Chapter 16: The Courage to Say “I Don’t Know”
I want you to understand that it remains a mystery and it will always remain a mystery. By its very nature there is no way to know the beginning.
But in a different context, Buddha has come very close. He says, “Ignorance has no beginning, but an end. And consciousness has a beginning, but no end.” This way he completes the circle. I will repeat it, so that you can deeply feel it: Ignorance has no beginning, but an end. And because ignorance ends, awareness has a beginning, but it has no end. It goes on and on forever.
With this, Buddha is recognizing the fact that it is better not to ask about the beginning of ignorance and not to ask about the end of awareness. These two things will remain forever mysterious. And these are the most important things in existence.
If the question was asked of me, I would simply say, “I don’t know,” because that is the most sincere answer. It simply means that it is a mystery.
But Bodhidharma starts trying to answer the question, and you can see it does not even touch the question at all. The ignorant mind - now the question is from where the ignorance comes, and he has already accepted it, without answering:
The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions and evils, is rooted in the three poisons: greed, anger and delusion.
Is this the answer? He is saying the ignorant mind is rooted in certain things: delusion, anger, greed. But was this the answer? Was the disciple asking it? Was he asking for this kind of explanation?
The question was, “What is the root of ignorance?” And if you answer that for example greed, anger and delusion are at the root of ignorance, you are simply postponing the answer. Again the question will arise, “From where comes the greed? From where comes the anger and from where the delusion?” And then you fall into a vicious circle. Then you start saying, “They come from ignorance. It is because man is ignorant; that is why he is greedy, that is why he is angry, that is why he is deluded.” And when we ask from where this ignorance comes, “It comes from anger, from greed and delusion.” Whom you are trying to befool?
But for centuries these kind of answers have befooled people. Perhaps nobody questioned these irrelevant answers - either because they were so much impressed, so much overwhelmed by the individuality of a man like Bodhidharma, or perhaps they could not figure out that Bodhidharma is simply creating more smoke around the question, so they cannot see their question clearly. He is throwing dust into their eyes. It is not an answer.