Is ignorance bliss? It’s an age old adage, but is it really true? To get to the bottom of this question, we have to break down the two main components: Ignorance & Bliss. First let’s dissect ignorance. What is it? It is to have a lack of knowledge. To be unaware is to be truly ignorant. To have no idea that something exist. So we are either unaware or aware. Ignorant or knowledgeable. However, there is also willful ignorance. To be fully aware of the facts but to reject their existence. The facts may contradict my beliefs, and well, I just can’t have that. So I ignore the truth to stay in a state of bliss. But how can I say that if I don’t know what the components of bliss are?
To be in bliss is to be in a state of pure happiness. To be ecstatic, to be in ecstasy. With this definition, there is one glaring difference that needs to be said: bliss is a state, a period. We cannot always live in bliss, like we can with ignorance. There is a tipping point with ignorance. We either are or we aren’t. While on the other hand, we can weave in and out of bliss. Bliss is an emotion, ignorance is an attribute. We are in control of our emotions, while ignorance is the label we can apply to any topic ever created. Do you know the inner workings of a cell? You either do or you don’t. There is no in-between.
So how is ignorance tied to being in state of pure happiness? How does my awareness of something’s existence effect whether I’m happy or not? Well, to support one adage by using another, the truth hurts. The purest form of ignorance, a baby, knows close to nothing about the world around it. It is living in a state of ignorance. Have you ever seen a baby laugh? That might be the closest some of us get to bliss in our entire lives. When that laughing baby grows up and learns for the first time that everyone they ever know will eventually be dead, that individual becomes aware. They now know of something that they had no idea existed up until that point. It is now harder for them to be in a blissful state.
Now we climb down to the opposite side of bliss. Depression, misery, and sorrow. States of suffering rule this land. Awareness initiates this suffering; taking us out of our blissful, ignorant state and bringing something to our attention. The truth is hard to swallow. But the degree to which we suffer following awareness fluctuates greatly depending on two factors. First, the relevance of the truth being brought to our attention. Second, the tools we possess to deal with that truth.
If the truth pulling us out of our ignorance hits close to home, it can throw us into a deeper state of suffering. A doctor telling their patient that his weight is causing health problems is as personal as it gets. Let’s say during this same doctor visit, the doctor informs the overweight patient of global warming and its consequences. Strange doctor visit, I know. But it is hard to make the latter fact as relevant since we won’t see the major fallouts of global warming for years to come. Which bit of news do you think the patient will suffer from more? The one that is more relevant. The world might burn up and billions of people will be displaced in the years to come, but starting now he has to cut back on food consumption and working out or he will face direct consequences to his health. That’s depressing news to hear. That’s life changing news.
The tools we possess or have access to (and therefore awareness of), can help mitigate the suffering we experience. If the overweight man has a supportive family, a gym at his work, and the disposable income to hire a personal trainer or a nutritionist, the state of suffering will be less intense and last not as long. These are external tools, but there are also interior ones. In the past, the overweight man may have dealt with bouts of anxiety and he no longer does. He has conquered what previously made him suffer. He now knows an array of tools that he can transfer over to this new battle. He might have greater will power, less self-doubt, and an understanding that problems of this nature take time to overcome. With these previously life experiences, the man becomes better equipped. He is wiser, and therefore more prepared.
Awareness brings on suffering. But it also brings something else: the opportunity for change. When we become aware, we enter a state of suffering. That state might last a minute, it might last a month. Depends on the relevance and the tools in possession. When we make that climb from the depths of suffering, we have a discovery along the way. The ceiling on bliss is higher than we thought. Living in an ignorant state, we live in a fog. We cannot see as clearly. The moment we become aware, that fog dissipates. We now see everything associated with that truth. We see the worst, we see the best. That initial shock is what makes us suffer. But now that we see clearly, we can climb the ladder past any state of bliss we’ve previously experienced. We become the master of what used to be our ignorance. Much like possessing the right tools can help mitigate suffering, it can also help us climb the ladder quicker. As we climb the ladder of mastery, we can see more clearly than ever. We see where we once stood, on the fine line of ignorance and bliss. We see where we became aware and started suffering. We can also see other people experiencing a similar evolution at various rates. Now we have an unforeseen opportunity: the ability to help others climb.