Ignorance, among all the modes of material nature, presents the most challenging set of influences on our lives, but spiritual paths, especially those taught in the Vedas, never shy away from challenges. Here are three ways to rise above the mode of ignorance.
1. Make a Sacred Space
The modes of nature adapt to one another proportionally, so rising to the levels of passion and goodness can help us reduce the influence of ignorance in our lives. When done in the context of a spiritual path, the progress through these modes reveals transcendental knowledge.
There are three qualities which transport us from ignorance, to the mode of goodness and beyond. These three, simple qualities are:
All three of them can be cultivated when we show up, and take part in a sacred space.
Whether it’s a part of your home dedicated for spiritual practice, or a public venue such as a temple, church, synagogue, mosque, etc. such places facilitate contemplation on the Absolute, and meditation. They are also pure environments where we offer services for others.
A sacred space is a training ground. It prepares us to offer the culture of goodness and divinity to a messy world that settles for less, and views living beings as material resources. Being strict with ourselves and lenient with others is a treasure of spiritual wisdom, earned over time.
Cleanliness can shape our physical health, our environment, and even our mental wellbeing. Self-discipline means voluntarily undergoing hardships for a higher purpose. Compassion is offering someone better than what they deserve; indeed, offering any and all help possible.
The guru Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura requested the members of his sacred institution, Gaudiya Math:
“I wish that every selfless, tender-hearted person of Gaudiya Math will be prepared to shed two hundred gallons of blood for the nourishment of the spiritual corpus of every individual of this world.”
2. Living Your Own Life
The mode of ignorance influences us all in many ways from conception. These influences continue throughout our childhood years. It’s possible to never grow out of some of these influences. One major influence of ignorance which begins in childhood is impressionability.
We worry a lot about what people will say or think, and about what we’re supposed to do. We look outside to random people, famous people, fictional people for suggestions and advice. But spiritual teachings urge us to look within, and to see what drives us, what we love, and why.
If we let other people influence us in our choices, be they career choices, dietary choices, taste in clothing, music, etc. we give away our power to live a life that makes us happy. How can we serve others if we don’t care for ourselves? No one else is responsible for our happiness.
Regardless of public opinion or suggestions about what we ought to do, we should follow our hearts. We can then inspire others to do what makes them happy. The path of bhakti-yoga, or approaching God through devotion culminates in atma-nivedanam, or giving of oneself.
You are the greatest gift you can ever offer.
3. Dealing with Failure
The mode of ignorance makes us miss out on important information, which is needed to make choices that work as planned. In Bhagavad-gita 18.39, it’s said that any happiness derived from the mode of ignorance is actually simply delusion. The mission of life, happiness, has failed.
It stands to reason that when trying to transcend the influence of this mode, we must be prepared to address the failures which have been part of our lives. We’ve all had a lot of failures in life. We’ve had tests that we didn’t pass, or events that were exceptionally challenging.
The mode of ignorance doesn’t just affect laypeople. One PhD holder shared her experience of coming to the US and starting her graduate work project. Over one year into the experiments, the theory they set out to establish was actually debunked by the data. All seemed lost.
She had been laboring under the influence of ignorance for that year, but she set aside her disappointment. She changed her perspective and, working together with her advisor, came up with a new project. This in turn secured her the funding she needed to pursue her passion.
The awesome, incredible findings she discovered from that new project wouldn’t have been possible if everything had gone according to plan. Her failures were stepping stones to success, and what began as a really bad thing, actually led to something better than she ever imagined.
Failures may be hard to see as friends in the heat of the moment, but ultimately they are coming to help us. Some lessons to watch out for during times of failure might include:
- Needing to work harder
- Considering a change of field
- Finding a project that you’re more passionate about
In Bhagavad-gita 18.48 Krishna says that every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. The mode of ignorance offers a guaranteed, steady stream of failures. By coping with them when we’re at our worst, we’ll be prepared for failures when we’re at our best.
The Light of Awareness
The soul is beyond the modes of material nature altogether, and consciousness is the hallmark of the soul. Nothing can extinguish our intrinsic awareness. By willingly acknowledging our involvement in the mode of darkness, we make the first step toward overcoming its influence in our lives.