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Ignorance Is Embracing The Perishable And Ignoring The Imperishable – Hindu Teaching

In Hindu philosophy, the concept of ignorance (Avidya) is profoundly explored, and one of the central teachings revolves around the idea that ignorance is the result of embracing the perishable and ignoring the imperishable. This teaching is deeply rooted in the metaphysical framework of Hindu thought, especially as articulated in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Perishable vs. The Imperishable

The Perishable (Anitya): In Hindu philosophy, the perishable refers to all that is transient and temporary. This includes the physical body, material possessions, sensory experiences, and even mental states. These are subject to change, decay, and eventual dissolution. The focus on the perishable often leads to attachment, desire, and a sense of identity tied to the ephemeral aspects of existence.

The Imperishable (Nitya): In contrast, the imperishable refers to the eternal and unchanging reality. This is often identified with Brahman, the ultimate, unchanging reality, and Atman, the individual soul that is essentially identical with Brahman. The imperishable is beyond the physical and mental realms, transcending time and space.

Embracing the Perishable

When individuals are immersed in ignorance, they tend to focus their attention and desires on the perishable aspects of life. This is characterized by:

  • Attachment to Material Objects: Seeking happiness and fulfillment through the acquisition of wealth, possessions, and status.
  • Identification with the Body and Mind: Believing that one’s true self is the body and the mind, thus fearing death and change.
  • Desire and Aversion: Pursuing sensory pleasures and avoiding discomfort, which leads to a cycle of craving and suffering.
  • Ego and Self-Centeredness: The belief in a separate self that is distinct from others and from the ultimate reality, fostering selfishness and isolation.

Ignoring the Imperishable

Conversely, ignorance involves a disregard for the imperishable truths. This neglect manifests as:

  • Unawareness of Atman: Failing to recognize one’s true nature as the eternal, unchanging soul.
  • Disconnection from Brahman: Not understanding or experiencing the unity of all existence in Brahman.
  • Lack of Spiritual Knowledge: Ignoring the teachings of the scriptures (Shastras) and the wisdom of the sages.
  • Absence of Meditation and Self-Realization: Neglecting practices that lead to direct experience of the imperishable, such as meditation, contemplation, and self-inquiry.

The Path to Wisdom

The remedy to ignorance, according to Hindu teachings, lies in turning one's attention from the perishable to the imperishable. This involves:

Self-Inquiry (Atma Vichara): Questioning the nature of the self and realizing the distinction between the body, mind, and the true self (Atman).

Detachment (Vairagya): Cultivating a sense of detachment from worldly possessions and experiences, understanding their transient nature.

Discrimination (Viveka): Developing the ability to discern between the real (imperishable) and the unreal (perishable).

Devotion (Bhakti): Surrendering to the divine will and cultivating a loving relationship with the divine, which helps transcend ego and attachment.

Meditation (Dhyana): Engaging in regular meditation to experience the imperishable reality directly.

Scriptural References

The Bhagavad Gita, one of the seminal texts of Hindu philosophy, repeatedly emphasizes the distinction between the perishable and imperishable. In Chapter 2, verse 16, it states:

"The unreal has no being; the real never ceases to be. The seers of truth have concluded the same."

Similarly, the Upanishads, which are philosophical treatises forming the core of Hindu metaphysical thought, urge seekers to realize the imperishable nature of the self. The Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.1) teaches:

"Two birds, inseparable friends, cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating."

This metaphor illustrates the relationship between the individual soul (Jiva) that partakes in the perishable experiences and the Atman, the imperishable witness.

Understanding and transcending ignorance involves a profound shift in perspective. It requires individuals to recognize the limitations of the perishable and seek the imperishable truth. This journey, guided by self-inquiry, detachment, discrimination, devotion, and meditation, leads to liberation (Moksha), the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy. By embracing the imperishable and letting go of attachment to the perishable, one can attain true wisdom and eternal peace.