the great ignorance debate

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the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 9:55 am

I'm curious to see how much interest the general subject of ignorance generates as opposed to, for instance, the subject of rebirth. For me a subject like ignorance is central to how I understand and apply the teachings and practice. I am far more interested in the subject, have given it far more attention and am much more interested in what other people may think about it or understand about it than a lot of other subjects that come up for discussion. At the same time it doesn't seem to surface explicitly in discussions very often even when it is a quality that is implicitly predominating in a discussion.

So to get the spitball rolling:

If you would prefer to argue something:
Does ignorance predominate in our individual lives and thoughts and/or in the state of affairs in the world, or not?

If you would prefer a more general question:
What kind of a role does ignorance play in the lives of individuals and in the world overall and how does it express itself? What kinds of personal insights have you had into the nature of ignorance?
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby retrofuturist » Mon May 10, 2010 10:00 am

Greetings Nathan,

Do you have any thoughts on the definitions and applications of the terms avijja and moha?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 10:12 am

I think it would be a great contribution to the thread if you posted the definitions of avijja and moha retro. Doing that will definitely reduce our ignorance by that much.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby retrofuturist » Mon May 10, 2010 10:18 am

Greetings Nathan, all,

Both from Nyanaponika's Buddhist Dictionary

avijja
'ignorance,' nescience, unknowing; synonymous with delusion (moha, s. mūla), is the primary root of all evil and suffering in the world, veiling man's mental eyes and preventing him from seeing the true nature of things. It is the delusion tricking beings by making life appear to them as permanent, happy, substantial and beautiful and preventing them from seeing that everything in reality is impermanent, liable to suffering, void of 'I' and 'mine', and basically impure (s. vipallāsa). Ignorance is defined as 'not knowing the four truths, namely, suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the way to its cessation' (S. XII, 4).

As ignorance is the foundation of all life-affirming actions, of all evil and suffering, therefore it stands first in the formula of Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppāda). But for that reason, says Vis.M. (XVII, 36f) ignorance should not be regarded as "the causeless root-cause of the world ... It is not causeless. For a cause of it is stated thus 'With the arising of cankers (āsava) there is the arising of ignorance' (M. 9). But there is a figurative way in which it can be treated as a root-cause; namely, when it is made to serve as a starting point in an exposition of the Round of Existence ... As it is said: 'No first beginning of ignorance can be perceived, Bhikkhus, before which ignorance was not, and after which it came to be. But it can be perceived that ignorance has its specific condition (idappaccaya)" (A.X.61). The same statement is made (A.X.62) about the craving for existence (bhava-tanhā; s. tanhā). The latter and ignorance are called "the outstanding causes of kamma that lead to unhappy and happy destinies" (Vis.M. XVII, 38).

As ignorance still exists - though in a very refined way until the attainment of Arahatship or Holiness, it is counted as the last of the 10 fetters (samyojana) which bind beings to the cycle of rebirths. As the first two roots of evil, greed and hate (s. mūla), are on their part rooted in ignorance, consequently all unwholesome states of mind are inseparably bound up with it. Ignorance (or delusion) is the most obstinate of the three roots of evil.

Ignorance is one of the cankers (āsava) and proclivities (anusaya). It is often called a hindrance (nīvarana; e.g. in S.XV.3; A.X.61) but does not appear together with the usual list of five hindrances.


moha
'delusion', is one of the 3 unwholesome roots (mūla). The best known synonym is avijjā.


Are they completely identical in meaning?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 10:37 am

Here is some more 'definitive' stuff that I found.

Avijja Sutta: Ignorance
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Wikipedia on Avijja
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avidy%C4%81_%28Buddhism%29

from
Buddhist Dictionary,Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, by NYANATILOKA
http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/dic3_m.htm

moha: 'delusion', is one of the 3 unwholesome roots (mūla). The best known synonym is avijjā.
moha-carita the 'deluded-natured'; s. carita.


