I will speak about the second aspect of spiritual ignorance now:
Lack of direct experience
There are three ways to get right knowledge: direct experience, deduction and testimony. When someone has no direct experience of a particular subject, he can resort to deduction (reasoning with his intellect) or testimony (scriptures, others’ teachings, etc.). If one uses deduction or testimony to teach something, there is always the possibility of error according to how good his reasoning is or how good the source of testimony is. But when he has direct experience, the instruction is always simpler and more reliable.
Let us see an example now by a simple question that any pupil could ask his or her teacher: “Spiritual enlightenment is said to be a state where one feels united with the entire universe. How is one to know that he is effectively united with all around?”
Now listen to the two answers. The first one is correct but forged from deduction and testimony:
1) “Well, according to the scriptures, at the moment of spiritual enlightenment, one’s consciousness is realized as pervading all objects around. One feels how his own spiritual essence flourishes and expands in such a way that makes the experience of unity with the universe possible”.
That was a typical answer coming from someone without any direct experience of unity with the universe. The answer is right but lacks soul, so to speak. In fact, that was more of a philosophical description to be found in a book than a concrete answer to a simple question.
Now I will give you my own answer to that question:
2) “The emergence of unprecedented Bliss (Joy) implies that one realized his unity with the universe”.
I could quote scriptures as proof of what I am affirming, but I don’t need to do so because I have direct experience of that process. Consequently, as I get straight to the point without intellectual deductions, my instruction is much simpler. Yes, you may keep asking about what unprecedented Bliss is like and so on, but the teaching is clear from the start. It is a landmark on the spiritual path and there is no doubt about it, i.e. you were taught that when you feel that Bliss (which is unprecedented, viz. you’ve never felt It before), that implies you have realized your union with the universe. The first answer was right but so intellectual and vague that you still continue wondering what the guy meant to say! The second answer is clearer and more direct.
So, on one hand, you have long and complex intellectual explanations that could be completely right, but they lack soul. They are informative, but you cannot attain spiritual enlightenment with mere information. No, you need real instructions to do so. On the other hand, you have my own answer that comes from my direct experience of that state. It is simpler and shorter, right?
Lack of direct experience of the Self (of what one is essentially) is always a stone in the shoes of all the spiritual aspirants. If the removal of spiritual ignorance was merely a matter of studying scriptures, this plague would have abandoned humankind long ago, right? But it is not that easy. All in all, a spiritual aspirant has to manage to get direct experience of his own Self in order to advance on the path. Advancing on the spiritual path amounts to removing one’s own spiritual ignorance, obviously. If one does not have direct experience of the Self, he is a theoretician, full of knowledge perhaps, but with no real understanding about his own Self. He will be very informative but won’t have real power.
In other words, until one gets direct experience of his own nature, of his own spiritual essence, he remains a spiritual aspirant, i.e. one cannot be a teacher. Teachers without direct experience of the Self are fruitless. They should be avoided then.
But how can one get direct experience of the Self? Another simple answer: “By following the instructions of people who got it.”
Some people follow the instructions of beings that have left their physical bodies, while others prefer to follow the instructions of a teacher who has retained a physical body. The first method is more reliable but too slow, because books cannot answer all your questions. The second method is less reliable (because of the immense quantity of false teachers) but faster, if you find a genuine one.
Anyway, one truth remains: the right way to achieve spiritual enlightenment is always by dissolving your ignorance about scriptures and acquiring direct experience of your own Self (of what you really are in essence).