~Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
All of our experience, including dream, arises from ignorance. This is a rather startling statement to make in the West, so first let us understand what is meant by ignorance (ma-rigpa). The Tibetan tradition distinguishes between two kinds of ignorance: innate ignorance and cultural ignorance. Innate ignorance is the basis of samsara, and the defining characteristic of ordinary beings. It is ignorance of our true nature and the true nature of the world, and it results in entanglement with the delusions of the dualistic mind.
Dualism reifies polarities and dichotomies. It divides the seamless unity of experience into this and that, right and wrong, you and me. Based on these conceptual divisions, we develop preferences that manifest as grasping and aversion, the habitual responses that make up most of what we identify as ourselves. We want this, not that; believe in this, not that; respect this and disdain that. We want pleasure, comfort, wealth, and fame, and try to escape from pain, poverty, shame, and discomfort. We want these things for ourselves and those we love, and do not care about others. We want an experience different from the one we are having, or we want to hold on to an experience and avoid the inevitable changes that will lead to its cessation.
There is a second kind of ignorance that is culturally conditioned. It comes about as desires and aversions become institutionalized in a culture and codified into value systems. For example, in India, Hindus believe that it is wrong to eat cows but proper to eat pigs. Moslems believe that it is appropriate to eat beef but they are prohibited from eating pork. Tibetans eat both. Who is right? The Hindu thinks the Hindus are right, the Moslem thinks the Moslems are right, and the Tibetan thinks the Tibetans are right. The differing beliefs arise from the biases and beliefs that are part of the culture - not from fundamental wisdom.
Another example can be found in the internal conflicts of philosophy. There are many philosophical systems that are defined by their disagreement with one another on fine points. Even though the systems themselves are developed with the intention to lead beings to wisdom, they produce ignorance in that their followers cling to a dualistic understanding of reality. This is unavoidable in any conceptual system because the conceptual mind itself is a manifestation of ignorance.
Cultural ignorance is developed and preserved in traditions. It pervades every custom, opinion, set of values, and body of knowledge. Both individuals and cultures accept these preferences as so fundamental that they are taken to be common sense or divine law. We grow up attaching ourselves to various beliefs, to a political party, a medical system, a religion, an opinion about how things should be. We pass through elementary school, high school, and maybe college, and in one sense every diploma is an award for developing a more sophisticated ignorance. Education reinforces the habit of seeing the world through a certain lens. We can become an expert in an erroneous view, become very precise in our understanding, and relate to other experts. This can be the case also in philosophy, in which one learns detailed intellectual systems and develops the mind into a sharp instrument of inquiry. But until innate ignorance is penetrated, one is merely developing an acquired bias, not fundamental wisdom.
[From: Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep]