Avijjā

Renderings

avijjā: uninsightfulness into reality

avijjāgata: void of insight into reality

avijjāgato hoti: to lack insight into reality

vijjā: insightfulness into reality

vijjā: insightfulness

• vijjāgata: having insight into reality

• vijjāgato hoti: to be possessed of insight into reality

Introduction

Ignorance: extraordinary consensus

Avijjā has been called ‘ignorance’ at least since 1875 when Childers’ dictionary appeared. Even today this word is universally accepted. The consensus is extraordinary.

What is missing: insight

‘Ignorance’ means lack of knowledge or education that is abandoned through knowledge and education. But avijjā is abandoned through transcendent insight (abhiññā pahātabbā A.2.247). What is missing in avijjā is not knowledge but insight.

Channa’s stumbling block: lack of insight

The difference between knowledge and insight is illustrated in the case of Venerable Channa who knew the teaching but did not see the nature of reality (dhammaṃ passato hoti). Although he understood the theory of anicca, he lacked insight. So he asked Venerable Ānanda to explain the teaching in such a way that he might see the nature of reality (dhammaṃ passeyyan ti) (S.3.133). Channa’s stumbling block was not knowledge, so he was not ‘ignorant’.

Overcoming avijjā: a matter of insight

With enlightenment, when avijjā is dispelled and vijjā arises (avijjā vihatā vijjā uppannā) ‘darkness is banished, and light arises’ (tamo vihato āloko uppanno) (M.1.248). One knows and sees (evaṃ jānato evaṃ passato) the four noble truths as clearly as if one were looking at fish in a crystal clear pond (D.1.84). Overcoming avijjā is therefore a matter of insight not knowledge. Other quotations below make the same point.

Illustrations

Illustration: avijjā, uninsightfulness into reality

Which things must be abandoned through transcendent insight?
Katame ca bhikkhave dhammā abhiññā pahātabbā?

Uninsightfulness into reality and craving for states of individual existence.
☸ Avijjā ca bhavataṇhā ca
(A.2.247).

Illustration: avijjā/vijjā, un/insightfulness into reality

This uninsightfulness into reality is indeed undiscernment of reality whereby this wandering the round of birth and death goes on for a long time.
Avijjā hāyaṃ mahāmoho yenidaṃ saṃsitaṃ ciraṃ

But whatever beings have insight into reality, they do not come to renewed states of individual existence.
Vijjāgatā va ye sattā nāgacchanti punabbhavan ti (Sn.v.729-730).

Illustration: avijjā, uninsightfulness into reality

Camouflaged by skin, the body is not seen according to reality.
Chaviyā kāyo paṭicchanno yathābhūtaṃ na dissati.

The fool, led on by uninsightfulness into reality, thinks it exquisite.
Subhato naṃ maññati bālo avijjāya purakkhato.

However, having heard the Buddha’s word, the bhikkhu here possessed of knowledge (of things according to reality) profoundly understands (the body), for he perceives it according to reality.
bhikkhu paññāṇavā idha so kho naṃ pajānāti yathābhūtaṃ hi passati.

Whoever would think to be swelled-headed because of such a body, or would disparage another, what is this except not seeing it (according to reality)?
☸ kimaññatra adassanā ti (Sn.v.194; 199; 202; 206).

Illustration: avijjaṃ uninsightfulness into reality

When the perception of the unlastingness (of the five aggregates) is developed and cultivated, it destroys all uninsightfulness into reality
☸ Aniccasaññā bhikkhave bhāvitā bahulīkatā… sabbaṃ avijjaṃ pariyādiyati (S.3.155).

Illustration: avijjā/vijjā, un/insightfulness into reality

The ignorant Everyman does not discern according to reality the origination of, vanishing of, sweetness of, wretchedness of, and deliverance from the five aggregates.
assutavā puthujjano rūpassa… viññāṇassa samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti.

This is called uninsightfulness into reality
ayaṃ vuccatāvuso avijjā

The learned noble disciple discerns this according to reality
sutavā ariyasāvako rūpassa… viññāṇassa assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti

This is called insightfulness into reality
Ayaṃ vuccatāvuso vijjā (S.3.173-4).

Illustration: avijjā/vijjā, un/insightfulness into reality

When a bhikkhu knows and sees the visual sense as unlasting, uninsightfulness into reality is abandoned and insightfulness into reality arises.
☸ cakkhuṃ kho bhikkhu aniccato jānato passato bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati vijjā uppajjati (S.4.49-50).

Illustration: avijjā, uninsightfulness into reality

Bhikkhus, ignorance of suffering (according to reality), the origin of suffering, the ending of suffering, the practice leading to the ending of suffering, is called uninsightfulness into reality, and it is on account of this quality that one lacks insight into reality.
☸ Yaṃ kho bhikkhu dukkhe aññāṇaṃ dukkhasamudaye aññāṇaṃ dukkhanirodhe aññāṇaṃ dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya aññāṇaṃ ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhu avijjā ettāvatā ca avijjāgato hoti.

Bhikkhus, whatsoever is the knowledge of suffering (according to reality), of the origin of suffering, the ending of suffering, and of the practice leading to the ending of suffering, is called insightfulness into reality, and it is on these grounds that one is possessed of insight into reality.
☸ Yaṃ kho bhikkhu dukkhe ñāṇaṃ dukkhasamudaye ñāṇaṃ dukkhanirodhe ñāṇaṃ dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya ñāṇaṃ ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhu vijjā ettāvatā ca vijjāgato hoti (S.5.430).

Illustration: avijjā, uninsightfulness into reality

What is the condition that nourishes uninsightfulness into reality? The five hindrances, one should reply.
ko cāhāro avijjāya? Pañca nīvaraṇā tissa vacanīyaṃ.

Magnifying the five hindrances magnifies uninsightfulness into reality.
Pañcanīvaraṇā paripūrā avijjaṃ paripūrenti (A.5.116).

Illustration: avijjā, uninsightfulness into reality

‘Bhante, when, in regard to those who are not perfectly enlightened, the view arises that they are in fact perfectly enlightened, due to what is this view to be discerned?’
asammāsambuddhesu sammā sambuddhā ti. Ayaṃ nu kho bhante diṭṭhi kiṃ paṭicca paññāyatī ti

‘Mighty, Kaccāna, is this phenomenon, namely the phenomenon of uninsightfulness into reality’
mahati kho esā kaccāna dhātu yadidaṃ avijjādhātu (S.2.153).

Illustration: avijjā/vijjā, un/insightfulness into reality

―Bhante, how should a bhikkhu know, how should he see, for uninsightfulness into reality to be abandoned by him and insightfulness into reality to arise?”
☸ kathaṃ pana bhante jānato kathaṃ passato avijjā pahīyati vijjā uppajjatī ti?

―In this regard, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard that all things are unsuited to stubborn attachment.’
☸ sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāyā ti.

… When a bhikkhu has heard that all things are unsuited to stubborn attachment he fully understands the whole teaching,
☸ so sabbaṃ dhammaṃ abhijānāti

… Through fully understanding the whole teaching, he profoundly understands the whole teaching.
☸ sabbaṃ dhammaṃ parijānāti

… Through profoundly understanding the whole teaching, he perceives all phenomena differently.
☸ sabbanimittāni aññato passati

… When, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu knows and sees thus, uninsightfulness into reality is abandoned by him and insightfulness into reality arises.”
evaṃ kho bhikkhu jānato evaṃ passato bhikkhuno avijjā pahīyati vijjā uppajjatī ti (S.4.49-50).

Illustration: vijjā, insightfulness into reality

The seven factors of enlightenment, when developed and cultivated, bring to perfection insightfulness into reality and liberation (from perceptually obscuring states).
satta bojjhaṅgā bhāvitā bahulīkatāvijjāvimuttiṃ paripūrenti (S.5.329).

Illustration: vijjā, insightfulness

‘This is sense impression’: in regard to profound truths not heard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge (of things according to reality), penetrative discernment, insightfulness, and illumination.
Imā vedanā ti me bhikkhave pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi ñāṇaṃ udapādi paññā udapādivijjā udapādi āloko udapādi (S.4.233).

Illustration: avijjā/vijjā, un/insightfulness into reality

For an ignorant person void of insight into reality, wrong view (of reality) arises.
avijjāgatassa bhikkhave aviddasuno micchādiṭṭhi pahoti

For an intelligent person with insight into reality, right perception (of reality)arises.
vijjāgatassa bhikkhave viddasuno sammādiṭṭhi pahoti (S.5.1).

Illustration: avijjāyogo, uninsightfulness into reality

What is the bondage (to individual existence) that arises from uninsightfulness into reality?
avijjāyogo ca kathaṃ hoti?

In this regard, some person does not discern according to reality the origination of, vanishing of, sweetness of, wretchedness of, and deliverance from the six senses.
idha bhikkhave ekacco channaṃ phassāyatanānaṃ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti

For him who does not discern according to reality the origination of, vanishing of, sweetness of, wretchedness of, and deliverance from the six senses.
Tassa channaṃ phassāyatanānaṃ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca assādañca ādīnavañca nissaraṇañca yathābhūtaṃ appajānato

the uninsightfulness and ignorance regarding the six senses that lurk within him: this is called the bondage (to individual existence) that arises from uninsightfulness into reality.
yā chasu phassāyatanesu avijjā aññāṇaṃ sānuseti ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave avijjāyogo (A.2.10).