning in our lives, though not physically painful, causes us to suffer at deeper, more existential levels.
And we may often endure such suffering without recognising that we are doing so. If the Buddha was right in saying that it is seeing life for what it really is that finally launches us upon the path out of suffering, then to lose our ability to see life for what it is is the greatest suffering of all. And the effect of this upon us over time is unbearable.
Life is sacred, it is mysterious and it is profoundly intelligent. The thread, the current, the field within which this profound intelligence flows is electrical and magnetic by nature, and above all it is conscious. The life current that flows through us, that vitalises us, is electrical, it is electromagnetic. Every time consciousness appears it produces a subtle electromagnetic field. It is within this living intelligent electromagnetic field that life flows and is expressed.
Thoughts, feelings, awareness, consciousness are alive. They are living vibrations that flow through us as subtle electromagnetic currents. The felt sense of what we are experiencing is actually felt as a living current that flows through us. It is this current of life that defines the quality of our experience. How we feel about what we are doing, experiencing and living is defined by that current of life that is running through us at any moment.
The Chakras and our Subtle Nerve System
In order to understand more fully how consciousness expresses itself as electromagnetism, we need to understand how our nervous system, and more significantly our subtle nerve system that we often refer to as the chakras, are functioning.
The word chakra means wheel, and with regard to our subtle anatomical system it is referring to the electromagnetic emissions from our body that produce our vital energy field. The chakras are certain areas within that energy field where various aspects of consciousness are expressed.
Our physical nerve system effectively functions as a network of electrical cables through which electrical current passes through the body as a means to carry and convey different signals and types of information. In certain areas of the body these nerves congregate to produce what are called nerve plexuses, for example the solar plexus in the upper belly and the cardiac plexus in the chest area.
As current moves and passes through the various nerves of the body it emits very subtle electromagnetic fields. In effect every cell in the body emits its own EM field for as long as consciousness continues to vitalise it. While much of the electrical activity within our body is produced by chemical reactions going on at a cellular level, there are subtler currents that are produced by consciousness itself.
And it is these currents that carry the living intelligence that is actually driving our experience of being alive. Without them we would simply be a mechanical system that lacks consciousness and awareness.
In the nerve plexuses of the body these electromagnetic fields become amplified on account of the sheer volume of nerves and the amount of electrical activity passing through them. The emission of this electromagnetism is what we are referring to when we talk about the chakras.
We all know by now that information can be contained and transferred through electromagnetic waves. This is how a radio station, while transmitting at 95.8fm all day long, can be playing David Bowie one moment and Mozart the next. This is also how all our data is transferred using wireless technology.
Every moment of consciousness produces its own electromagnetic field. When we are angry, that anger produces its own EM field that we feel throughout our body at a much deeper than just mental level. We feel the electrical currents that consciousness produces. This constitutes how we feel: I feel happy, I feel sad, I feel in love, I feel angry, and so on. These are all felt experiences that resonate within our body’s overall energy field. And they resonate through our chakra system.
Not only do we feel what we are feeling as fluctuations in our energy field through our chakra system, but we also feel those around us and the atmosphere and ambience of what is going on around us within our chakras and energy field.
Feeling is basically expressed and conveyed, felt and assimilated through the delicate movements of energy and the feeling tones they create within our chakra system. This is the mechanism by which empathy works, it is how we feel the mood of another and the atmosphere of a place. It all happens through resonance.
Although these EM fields appearing within our chakras and in our bodies are extremely subtle and delicate, they account for the multi-layered, multi-textured and multi-dimensional nature of our experience. It is this dimension that brings our experience fully alive as something deeply felt within us rather than something that is simply going on in our heads and in our minds. It is in these subtle currents that flow through us that we feel the pangs of love when we are close to a sweetheart, or the feeling of pathos when we listen to a moving piece of music or watch a great film. This is also how we know when someone close to us is not feeling well or is upset.
