ignorance in Buddhism (avidya)

What is this 'I' to which reference is made when a person claims, "I have lost my child?" The truth of the origin of suffering is that *it is the craving of a self that gives rise to suffering.* BLINDLY, A PERSON CRAVES A SELF THAT THOUGH SEPARATE IS ATTACHED TO THE FACTORS CONSTITUTING THE PERSON. This craving leads to the invention and projection of a self. This self, being attached to the factors making up a person, suffers when the identification is threatened by changes in the factors to which it is attached, whether these be the factors of that person, other persons, or other objects and activities in the world.
Oriental Philosophies, by John M. Koller,
Scribner's Son's 1970; p. 112. MY EMPH.

...if a considerable over-simplification is allowed, it might be said that basically IT IS THIS IGNORANCE of process and the consequent cutting of this process into segments, which are regarded as independent of each other, THAT UNDERLIES THE GRASPING AND CLINGING THAT INEVITABLY LEADS TO SUFFERING. It means that the individual is constantly out of tune with reality.

Ibid, p. 128. MY EMPH.

...WITHOUT IGNORANCE THERE WOULD BE NO ATTACHMENT to the impulses to action, no attachment to the processes of consciousness, no attachment to the mind and body, to the sense organs, to the sense impressions, to the feelings, to the cravings, to the grasping and clinging, to the becoming forces; and there would then be no ego to be born and no self to grow old and die.

It is important to notice that THE VARIOUS PROCESSES WOULD GO ON WITHOUT INTERRUPTION; THE REMOVAL OF IGNORANCE WOULD NOT ALTER THAT. But the processes cause suffering only because of a wrong attitude toward them; an attitude that mistakes them for something other than what they are by cutting up reality and attaching this cut-up reality to A SELF WHICH IN IGNORANCE IS THOUGHT TO EXIST. It is *attachment* to the groups and not the groups themselves that brings about suffering.

...the Buddhist teaching that to get rid of suffering the self must be rooted out... has to do with THE DESTRUCTION OF THE PRODUCT OF IGNORANCE. The groups of processes constituting existence are not to be destroyed. Only the falsely imagined self is to be destroyed. The reason why this false self is to be destroyed is that it is what makes possible the attachment to the groups which underlies all forms of suffering. WITHOUT THIS false ego-self, which is only a CREATION OF IGNORANCE, there would be no looking to the past, bemoaning what has been lost, and no looking forward to the future lamenting over what has not yet come about. Without this ego-self life could be lived in the full richness of the present moment, without distinction, division or attachment. Consequently, once this ignorance is removed LIFE WILL BE FOUND COMPLETE AND PERFECT JUST AS IT IS.

Ibid, pp. 133-6.

note that, like the Western sin, caused by Satan, 'ignorance' is portrayed as the MEGA-ERROR of the Buddhist 'Middle Road'. what we do "in ignorance" is responsible for all our troubles

in the Avidyana School there is no required belief that this is true. you are encouraged to ask all kinds of questions. for example, if ignorance is so powerful that we are cursed under its veil to endless suffering, then what creates this ignorance? Tempter Mara? are there any advantages to making it? are we born with it? is it somehow an indicator of who and what we are? is it valuable that we continue living in it? etc.

The main concrete application of the abstract principle [of conditioned arising] is in the form of a series of conditioned and conditioning links (*nidana*'s), culminating in the arising of *dukkha* [suffering]. A standard formula of twelve *nidanas* is most common.... The standard formula begins 'CONDITIONED BY SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE ARE THE CONSTRUCTING ACTIVITIES; conditioned by the constructing activities is consciousness', and then continues through a series of other conditions. The series thus runs:

(1) SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE
-> (2) constructing activities
-> (3) (discriminative) consciousness
-> (4) mind-and-body
-> (5) the six sense-bases
-> (6) sensory stimulation
-> (7) feeling
-> (8) craving
-> (9) grasping
-> (10) existence
-> (11) birth
-> (12) ageing, death, sorrow,
            lamentation, pain, grief and despair.
'Thus is the origin of this whole mass of *dukkha*'. After the formula is given in forward order, it follows in 'reverse' order. In this form it describes how THE CESSATION OF *DUKKA* COMES ABOUT DUE TO THE COMPLETE CESSATION OF SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE and the consequent cessation of each following *nidana*....

THE *NIDANA* OF SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE (*AVIJJA*) IS DEFINED AS UNKNOWING WITH REGARD TO THE FOUR HOLY TRUTHS.... As the principle of Conditioned Arising underlies these Truths, the first link can be seen, ironically, to be ignorance of this very principle. CONDITIONED ARISING, THEN, CAN ONLY OPERATE IN IGNORANCE OF ITSELF. ONCE A PERSON FULLY UNDERSTANDS IT, IT CAN BE STOPPED. THE 'IGNORANCE' REFERRED TO IS NOT LACK OF INFORMATION, BUT BUT A MORE DEEP-SEATED MISPERCEPTION OF REALITY, WHICH CAN ONLY BE DESTROYED BY DIRECT MEDITATIVE INSIGHT. IT IS given as the first link due to its fundamental influence on the process of life, but is ITSELF CONDITIONED BY SENSUAL DESIRE, ILL-WILL, LAZINESS, AGITATION AND FEAR OF COMMITMENT: five hindrances which are in turn conditioned by unskilful conduct....

BUDDHISM, THEN, SEES THE BASIC ROOT OF SUFFERING AS SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE. rather than sin, which is a wilful turning away from a creator God. Indeed, it can be regarded as having a doctrine of something like 'original sinlessness'.... In the calm of deep meditation, the depth-purity of mind is experienced at a conscious level, as the process of meditation suspends the defiling five hindrances, just as a smelter purifies gold-ore so as to attain pure gold.... More than a temporary undefiled state of mind is necessary for enlightenment, however. For this, there must be destruction of the four 'cankers' (*asavas*): the most deeply-rooted spiritual faults, which are likened to festering sores, leeching off energy from the mind, or intoxicating influxes on the mind. These are the cankers of sense-desire, (desire for) existence, views, and spiritual ignorance....

An Introduction to Buddhism, by Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 1991; pp. 54-7. MY EMPH.

we are told that *deeply understanding and realizing* the substance of the Four Holy Truths (1-dukkha; 2-tanha; 3-nirvana; 4-marga) will dispel our (spiritual) ignorance; that 'profound meditative states' will enable us to 'root out' our spiritual faults (ones we are born with, apparently); and that once destroyed, we experience utter bliss.

Avidyana suggests that the vehicles of all types (e.g. Mahayana, Megayana, Winnayana, Hinayana, etc.) equally owe a debt of gratitude for not only the ability to ignore, but also the products of ignorance. identification is an application of social technique facilitating datasharing at the expense of waking-mind.

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