Conscious Ignorance – Osho

What exactly do you mean by ‘conscious ignorance’? Is it recognition that one is ultimately, fundamentally ignorant?  Or is there more to it?

Ashoka, conscious ignorance is not ignorance at all. It is the ultimate state of consciousness – how can it be ignorant? It is pure knowing. Of course, there is no knowledge, hence it is called ignorance. But there is knowing, utter knowing, clarity, transparency. No knowledge is gathered, but all is known.

Conscious ignorance means innocence AND conscious. If innocence is unconscious, sooner or later it will be corrupted by knowledge. Unconscious mind is always ready to be corrupted, polluted, distracted.

Consciousness means centering, awareness – you cannot be distracted. You remain in your knowing, but you don’t accumulate knowledge. Knowledge is always of the past: knowing is in the present, is of the present. Like a mirror: the mirror reflects if something comes before it, but when it passes the mirror is empty again. This is conscious ignorance – not that the mirror does not reflect: it reflects, but it doesn’t gather. It is not like a photo plate.

A photo plate becomes knowledgeable. The moment something is reflected in it, it catches hold of it. It becomes attached to it. The mirror remains unattached – available, open, vulnerable, unprotected, with no defense, yet always virgin. This is virginity: when nothing corrupts you. Things come and pass.

You ask me: What exactly do you mean by ‘conscious ignorance’?

It is consciousness, knowing consciousness. Ignorant I am calling it because it cannot claim any knowledge – that’s why. It cannot say “I know.”

When the Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, “Who are you?” he simply said, “I don’t know.”

This is conscious ignorance. We misunderstood him. He thought, “Then what is the point? If you don’t even know who you are, then what is the difference between me and you? I also don’t know who I am.”

Wu is simply ignorant. Bodhidharma is consciously ignorant. And that word ‘consciousness’ makes all the difference – all the difference that there is in the world. It transforms the whole quality of ignorance. Ignorance becomes luminous. It is full of light – not full of knowledge but full of light.

You ask: Is it recognition that one is ultimately, fundamentally ignorant?

No. One is NOT, so how can one be fundamentally and ultimately ignorant? To think that one is you have already gathered knowledge, you have already claimed. You have already declared to the world that “I am!”

Those who know, they know something totally different. They know that “I am not – God is.” They know that “My existence is arbitrary. My existence is make-believe. ‘I’ as a separate entity has never existed. I am just a wave in the ocean.”

But when the wave is arising and reaching to the clouds, it can believe that “I am.” And the ocean meanwhile is laughing and roaring, and knows that this wave has gone crazy. Soon the wave will disappear in the ocean again. Even when it IS there, it is not separate from the ocean. You cannot separate a wave from the ocean! Can you exist even for a single moment without the universe surrounding you? Not for a single moment.

So who are you? What are you?

Is it recognition that one is ultimately, fundamentally ignorant?

No. The conscious ignorance knows that one is not. There is utter silence inside. Nobody has ever been there. You have dreamt about it; it is your dream. You are nothing but a construct of your dreaming mind.

And, secondly, ignorance does not mean that one is ignorant. It simply means that life is ultimately mysterious. The emphasis is not on your ignorance. Remember it, because the ego is very cunning. It can survive even on the idea of ignorance. It can say, “I am ignorant – fundamentally, ultimately I am ignorant. But I am.”

First it was claiming its existence through knowledge: “My knowledge is valid. Nobody else’s knowledge is valid.” Now it claims, “No knowledge is valid – I am ignorant. But I am.” Now, behind ignorance, the ‘I’ is hiding again. It has taken another face, a new mask, a new persona, but it is the old game being played with new rules. The form has changed but the content is the same – the same dream, the same stupid dream. The same arbitrary ego claiming absoluteness about itself.

No. When I say ignorance, my emphasis is never on I. My emphasis is on the ultimate mysteriousness of existence. Ignorance is ultimate because existence cannot be reduced to knowledge. It is irreducible. It is a mystery, and remains a mystery. You cannot demystify it.

In fact, the more you try to demystify it, the more and more mysterious it becomes. It gathers new dimensions of mysteries.

Just watch: five thousand years of human mind’s evolution – has it helped in any way to demystify existence? Existence has become far more mysterious than it has ever been before. Go back five thousand years: there was a limited number of stars, because by the bare naked eye you cannot count more than three thousand stars in the night. When the night is dark and full of stars and there are no clouds, at the most you can count three thousand stars, not more than that, by the bare naked eye. How many stars are there? Now they say, “We have counted three thousand billion stars. We used to see only three thousand, now there are three thousand billion stars. And this is not the end: this is just the beginning of the counting.”

The existence goes on and on. There seems to be no possibility that it will be ending somewhere.

When the Vedic mystics looked at the sky, it was mysterious. When you look at the sky it is far more mysterious. Medic mystics will feel jealous of you – but you don’t look at the sky.

For thousands of years man believed that life, existence, consists of matter. Now physicists say there is no matter – all is energy. They have not been able to solve the mystery of matter. The mystery has become very deep. Now there is no matter – it is all energy.

And what is energy? Now, even to define it is becoming difficult – because it was possible to define it in contrast with matter. Now there is NO matter. How to define it? Definition is lost. It is there in its sheer mystery. And the efforts that have been made to define it have made it look even more mysterious.

If you go into modern physics, you will be surprised. Mystics look not so mysterious now – with all God and heaven and angels and souls, even then they don’t look so mysterious. The modern world of physics is far more mysterious, incomprehensibly mysterious. And the infinite space….

And Albert Einstein says it goes on expanding… into what? And he says, “We don’t know yet into what. But one thing is certain: it goes on expanding.”

Existence is expanding, into what? Naturally, the question arises. There must be some space beyond it, but that cannot be said. By the very definition of existence that is prohibited, because when we say ’existence’, we mean ALL that is, space included. ALL THAT IS. Then how does it expand? Into what? There is nothing left outside it!

It is almost as mysterious as one day you go to the market and you keep yourself in your own pocket. It is possible to keep yourself in your own pocket? It should be – if existence can expand without there being anything to expand into. All space is in, in its pocket, and it goes on expanding into its own pocket! Looks absurd. Zen koans are nothing compared to it.

Albert Einstein says the world is finite. That too is mysterious. If the world is finite, then there must be something to define it. There must be a boundary! If you call it finite, then there must be a boundary to it. But to make a boundary you will have to accept something beyond the boundary, otherwise the boundary cannot be drawn. The boundary can be drawn only between two things!

You can have a fence around your house because of the neighbor. If there is no neighbor, nothing exists beyond your fence, how are you going to put the fence and where? And how will you decide that “This is the place where we should put the fence” that “this part belongs to me and there is nothing outside it”?

But Albert Einstein says this is how it is: “We can’t explain it, but this is how it is. The world is finite and yet there is no boundary to it. Unbounded finiteness!” Absurd! Illogical!

And not only that: this unbounded finiteness is round in shape – because everything is round. How can an unbounded thing be round? Who will give it the shape of roundness?

The mystery has thickened every day. And Albert Einstein is just on the threshold of existence. It is maddening.

So when I say ‘conscious ignorance’, I don’t mean that you are ignorant: I mean that life is so vast and existence so infinite that there is no way to fathom it. You cannot measure it; it is immeasurable.

What exactly do you mean by ‘conscious ignorance’? Is it recognition that one is ultimately, fundamentally ignorant?  Or is there more to it?

If there is not more to it, then the mystery is solved. There is always more to it! And there will always be more to it. Whatsoever can be said will never be satisfactory – there will always remain more to it.

And I am not saying that you understand what is not said and you understand inside is enough – even that is not enough. Nothing IS enough. That is the meaning when I say existence is mysterious. It simply cannot be understood.

To see this point makes one feel humble. To see this point to let it sink in your heart, one feels like bowing down. To bow down before this mystery that is unfathomable – not only unknown but unknowable – is prayer.


From The Perfect Master, V.1, Chapter Eight

Copyright© OSHO International Foundation

An MP3 audio file of this discourse can be downloaded from, or you can read the entire book online at the Osho Library.

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