Our subtle levels of perception will be determined by how receptive our chakras are to the ebbs and flows of charge that we encounter. When we are deeply attuned it is like living life through the highest quality Hi-Fi system. When we are poorly attuned it is like living life through a tinpot mono radio. And when we are numb or shut down we cannot feel what is happening to us at all.1
Love, joy, happiness, enthusiasm, compassion, empathy and peace, all of the deepest and most moving experiences that we have, are deeply felt experiences, they are going on at a level that is way beyond the realm of just our mind. They are not just ideas being formulated in our brains, but currents of life moving through us at every level.
This is what we mean by the living energy field: it is the sum total of the electromagnetic radiation that the body emits as an expression of the life currents that are moving within us.
All of our pleasurable experiences are a reflection of varying degrees of coherence within our energy field. All of our experiences of suffering are reflections of varying degrees of incoherence within that field. It is the fluctuations of current, and the relative degree of coherence or incoherence this produces within us, that defines the felt quality of our experience. When we are coherent and well organised we naturally feel a sense of inner peace and composure and the heart is more open to our experience. The more incoherent we become the more unsettled we feel within ourselves and the less able we are to assimilate our experience in an open and balanced way. Effectively what this means is that the more incoherent we are the more distorted becomes our perception of the various experiences we have.
This is the deepest and most fundamental quality of our living experience. How we feel defines our experience far more than what we think about it. In a way we could say that what we feel is the essence of our experience itself.
Many of us instinctively pay more attention to the thoughts and ideas that are going on in our mind than the actual felt quality of the experience we are having. But our thoughts are only what we add to the experience with our mind. In effect thoughts and ideas are always one step removed from the experience itself. It is how and what we feel that marks the real point of connection between us and what we are experiencing.
The vibrations and currents that move through us at the point of contact with the various things we encounter and experience moment to moment resonate through us and create in us the feeling associated with that experience. Sometimes we feel settled, sometimes restless, sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes despondent, sometimes we feel love and sometimes anger. All of these feelings are reflections of degrees of resonance and coherence or incoherence within our energy field.
How we feel within ourselves at any given time is a reflection of three things.
The relative degree of coherence or incoherence inherent within our own life currents and energy field at any given time.
What we add to the experience with our mind, ie how we react to what we are experiencing.
The impact upon this vital field of the ambient energy surrounding us, i.e the quality of the environment we are in.
A fundamental law of physics states that two energy fields, from any two objects in proximity with each other, will naturally come into resonance with each other. This explains why we feel comforted in the presence of one who expresses tremendous love for us while we are feeling unwell or unhappy.
It explains why we feel uplifted when we walk within the energy of a magnificent undisturbed forest, it explains why we feel disturbed after a fraught discussion with someone who is angry, depressed or in a state of despair. And also it explains why we can often feel exhausted after a long day in an office filled with wireless technology, or why our sleep may not be as restful when we forget to turn our wireless router off at night. Our feelings are a reflection of the movement of current within us as we come into coherence with the things we experience around us.
So beyond the simple experience we are actually having there is what we add with our mind. Reactions of anger, restlessness, and worry, for example, disturb us at a very felt level. And they do so by disturbing the coherence within our vital currents. Patience, calmness, love, serenity, joy, happiness, create resonance within us and this resonance literally feels good. We feel well or we feel unwell as a reflection of our overall level of coherence. It is as simple as that.
What is Happening to us As Humans
Now, with all of this in mind, let us consider what is happening to us as humans; what has happened to us as humans in the past twenty years or so that has never happened to us before. Because something is profoundly changing at a level that we may only just be beginning to recognise, And yet it is changing the most fundamental aspects of what it is to be alive, and of what it is to be human.
One of the things that marks us as humans is our capacity to feel things like love compassion, joy and happiness as well as anger, despair, grief, worry and anxiety. While we all too easily credit ourselves with our tremendous ability to think, the thing that marks us as truly human is our profound capacity to feel.