http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/a/avijjaa.htm

avijjā
'ignorance,' nescience, unknowing; synonymous with delusion (moha, s. mūla), is the primary root of all evil and suffering in the world, veiling man's mental eyes and preventing him from seeing the true nature of things. It is the delusion tricking beings by making life appear to them as permanent, happy, substantial and beautiful and preventing them from seeing that everything in reality is impermanent, liable to suffering, void of 'I' and 'mine', and basically impure (s. vipallāsa). Ignorance is defined as 'not knowing the four truths, namely, suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the way to its cessation' (S. XII, 4).
As ignorance is the foundation of all life-affirming actions, of all evil and suffering, therefore it stands first in the formula of Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppāda). But for that reason, says Vis.M. (XVII, 36f) ignorance should not be regarded as "the causeless root-cause of the world ... It is not causeless. For a cause of it is stated thus 'With the arising of cankers (āsava) there is the arising of ignorance' (M. 9). But there is a figurative way in which it can be treated as a root-cause; namely, when it is made to serve as a starting point in an exposition of the Round of Existence ... As it is said: 'No first beginning of ignorance can be perceived, Bhikkhus, before which ignorance was not, and after which it came to be. But it can be perceived that ignorance has its specific condition (idappaccaya)" (A.X.61). The same statement is made (A.X.62) about the craving for existence (bhava-tanhā; s. tanhā). The latter and ignorance are called "the outstanding causes of kamma that lead to unhappy and happy destinies" (Vis.M. XVII, 38).
As ignorance still exists - though in a very refined way until the attainment of Arahatship or Holiness, it is counted as the last of the 10 fetters (samyojana) which bind beings to the cycle of rebirths. As the first two roots of evil, greed and hate (s. mūla), are on their part rooted in ignorance, consequently all unwholesome states of mind are inseparably bound up with it. Ignorance (or delusion) is the most obstinate of the three roots of evil.
Ignorance is one of the cankers (āsava) and proclivities (anusaya). It is often called a hindrance (nīvarana; e.g. in S.XV.3; A.X.61) but does not appear together with the usual list of five hindrances.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby retrofuturist » Mon May 10, 2010 10:40 am

Greetings Nathan,

Generally speaking, the main difference in usage is the moha seems to be used in the greed, aversion and delusion capacity, whereas ignorance is used in the context of dependent origination. I'm yet to work out if the utilisation of different terms is relevant.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 10:51 am

retrofuturist wrote:Are they completely identical in meaning?

Metta,
Retro. :)

hi Retro
NYANATILOKA also defines them as 'synonymous' (see previous post). I dunno, in my mind, it depends how I apply the terms delusion and ignorance. I can see applying them in both slightly different ways and/or in synonymous ways. In the limited context of these two terms application to ignorance of the four noble truths and the contrasting delusional misapprehension of an essential self thingie I suppose they could be said to be largely synonymous, but if there is no difference whatsoever it leads to the obvious question of why employ two different terms if one would suffice?

I would like to see a much wider discussion of ignorance/delusion/avijja/moha/whathaveya than simply the narrow application of ignorance in the context of the 4NT. Obviously and significantly, ignorance plays a role in that context and in the context of dependent origination and so on but I think I see ignorance playing a significant role in many ways that is much broader than this. For instance science is often referred to as a source of facts or knowledge about various things however when you actually study a scientific field of one kind or another the thing that becomes apparent is that regardless of what might be said to be known about things it always stands against a background of a great many unknowns. That which may be known draws the attention similar to the the way that stars draw our attention in the night sky but at the same time the underlying ignorance subtly predominates in the background, similar to the way that the blackness of space predominates in the night sky.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby Dan74 » Mon May 10, 2010 11:06 am

A Dharma friend likened ignorance to an "error of appreciation." I took him as referring to the fundamental ignorance about "me" and "not me" - the belief in the self and selves. I thought it was a good term, because it removed the moral pressure and restored a sense of subtlety that one needs to really investigate this matter.

Of course there are many "little ignorances" we can spot in our day-to-day lives. A recent one I've become aware of is my need to be the winner in certain situations in life. This was nothing profound in itself but it has affected my life in profound ways. Simply an early unacknowledged habit that continued to shape the way I approached aspects of my life. So with awareness and insight comes the end of this little ignorance and freedom from the habit.

The big ignorance is what in my tradition they refer to as "the root", while the little ones are "branches". We can hack at the branches, which is not without use, because the ignorance will bear less fruit, but we don't succeed in this way. So without cutting off the root, seeing through the house-builder as per Dhammapada, ignorance will continue to flourish.

PS I just saw nathan's post with its poetic comparison to the night sky and to science. There does seem to be an urge to seek the truth, to find out, a battle against the dark ignorance. In Jungian terms, ignorance is like the Mother Complex, which the Hero must overcome. The Mother with the apron strings, the spiderweb, the primordial darkness of the womb and of Hades, are contrasted with Apollo, the Sun-god, the doer, the hero, the scientist. These themes have universal appeal and continue to live and manifest in different ways in individuals and cultures.
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 11:37 am

Interesting perspective Dan. The notion of a big ignorance and small ignorance(s) or the root and the branches. It got me thinking about whether that accurately describes the situation or not. If I consider that ignorance, about everything, is where we all more or less start out in life and that in that context we go on to develop everything that we consider knowledge within the context of that ignorance it almost seems as if ignorance is something more fundamental and pervasive than big ignorance and all the small ignorance combined, something more akin to a canvas on which our knowledge and understanding is then drawn.
Last edited by nathan on Mon May 10, 2010 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 10, 2010 11:39 am

nathan wrote:Does ignorance predominate in our individual lives and thoughts and/or in the state of affairs in the world, or not?


I don't think this question is answerable. Einstein said that there are only two things that are infinite: the universe and human ignorance. And he wasn't sure about the former. If ignorance is indeed infinite, then any finite knowledge does not make a difference ultimately. It makes a difference to our daily affairs, though, because the latter are likewise finite. It all depends...

nathan wrote:What kind of a role does ignorance play in the lives of individuals and in the world overall and how does it express itself?


Only one role: there is always too much of it. Human ignorance expresses itself in very ugly and occasionally even catastrophic ways...

nathan wrote:What kinds of personal insights have you had into the nature of ignorance?


The discovery of a reciprocal law: the more foolish the person, the less likely he/she is to admit ignorance. Not very surprising, however, because this results from the recursive application of ignorance to itself: ignorance of ignorance.

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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby PeterB » Mon May 10, 2010 11:44 am

It seems to me that the word "ignorance" is being used in more than one way here. Avijja is more than an absence of knowledge concerning the factual, measurable world.
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby Dan74 » Mon May 10, 2010 11:50 am

nathan, that's pretty much what I meant by "big ignorance". Although to me it seems that babies are often less ignorant in the "big" sense because their sense of self is not as evolved and they are more open to reality. In other words they process it through the filter of aversion and attachment less than we do (as long as they are fed and warm), they are also less conflicted and are more spontaneous, IMO. But they do seem to come with predispositions and the "big ignorance" - "me, mine, I want, etc" develops first as a normal developmental stage and then becomes entrenched.

It is heartbreaking to see a child consumed by desire for some useless thing that someone else has but he doesn't. The tantrums, the tears, the fights and five minutes later it's all forgotten and the child is happily playing with one of the many other options. Generally this "self" thing seems to need to develop first before it can be let gone of!
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 11:54 am

PeterB wrote:It seems to me that the word "ignorance" is being used in more than one way here. Avijja is more than an absence of knowledge concerning the factual, measurable world.


That's true Peter, I am trying to make the subject as wide as it potentially is. Feel free to throw light on it in any way you can. Ignorance seems to be one case where the statement 'forewarned is forearmed' has little relevance, knowing we are ignorant about something does little to relive us of the condition. It seems that knowing we are in many senses ignorant about many things can be a fairly daunting thing to try to deal with.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby PeterB » Mon May 10, 2010 12:03 pm

Its not only that we are ignorant about things...although we may be and that might be significant in terms of our lives...its that the first link in the chain of dependant origination is Avijja. Its the bedrock of our false sense of self.
We could in fact be very learned in a particular sense, but our condition is still one of Avijja. Conversly we could be unlearned in a conventional sense and still break the chain of causation.
Avijja is a question of identity or identification. Its something we do...it is active.
It is not an absence of factual data or an inability to interpret such data.
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 12:19 pm

PeterB wrote:Its not only that we are ignorant about things...although we may be and that might be significant in terms of our lives...its that the first link in the chain of dependant origination is Avijja. Its the bedrock of our false sense of self.
We could in fact be very learned in a particular sense, but our condition is still one of Avijja. Conversly we could be unlearned in a conventional sense and still break the chain of causation.
Avijja is a question of identity or identification. Its something we do...it is active.
It is not an absence of factual data or an inability to interpret such data.
That's an interesting distinction. If we distinguish the one from the other along those lines it might then be useful to describe or define the learned ignorance (or 'self imposed' ignorance) as, say, 'delusion' as opposed to the general background ignorance of the generally and/or specifically unknown.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby appicchato » Mon May 10, 2010 3:18 pm

Does ignorance predominate in our individual lives and thoughts and/or in the state of affairs in the world, or not?

Does, or is?...either way all one has to do is look around to answer that one...
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Mon May 10, 2010 6:20 pm

appicchato wrote:
Does ignorance predominate in our individual lives and thoughts and/or in the state of affairs in the world, or not?

Does, or is?...either way all one has to do is look around to answer that one...
Maybe, maybe not. There is a spectrum of thought on the subject in this thread already. Everything from ignorance narrowly defined as specifically ignorance of annata to ignorance quite broadly defined as the primary root of all evil and suffering in the world. I prefer the much wider definition and I think the examination and consideration of ignorance can be very beneficial in the widest possible context but I can also see why the Buddha would teach an approach to overtaking ignorance in the one place where it is perhaps most vulnerable, in the context of 'self'-delusion. One aspect of this that I find interesting is how broadly resilient ignorance is beyond the one context where it can most readily be undermined by the application of the eightfold path.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Tue May 11, 2010 1:13 am

In further searching on the subject I found this pdf of the Tanha Sutta which discourses on the relationships between Tanha and Avijja.

(Āhāra) Taṇhā Sutta
http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-con ... 2-piya.pdf
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby appicchato » Tue May 11, 2010 1:29 am

Maybe, maybe not.


One size fits all?...this applies to everything in life...
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Re: the great ignorance debate

Postby nathan » Tue May 11, 2010 2:01 am

appicchato wrote:
Maybe, maybe not.


One size fits all?...this applies to everything in life...


hi Venerable Appicchato

I applaud your pithy posts Venerable but in this case I am not really sure what you have been intending to say.

--------

hi Retro

In regards to your question, Ven. Gunaratana makes the following distinction between avijja and moha in the quotation from the article linked below.


Dhamma Articles
Four Noble Truths
Bhante Gunaratana
http://www.bhavanasociety.org/resource/ ... le_truths/

"When there is ignorance there is confusion. That is another word. Ignorance is called avijja. Confusion is called moha. When we do not know the truth, we build up theories. We come up with all kind of theories. Theories regarding the world, the self. All the theories in the world are based on these two factors. What are the two factors? The belief in self and about the world. These theories confuse us and that is called moha. avijja is one thing, moha is another. Moha is the result of avijja. avijja is not knowing the Four Noble Truths."

Researching avijja and moha online has turned up a myriad of links discussing Dependent Origination. While generally DO is approached in a way that matches the classical Theravada interpretation of the subject as further specified in the Abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga and the commentaries there are also some who have commented about DO in significantly different ways. Examples of those with alternative views on DO would be Ven. Nanavira Thera, Ven. Buddhadassa and several Japanese Scholars. In simplest terms, these writers view the links in the chain of DO not as sequentially arising factors but as a group of factors that are all present at the same time.

I mention this about DO because it continually surfaces as the predominant context in which discussion about avijja is framed. I was more interested in examination of ignorance in much broader terms be it within the teachings or in any other ways. It wouldn't make sense exclude examining ignorance in this context but I wasn't intending to restrict the conversation to a discussion of ignorance as a part of DO either.

After several years I have finally been able to purchase copies of the Nikayas again (previous library was lost in a fire) and one of the things I have been thinking to look for as I re-read the discourses is some of the other contexts in which the Buddha discusses ignorance. I had the sense that ignorance was not restricted to it's narrow application within DO in the teachings but perhaps I am wrong about this. I'm interested to know the extent of the references to ignorance. It will take some time to read the Nikayas again but as I do so I will take note of any instances I find where ignorance makes an appearance and post a reference to it here.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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