Ignorance may seem a bizarre topic for a discussion on men’s health, sexuality, and well-being, and that’s exactly why I chose it as a topic for this article. You see, ignorance is exactly what’s behind the notion that ignorance has little or nothing to do with men’s health or, more precisely, men’s well-being.
In homoerotic yogic Tantra (तन्त्र), I expose ignorance or what I call avidyā (अविद्या), for what it is: present but invisible, highly charged and dangerous, insidious, and promoting a political agenda.
Ignorance is the domestic terrorist within; you can’t really see it or measure it, and you can be aware of it only by the ways in which it works.
One of the principal ways it works is to bind the man to phenomenal experience in four ways:
Second, it causes the man to see the impermanent as being permanent.
Third, ignorance deceives the man into thinking suffering is pleasure.
Finally, and most dangerously, it causes him to see the impure as pure.
All phenomena are within us; there are no external phenomena. If you take a moment to think about that statement you will awaken to its truth.
All perceptions arrive via the five senses and ultimately the mind interprets these inputs.
The mind is within and not an external faculty. Furthermore, no perception is exactly present in the moment, since it takes time for the stimuli to reach the sense organs, and then more time to travel along the nerves to reach the brain, and then to be processed by the mind.
In other words, all perception of the external world is never in the Now but is already past; only the mind is internal and present. Believing that a perception is in the present is an aspect of ignorance.
1. Accepting the non-Self as the Self
Do you feel your thoughts and emotions are out of control? Is your day a failure if you don’t wake up to a perfect morning? Does a bad hair day or an annoying coworker control your mood?
Do you obsess over your body and your appearance? Do you get frustrated or angry when someone tells you something you don’t want to hear?
Seeing the non-Self as the Self means allowing perceptions to control your experiences or prevent from seeing who you really are, your true Self.
The fact is your true Self is eternal and unchangeable, and can never be undone by thoughts, emotions, or external circumstances. Anything that changes is impermanent; if it changes, it is not You.
Think of it this way: Imagine your True Self to be a movie screen. All the perceptions and experiences of external events of life is the movie that is being projected onto that screen.
All perceptions and experiences are simply the film playing across the screen. The movie can’t affect the screen; it simply temporarily projects colors, images, a story onto it. Turn off the projector and the movie disappear but the screen is still there.
When a man accepts the non-Self as the True Self he is becoming too identified with the movie (the impermanent) that he misses the fact that he is the stillness onto which the movie is projected.
Another way of looking at the situation is to envision a blue sky with clouds passing by. The clouds are impermanent and move on; the sky is permanent and remains even when the clouds are long gone, however.
2. Seeing the Impermanent as Permanent
If you have ever been frustrated because you could manage 12 reps on one day but only eight on the next day? Have you ever become depressed because a small injury messed your entire routine up?
Have you ever been annoyed because your body was stiff or hurting? And what about that set of wrinkles that appeared overnight or the greys that came out of nowhere?
The expectation that your body and your lifestyle will never change is mistaking the impermanent for the permanent.
Ignorance is further manifested by the belief that perception or experience can be categorized or stereotyped.
Anyone who has truly experienced suffering or pleasure will admit that each perception or experience is peculiar, unique, and special, and that none can be morally evaluated as being good or bad.
The illusory idea that anything is permanent is a manifestation of ignorance. Impermanence is the reigning characteristic of the microcosmic and macrocosmic process.
At the atomic or quantum level we appreciate everything to be constantly in motion, constantly changing, transforming.
All Creation has the intrinsic tendency towards becoming something else. Ignorance causes one to expect things to stand still, even though our senses and perceptions tell us otherwise.
One scathing example of the ignorance of impermanence is the fact that throughout our lives we see people dying all around us but we think we personally are immortal!
This is all a confusion of the perceptual and experiential with the imperceptible nature of Truth.
3. Mistaking Suffering for Pleasure
If you feel that your workout was too easy, do you think that you didn’t really accomplish anything? Do you allow others to be tough with you because “no pain, no gain”?
Have you ever pushed yourself to the point of injury? Do you know people who find pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on others? Do you struggle with an out-of-control habit that you know is harmful or wasteful but think it provides a temporary feeling of ecstasy or bliss?
Most men tend to overdo to the point of injuring themselves physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
You can see this in the gym, in the workplace, or in the bedroom. There’s just some idiotic notion that overdoing something is somehow the masculine thing to do.
Very frequently you’ll see guys at the gym sporting a bandaged knee or elbow as if it were a purple heart. Or you’ll see videos of guys pounding away on each other in contorted positions and you have to wonder what in hell they’re doing? Is that what masculine intimacy is all about? Beating the hell out of your partner or rupturing his anus?
All of that and more is what toxic cultural conditioning and stereotyping has done to fuel this form of ignorance, mistaking suffering for pleasure. I call this “Living the Label.” Moreover, this is a serious violation of the yogic ethical principle of ahiṃsā (अहिंसा) or non-harm.
4. Seeing the Impure as Pure
The first Niyama, which is the second limb of the aṣṭāṅgayoga (अष्टाङ्गयोग) system, is śauca (सौच) or purity. To stay healthy and focused on his practice, a man’s mind, body, and environment has to stay pure.
We all know those guys who are oblivious to the funk emanating from their mouths, demeanor, behavior, and attitudes. Maybe you have had the experience of being totally unaware that your role model was toxic.
I know that I have. Do you know people who are constantly talked out of making time for real self-care by friends and family who say they have their best interest at heart? Have you eaten bad foods that compromised your well-being without really being aware of it?
The inability of the perceptive consciousness to discern the difference between the phenomenon of experience and the objective thing or the noumenon is ignorance.
The way in which we interact with or engage a person or an object is called relationship.
When we enter into a relationship, we color the person or the object with certain characteristics; that is, we visualize that object with a certain emotional bias or prejudice, not truly the nature of the object, and so they are false characteristics.
When the emotions get involved even suffering can be mistaken for pleasure; in general, the unawakened man is a slave to the emotions. The emotions catch him and hold him tight, until he succumbs to the impression that he is helping, serving, loving someone else.
This misperception becomes concretized, and serve as the foundation for all the urges, passions, appetites of the man. What looks like pleasure or joy is cheap joy, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s all he has to work with, since his original misperception is the seed for more and more misperceptions. This is the strength of ignorance.
Ignorance works by perceiving the non-self as the true Self, the impermanent as permanent, and miscasting the transitory, beauty, splendor, joy, and desire in the sensory as ultimates, and while mistaking the unclean and impure to be the pure.
Once the mind gets caught up in this cascade of ignorance it loses any autonomy it might have had and becomes a ‘slave to the slaves’ — dāsa (दास) se dāsaḥ (दास:) —
Imagine if you will, a cat sitting motionless in front of a mouse hole for a long time, not even a muscle twitching.
If you were to move a fake or inanimate mouse around, the cat misperceives the toy mouse as a real mouse, pounces on it, and ‘kills it.’ The ignorant mind is like the cat; it pounces on perceptions and seizes them greedily, mistaking the unreal for the real.