So what is happening to us as humans that has meant that we are not feeling increasing levels of joy, happiness and contentment as we have entered into an age that ought in principle to be more free from suffering than ever before? We have a handle on sickness and disease, we are fed and sheltered and most of us do not live in a place of social strife, instability or insecurity. We do not struggle daily to provide ourselves with food and shelter. We are intelligent and healthy in general. We live lives of relative ease and comfort. In fact most of us in the modern western world are more fortunate than any group of humans throughout history. But are we the happiest group of humans in history?
I frequently used to hear talk about how we are coming to this age of enlightenment, a time in which we are all going to wake up. That was the talk that was discussed 15 to 20 years ago. I have not heard it expressed as enthusiastically in the last few years. Why is that? What has happened to the new age of enlightened conscious humans who were to become the guardians of a considerate, aware, awakened planet? Did we wake up? I not so sure that is the case.
If I compare us to where we were only 15 years ago, our capacity to feel deeply has broken down, it is broken. We have become numb.
We do not feel what we used to feel, as deeply as we used to feel. This extraordinary, sophisticated system through which our deepest feelings are expressed and registered is breaking. Some of the subtle mechanisms by which we engage in our experiences are not working properly any more; and things that we ought to be able to feel, profoundly and deeply, we do not feel. And more importantly we cannot seem to feel what the way of life we are choosing is doing to us.
The little things that used to move us when we were children just do not move, thrill or inspire children in the same way these days. Children today do not feel the way they used to feel 20 years ago. And we as adults do not feel what we used to feel either. In the numbness that we are allowing to come over us, we are losing the deepest part of our experience, the sense of wonder and magic, the feelings of empathy and connectedness, the part that makes us truly human.
And why is this happening? It is because we are not taking care of ourselves enough at the most important levels. We are not guarding the real quality of our life, which is the quality of the current that moves through us and vitalises us and defines the quality of how we feel. There is a vital and fundamental part of us that is breaking down. Some of you will instinctively know what I mean when I say this. I am talking about our capacity to connect at the deepest level to how we feel and be moved and guided by it.
This system that you do not ‘see’, the one we are just beginning to understand, that gives you this capacity to communicate, to express and to feel, is breaking. We are breaking it. Our solar plexus, our heart chakra, they do not work the way they used to. Even though I had already practised meditation for many years I started to recognise that the subtlety of my perception and feeling was deteriorating as a result of the amount of time I was spending using wireless technology. Having recognised this, I made a concerted effort to repair the damage that I felt was being done. In my efforts I realised that I had to remain vehemently committed to maintaining the integrity of my consciousness at a subtle level if I wasn’t going to lose the depth of feeling that I had come to cherish.
I could see that when I listened to a profound piece of music that used to move every cell of my body, I was starting to not feel moved in the same way. And this was because the mechanism that experiences the texture and depth of our experience was wilting and shrivelling like a flower, that it was poorly cared for. I realised that life is always about choices and that we had reached a time where we had to choose to remain conscious rather than being able to take for granted our deepest capacity to feel.
Most people have no understanding of the violence that is done to this mechanism by which consciousness functions when we sit all day long in a man-made electromagnetic field, or when we are cut off from nature, or when we live and sleep in a sterile environment or with a wifi router flooding our room with electromagnetism all night.
The man-made technology we are in touch with daily does not belong in the field of human consciousness, human perception, human feeling and human experience. What has become our default setting is such an aberration when it is put next to what we are innately programmed to engage in and the depth of feeling we are capable of. We have found extraordinary ways to communicate through our computers, with our mobile phones.
Our brains have become flooded with dopamine, needing instant gratification, utterly frustrated if we cannot get it. But our capacity to work patiently for something that is deeply valued is decaying. We are reprogramming our operating system, and I would not say that we are reprogramming it for awakening.
