Is Ignorance A Definition of Bliss?
The idea that ignorance is bliss has gotten a bad rap. Literally. The phrase is often misquoted, which makes it seem that not knowing what is really going on results in happiness or extreme joy (the definition of bliss).
Does Being Ignorant Lead To Happiness?
Was Thomas Gray (the poet) really saying that being stupid makes you happy?
Which would you rather be ... stupid or smart?
What would anyone walking down the street choose? Smart, right? In fact, if someone did choose to be stupid, you would think something was wrong with them ... or that they really were stupid.
Where Does 'Ignorance Is Bliss' Come From?
The problem is that the line by Thomas Gary is misquoted all the time.
The poem does not say ...
"ignorance is bliss"
The poem says ...
"where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise"
[The where is Eton College mentioned in the title and described throughout the poem. Colleges are places of learning and knowledge, where students often think they are being trained to be wise. But in fact, knowledge is not wisdom. Knowing a theory or equation does not tell you what is the right action to take and why.]
But back to Thomas Gray. These are his two most famous lines, and they are always misquoted. It is like telling everyone around you "do not put your hand in the fire " and then everyone drops the Do Not part when they quote you and you end up sounding like an idiot telling everyone to do something stupid.
The poor man must be rolling in his grave. To help put him to rest, here is the last part of his poem (it is 100 lines long) entitled "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College".
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.
The "they" are the young students at the college, which he also attended when he was young. In this context, what he seems to be telling us is that being innocent of what lies ahead allows you to be happy. But then he adds the "no more", and seems to give the students (and us) some advice ... if you find yourself in a place where you have bliss, do not trade it for wisdom.
Simply put, bliss is more desirable and valuable than wisdom.
Which is interesting, when you think of the Zen idea of wisdom, and the pursuit in the East to become wise so you can reach a state of zazen, satori, nirvana ... all states of bliss. And then there is the idea of the I-Ching, learning how to take wise action that is in harmony with the Tao or Universe.
So Why The Idea of 'Ignorance Is Bliss'?
This idea is not new ... Sophocles (an ancient Greek playwright) wrote in Ajax of a father talking to his son ... translated as "the happiest life consists in ignorance, before you learn to grieve and to rejoice" or as "of woes thou knowest naught, for ignorance is life's extremest bliss".
Down the ages, other writers have said similar things. And indeed, when you think of how happy children are ... just playing ... or gazing at the night sky. Their heads are not filled with thoughts of how to pay the mortgage next month or worrying about getting fired. They are not concerned that the lawn needs to be mowed or that the facet is leaking. They are in the moment and their heads are filled at night with dreams of great adventures and becoming heroes (or heroines) that slay dragons and win the hands of their beloved.
Even when they get to college, they still have dreams of being successful, marrying well and having a great job. They have no hands on experience yet with the harsh (often mind and soul numbing) demands of having to pay the bills, please your boss and navigate the sharks and stress of modern office politics.
So ignorance and innocence do have benefits. Innocence allows you to dream unhindered by the reality that surrounds you and is changing every day as older generations die and obsolete ideas fade away. And ignorance allows you to try things without second guessing yourself or believing because it hasn't been done before it can't be done.
Would You Trade Ignorance For Power?
Dreaming only last for so long .. and then children want to get outside and play. They become teenagers and want to grow up faster so they can start making their own choices, be independent ... and I suspect, secretly work on turning those dreams of being an artist, or an actor, or a warrior or a writer or a chef into reality.
At this point, no one tells you that you can't turn your dreams into something real. And if they did, what teenager would believe them? The world is their oyster ... until it proves otherwise.
So here is a quick question for you.
Which would you rather be ... a child forever or an adult with the power to choose .. the power to create the life you dreamed of as a child?
Okay, most people today do not use their power, or they end up settling in order to pay the mortgage and have a lawn that needs to be mowed and a house with lots of facets (some of which leak). [It's the washers ... the rubber ones after a while get brittle ... jiggling the handle works for a while until the washer cracks. Just in case you wanted to know. Mine happens to still be in that "jiggle the handle and it will stop" stage.]
And if you could create the life you dreamed of, would it be one that would make you supremely happy?
(that is what bliss means - supreme happiness)
Bliss, Fate & Destiny ... The Triumphant Trio
So, is that it? Bliss is more valuable than wisdom. Enjoy it while it lasts. Hardly. There is esoteric wisdom hidden in the line, if you care to look at it more closely.
"Tis folly to be wise" hints at the esoteric wisdom of Key 3, where wisdom and folly are two sides of the same coin. The garden of Paradise was the original place of bliss, where children did not know their fate.
If you could not change your fate, would you want to know it anyway?
Would knowing your fate help you prepare for what was ahead?
If you knew you only had a few years left, would you want to live it to the fullest, like in the movies Last Holiday or The Bucket List? Or if you knew that you had lots of years ahead, would you want to know so you could slow down sometimes and smell the roses? Take better care of your health so you felt great most of those years? Save a bit more, spend a bit less now so you had plenty of retirement money to play with?
It seems to me that knowing what lies ahead could be very helpful in choosing the right career, going to the right school and taking the right jobs ... so you were well prepared for what was to come. It is the case of, "if I only knew then what I knew now". If you feel that way, or say that often to yourself ... knowing your fate and what lay ahead would have been valuable. You probably would have made different choices ... better choices. I know I would have.
What if you could change your fate?
Would you want to know what lies ahead?
If you had the power to change your fate by writing your own destiny and then fulfilling it ... would you use it?
In that case, ignorance of what lies ahead does not look so appealing ... when it means you do not know if you need to start changing your life now to live out a destiny you chose instead of the fate you were dealt.
I am assuming here that you would deal yourself a much better hand of cards than Fate did ... so you would be better off ... or at least in control of your future.
If you are curious about bliss, fate and destiny ... how to find your bliss ... or create the life you dream of ... feel free to explore the pages here.
P. S.[ox] Eagle Dog Ignorance
Another unusual ignorance phrase I ran across on wikipedia is .... "Ignorance thy name is Eagle Dog". Strange indeed, until you take a look at Key 10 and the position of both the eagle and the dog. Dogs are known as canines (K9), which is an interesting twist on combining keys 9 and 10, or the mastering of potential.
But what does ignorance have to do with latent skill and the generation and communication of wealth producing ideas that advance mankind ... and all life on this planet?
Well, I leave that up to you.