What is Avijja (Ignorance)?

1. People engage in immoral actions because they highly value the sense pleasures, and are unaware of a better type of happiness called niramisa sukha; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sikha?“.

Therefore, they are willing to do even immoral things in order to gain sense pleasures. They do not realize two drawbacks associated with such actions:

  • If they hurt others in trying to get what they want, they will have to pay for the consequences with very high interest (law of kamma); these are the immoral acts that could lead to rebirth in the apāyā (lowest four realms)
  • Whatever enjoyment one gets from such sense pleasures are temporary.

These facts come out naturally from the true nature of the world that include the non-stop rebirth process that involves 31 realms and the law of kamma and the causal principle of Paṭicca Samuppāda. It is not possible for anyone to realize these facts by oneself.  One has to learn those from  a Buddha or a true disciple of a Buddha.

2. What is avijjā? It is basically the ignorance of those two facts, even though there is a whole framework of a “world view” behind them. The key ingredients of this “wider world view” are:

  • “This world” is much more complex than what is readily observed with our five physical senses, i.e., there are 31 realms instead of the just the two (human realm and the animal realm) that are apparent to us; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“.
  • That the true nature of existence in any of the 31 realms is anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.
  • That most suffering is encountered in the lowest four realms (apāyā).
  • And this perpetual birth/rebirth process has no beginning (see, “Infinity – How Big Is It?“) and the only way to stop it is to attain the Arahant stage of Nibbāna.
  • But by reaching the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna, one can be assured that rebirth in the apāyā (lowest four realms) is permanently stopped; see, “Why a Sotāpanna is Better off than Any King, Emperor, or Billionaire“.

3. The definition of avijjā is not understanding the Four Noble Truths. But to understand the Four Noble Truths one needs to see the “true nature of the world”, the three characteristics of this world: anicca, dukkha, anatta.

4. In brief, anicca, dukkha, anatta mean:

  • There is NOTHING in this world that can be maintained to our satisfaction in the long run (anicca); thus, after much struggle we only end up with suffering (dukkha); thus, all these struggles are in vain and one is helpless (anatta).
  • The above three characteristics are not just for the human realm: One cannot find any panacea by seeking a better rebirth (even though the realms at and above human realm have less suffering), i.e., none of the 31 realms can provide any lasting happiness, and we are truly helpless (anatta).
  • In particular, if one does IMMORAL things (killing, stealing, etc) in seeking this illusory happiness, the more one gets trapped in lower realms filled with suffering.
  • Unfortunately, the true meanings of anicca and anatta have been wrongly interpreted as “impermanence” and “no-self”; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations“, and the follow up posts on the correct interpretations.

5. For anyone willing to dig deeper: anicca, dikkha, anatta, are manifestations of the impermanence nature “of this world” as described in many ways:

  • In AbhIdhamma, it is explained how this world is “mind based”, and how both the mind and the material phenomena CHANGE with incredible speed.
  • This “change” is not random, but is dictated by “cause and effect” or Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • These and others relevant material is discussed at different sections on the site.
  • However, it is NOT necessary to learn all those details to achieve some “cooling down” or ‘niveema” or even various stages of Nibbāna. One can grasp the concepts of anicca, dukkha, anatta via meditation or contemplation on one’s own life experiences.

6. When one does not comprehend this “big picture”, one makes bad decisions.

  • For example, a fish does not see the string or the hook, only sees the worm, and gets into trouble. If it saw the whole picture, with the string and the hook, it may realize that there is something wrong and would not try to grab the worm.
  • Just like the fish in the above example, we only see the pleasures to be had in this human life, but do not realize that because of this “apparent pleasures” we are grabbing hold of a world that also include unbearable suffering in the lowest four realms, not to mention the hidden suffering in this life.
  • Only a Buddha can see this “bigger picture” and he has shown us not only that bigger picture, but also the reasons why we should believe in that bigger picture. In this website, I hope to provide this evidence in a systematic way.

7. That complex world view (everything changing moment-to-moment everywhere in those 31 realms) can be grasped only by a Buddha with a highly-purified mind.Other than a Buddha, a normal human being (no matter how intelligent) is incapable of seeing that whole world view; see, “Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem“.

  • Thus avijjā cannot be dispelled by “book knowledge”. One needs to comprehend the “true nature of this complex world”.
  • Even when we are told about it, it is not easy to grasp it, because our minds have been covered with defilements that have been accumulating from an untraceable beginning; see, “Key to Calming the Mind“.

8. Another important factor that keeps many people “in the dark” or “in ignorance”is the wrong impression that Buddha Dhamma is a pessimistic world view. With the pure Dhamma hidden for over a thousand years, several important facts about the Four Noble Truths got distorted:

  • When the Buddha said “this world” is filled with suffering he meant the wider world of 31 realms. Also, he did not say, there is suffering ALL THE TIME or in all the realms of existence. In higher realms (realms 6-31), there is actually much more happiness than suffering. Even in the human realm (the 5th realm), there is more happiness than suffering for many people. That is why it is hard for many people to get motivated to examine the message of the Buddha.
  • Yet most beings spend most of the time in the lowest four realms (apāyā). This is why, ON AVERAGE, the suffering in the saṃsāra (cycle of rebirths; see, “Evidence for Rebirth“) is much higher compared to any kind of happiness that can be experienced in any realm.
  • Together with the wider “world view”, the concept of an unimaginably long rebirth process got lost; see, “Saṃsāric Time Scale, Buddhist Cosmology, and the Big Bang Theory“. The fact that it is not possible to trace a beginning to this rebirth process is not widely known. In the scale of the sansaric time scale, this lifetime of a hundred or so years is negligible. Thus whatever “accomplishment” one achieves, it has a very short duration in the sansaric time scale.
  • Also, Buddha was just the messenger who conveyed these dismaying FACTS about  nature. He discovered the nature’s laws, which clearly illustrate that it is not possible to find any LONG-LASTING happiness ANYWHERE in these 31 realms. But he also pointed out how to find a better and permanent kind of happiness.

9. The most important fact that has been lost for hundreds of years is that there is a happiness of a better quality that also is PERMANENT. This is the Nibbanic bliss or the niramisa sukha; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness“,  “How to Taste Nibbāna“, and “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?“. And one can start experiencing this niramisa sukha even before attaining the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna; see, “Key to Calming the Mind“.  For more details, see, “Niramisa Sukha“.

  • Not knowing any of those (and related facts) is avijjā (ignorance). If one does not know about those facts, then how can one find a solution to the problem of suffering? Also, since only a Buddha can discover these laws, without hearing the message from another person (or a website!), there is no way anyone can learn all this by oneself, no matter how intelligent one is.

10. The Buddha compared avijjā to darkness. One cannot remove darkness forcefully. The ONLY WAY to get rid of darkness is to bring in a light. In the same way, the Buddha explained, ignorance can be removed only via cultivating wisdom.

  • No matter what else one does, one will not get rid of ignorance; one has to cultivate wisdom by learning Dhamma. First, one cultivates wisdom to distinguish moral from immoral, and then comprehend the true nature of the world, i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“, and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma“.

Next, “Two Types of Vedana (Feelings)“, …………

Print Friendly, PDF & Email