The power of Avidya – primordial ignorance – is an expression of the fundamental quality of sensitivity.

“The fundamental Buddha quality of sensitivity is a changeless quality inherent in the nature of the heart and mind (chitta). It is present in all our experience already. It is not something new that we have to build up, but for unenlightened beings it easily becomes distorted.

The power of avidya – primordial ignorance – is an expression of the fundamental quality of sensitivity. You could even think of it as a kind of distorted compassion. Having failed to recognise openness, clarity and sensitivity as the true nature of reality, it tries to protect a separate individual self from the overwhelming nature of these qualities.

It tries to protect the self from the full experience of openness, clarity and sensitivity. The openness is too vast, the clarity too cutting and the sensitivity too raw to sustain our limited version of ourselves. If for a moment we saw this reality and experienced it fully, we would Awaken completely and that would mean letting go of our limited sense of self. To that self this is as terrifying as death. The fear reaction is avidya.

It is a strong reaction very close to the heart – that is why it is so powerful. It is a subtle, but deep distortion of our innate sensitivity. When that distortion is finally removed we will be fully awakened.

Meanwhile it constantly returns us to the narrow sense of well-being that we are accustomed to. We somehow prefer to feel like our ‘old selves’ than really to open up and feel exposed to the full force of reality.

It takes a lot of openness, clarity and sensitivity to reverse that. It takes a lot of patience and determination, which can only come from the confidence and the Heart Wish to do so. ”

Lama Shenpen Hookham

This is an extract from the ‘Sensitivity’ course book from the Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at