Chapter 59: Devotion and the Nature of Ignorance
Patrick: Can devotion lead to discrimination as, for example, with the Gopis of Krishna?
Swamiji: Discrimination comes first, devotion and surrender afterwards. Without discrimination there can't be devotion. Devotion is only to that which is ultimately real, and how will you know what is real without discrimination? So discrimination precedes devotion. Unless you know what is real, how will you have devotion to it? The Gopis knew what was ultimately real; therefore, they had devotion to Krishna and considered Krishna as ultimately real. Otherwise, they would have hugged something else.
An American Visitor:: Does the eradication of ignorance give birth to intuitive understanding or awakened knowledge, or does intuitive understanding itself need to be cultivated?
Swamiji: When ignorance is removed, there is nothing more to be done. Everything is clear, like daylight. Ignorance is like night; when it passes, you are in the daylight of enlightenment. There is nothing more to be done. After ignorance goes, there is no action. Everything is complete, because what you are seeking is enlightenment, and that is equivalent to the abolition of ignorance. So, ignorance goes, and there are no problems afterwards. It is ignorance that is the obstacle for everything. When that goes, then all obstacles also go simultaneously.
Visitor: Can ignorance be eradicated by ceasing to respond in ignorant ways?
Swamiji: Ignorance cannot be removed by ignorance. It will be like a thief becoming a friend of another thief. Ignorance can be removed only by knowledge. Some people say there are degrees of ignorance: gross ignorance, like tamas; light ignorance like rajas; and transparent ignorance like sattva. So, the transparent ignorance, though it is also a kind of ignorance, may enable the seeker to get rid of the lower ignorances of the rajasik and tamasik types. So, from that point of view, you may say ignorance can remove ignorance.
Teachers and students are both human beings, yet the student differs from the teacher in the degree of his comprehension. Likewise, though there are stages of ignorance, the higher form of ignorance may help the seeker to eliminate the lower forms. When that function is performed, the higher ignorance also drops.
They generally give the example of a nut called "soap nut." It is a nut growing in a tree which is used for washing clothes in India. Even now it is available in the market. When you rub it, a froth comes out, just as froth comes from soap. This soap nut removes the dirt of the cloth, and afterwards settles down. Soap nut is also a kind of dirt because it is a sediment, but it does not stick to the cloth; it removes the dirt from the cloth, and then settles down. So likewise, the higher ignorance which is sattvik in nature can remove the lower one which is rajasik and tamasik, then itself settles down.
Sometimes when a thorn has gone into the foot, you remove that thorn with the help of another thorn, like a needle. Both are thorns only, but one thorn helps the removal of another thorn. So, likewise, one type of ignorance may help the removal of another type of ignorance. In that sense, you are right that ignorance can help to eradicate ignorance.