Something has got to change. Our children have got to change. We have got to change, or we will become numb, and we will no longer feel things like compassion, gratitude or a sense of appreciative joy or wonder at life. And more importantly we will stop feeling empathy for each other. We will no longer be able to feel these truly profound human experiences that we are capable of feeling, if this subtle delicate system of ours becomes broken forever.
It is so important because these are the experiences that make life feel truly meaningful. In their absence life feels lacking, pale and mundane. And if we are not careful it will start to feel meaningless.
We are all going to have to make choices if we going to reclaim the depth of consciousness that we are surrendering.
This is probably the single most important thing in this book if we can get to grips with it. Because it defines the very quality of the experiences we are having. No matter how hard we try with our meditation, if we do not allow our capacity to feel deeply to repair and heal, we will never end the feeling that something is lacking in our lives.
So now is the time to do something about it, while we can. We have failed to recognise how our pristine natural space and the deep living intelligence that flows through it is becoming violated all the time, everywhere, by the exponentially increasing level of man-made electro-magnetism that we are emitting. But perhaps more worryingly, we may have stopped caring about it. And in our not caring we continue to sanction the very things that end up bringing us suffering. This is how ignorance works upon us.
These days a moment of stillness does not provide the refuge or the solace that it should, at times when we simply need to step aside and enjoy some peace and quiet. Many of us are never still these days, and it is very hard to find a place to be still in. We might have to make choices that are not being made by many in order to go and reclaim that depth of experience that I am talking about.
Switching off your phone, not sitting in front of your television, not spending so long in your car, not spending so long connected to your computer and switching your router off when you are not using it is a lot easier to do than it is to learn to meditate properly. And a lot of depth will come back to your experience if you just do that.
Technology has brought many conveniences into our lives, but it is in danger of robbing us of far more than it gives if we do not learn to use it skilfully and in an informed way. In the rush of excitement that comes over us with each new technological advance there is little sign of what the long term exposure may be doing. Heroin is often described as the kiss of God by those who take it for the first time. And there is no sign at that point of the damage that long term exposure causes.
As your meditation matures, you will feel for yourself the effect of these things upon you. The saddest thing is that so few people have any idea of the violence that it is doing to our unconscious mind, our subtle body and our capacity to feel.
I can honestly say this, as someone who has made meditation a major part of my life, that if I were offered the choice of meditating as much as I liked every day but living in an environment that is heavily violated by man-made electromagnetism, or living in nature but never being able to meditate again in my life, I would give up my meditation at the drop of a hat for the chance to maintain the connection to the living intelligence that is actually supporting our lives in the background. I would choose this because I know that it contains an intelligence far greater than anything any of us have yet come to understand, and it is from that that our highest inspiration will always come.
So when we ask ourselves, ‘Is life really suffering?’, we need to ask what suffering actually is. Suffering is to not feel well. To feel well is to be free from suffering. It does not matter what we surround ourselves with in life and what efforts we make to refine the quality of our minds. If we cannot bring our living vital system that conducts the currents of life through us into a state of coherence we will always feel ill-at-ease and so experience an inner sense of suffering.
These days we live constantly in such an unsettled state that we simply cannot be with ourselves without feeling agitation of some kind. In many ways this is the worst kind of suffering there is because it never goes away. Currently our only response has been to seek ways to make ourselves numb through shutting down our ability to feel, or to remain so mentally distracted that we do not recognise what is going on within us and how that is making us feel.
The Buddha often described suffering as getting what we do not want and not getting what we want. That may be the case when we feel inherently well within us. But these days, all too often we find ourselves still suffering when we get the things we want and when we manage to avoid the things we do not. And that is because we are living with an almost unbearable level of friction, internal conflict and incoherence in the background of our lives. So any path out of suffering these days will need to include measures to reclaim our connection to the deepest part of our heart and our profound capacity to feel.
1For a more detailed explanation of the function of individual chakras please refer to Flavour of Liberation Vol 1+2 chapters 23, 25 and 53