The Worst Type of Buddhist

Saturday June 16, 2007


A comment left recently on a previous post here at thinkBuddha – responding not to myself but to one of the other people commenting on this blog – struck a somewhat unfriendly note. ‘You are,’ it said flatly, ‘an ignorant Buddhist. The worst type.’

Since the comment was posted, I have removed the entire comment thread, firstly because the comment that occasioned this response was simply a chunk of text cut and pasted from elsewhere, and secondly because the response seemed rather less than courteous. But the reply nevertheless got me thinking.

As I have said recently, I don’t regard myself as a Buddhist so much as being Buddhish, and so not really being a Buddhist at all, I myself am neither the worst, nor the best, nor the middling kind. However, if I was a Buddhist, I have no doubt that I would be an ignorant one. Indeed, if I was an anything, I have little doubt that I’d be an ignorant whatever it was that I considered myself. Ignorance seems to me to be an inescapable condition for any kind of interesting engagement with the world.

When it comes to Buddhism, the texts describe ignorance like this

And what is ignorance, what is the origin of ignorance, what is the cessation of ignorance, what is the way leading to the cessation of ignorance? Not knowing about dukkha, not knowing about the origin of dukkha, not knowing about the cessation of dukkha, not knowing about the way leading to the cessation of dukkha — this is called ignorance. With the arising of the taints there is the arising of ignorance; with the cessation of the taints there is the cessation of ignorance.

If this is read carefully, it seems that in the light of this passage, a Buddhist cannot but be ignorant. After all, if you’ve got the hang of knowing about dukkha, its origin, its cessation, the ways and means to its cessation, then why would you need to bother being a Buddhist at all, why bother with all that practice that aims to bring this to light, when whatever you are trying to bring to light is already fully illuminated? One way of putting it is like this: Buddhist practice seems to be a matter of research. It is a way of investigating the nature of the sufferings that we cause ourselves and others, their origins, their cessations, the many paths leading to these cessations. And, as I suggested recently, research presupposes ignorance. Wisdom does not exclude it.

So, to return to the comment. Is an ignorant Buddhist the worst sort of Buddhist? My gamble would be to say no. The only sort of Buddhist is an ignorant Buddhist.

Ignorant responses to the foregoing argument will be welcomed.

# · Sujatin

It’s the only sort of Buddhist that I’ll ever be

# · Mathias

A very good analysis!

# · Tom

Hey, I’m ignorant! I don’t know the origins of this post other than what you are telling us.

But I’m not keen on ignorance as a rallying theme. There are many ways to cut this pie, and most are not really at war with each other. We begin by being ignorant seekers; it gets us motivated. We learn more about Buddhism and find there is more than we thought that we might be ignorant of. At some point in the process, we start worrying less about those things that had nettled us earlier.

People are welcomed to call themselves Buddhist – or not – all along the way, when entering the stream or when one “achieves” the quietude of profound enlightenment.

# · Jan Pobrislo

I remember one teacher saying that everyone is buddhist in some sense of the word, because everyone works with their mind in some way

# · jungne

If we avoid judging people, there should not be any bad or the worst Buddhists. Why being ignorant is so bad?

# · Tim

I resemble said observation, Ignorant to the end. If one weren’t ignorant, why would one be on the journey in the first place? Thanks for the insight.

# · stuart mcdowall

A wise man once told me. . .oh forget it, I thot this one up myself. . .Wisdom is comprehending how little we actually know.

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