Definition of Ignorance

Sorry if this should be a rookie question …

I am wondering about the definition of ignorance.

Saying that it is us being ignorant about the way things really are (1st and 2nd noble truths) doesn’t seem to make sense to me, since the arising of consciousness is said to depend on it. And I can’t be ignorant of anything before I have consciousness.

Can it therefore be said that Dependent Originination is by itself ignorant somehow, and that our subjective ignorance just follows from ourselves dependently originating?

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So while being caught in the cycle of Dependant Origination, anything before Arhatship or Buddhahood has to do with some level of ignorance. Once one is attained however, with the correct perception of Dependant Origination, Awakening them to the next step, Awakening to the fullness of the Dhamma, what was lacking becomes extinct once ignorance is removed. How to enter into that extinction is the question, and by and wise, you are asking what ignorance is. In my personal perception I would say anything that is holding one back from full Enlightenment is ignorance. Everything that helps you on the Path to Cessation, however, is knowledge of the proper kind and not ignorance. Hope that helps.

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Hi, this too did not make sense to me if I were to translate ‘consciousness’ to imply awareness. For how would one make a volitional decision/choice if not aware first? Maybe others do not make this implication and understand the term ‘consciousness’ in English differently.

I’ve spent some time researching this term and will post the relevant references:

The word here is viññāna, verb is Vijānāti

PTS Pali English Dictionary

vijānāti

  1. to have discriminative (dis = vi˚) knowledge, to recognize, apprehend, ascertain, to become aware of, to understand, notice, perceive, distinguish learn, know

With such translation, choices would be condition to discrimination and discrimination would be condition to name & form.
For me this would make sense, because as one makes choices one learns to discriminate better to make even better choices. Also one discriminates between name & form.

MN43 translated by I.B. Horner translates it as “discriminative consciousness”

Free book from Venerable Bhikkhu Kaṭukurunde translates it on page 5. as discrimination

Here are posts that focused on finding alternate translations of this term:

In the end, you will have to decide what makes sense. However I believe it is good to know that there are alternate translations available.

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Hi,

Although it is not stated explicitly in DN15 and other suttas that offer detailed teachings on DO, consciousness appears after avijja and saṅkhārā because they were present in the prior life.

So, as in DN15, after death followed by jāti(rebirth), craving and ignorance “propel” a conditional stream of consciousness (viññānasota), into the next life when consciousness combines with nāma-rūpa, name-and-from. From this the new being/life develops, with senses, contact, etc.
In this way, ignorance, the generator of rebirth and transmigration, precedes consciousness.

I know what you mean by there not being ignorance if there’s no consciousness or awareness combined with it, so to speak.
In other suttas, as well, this is not explicitly defined, as ignorance is presented as a “given” followed by the other factors and conditions, in SN12.10 and SN1223.

In another sutta, which I can’t currently recall, the cause of ignorance is taught to be the defilements.
But again, one needs consciousness for defilements to “be” what they are.

Related to this, with respect to the beginning of ignorance and the hindrances, the Buddha said this is unknowable. As in SN15.3:

“Mendicants, transmigration has no known beginning. “Anamataggoyaṁ, bhikkhave, saṁsāro. No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, shrouded by ignorance and fettered by craving. Pubbā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṁ…

So the first “initial” arising of ignorance (with consciousness?) cannot be known. But from life to life, as in DO, ignorance and craving propel karmic effects into the next life, “followed” by consciousness of the next life which is planted, develops, and carries on into the next life after that. And so on…

But we don’t have to know this for liberation, since we do know that when ignorance and craving have been extinguished, rebirth is ended, consciousness will cease, and there will be freedom from all dukkha after the final death.

It seems MN38 states that that it is not “consciousness”(viññāṇaṁ) that transmigrates.

Several mendicants heard about this. They went up to Sāti and said to him, “Is it really true, Reverend Sāti, that you have such a harmful misconception: ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, it is this very same consciousness that roams and transmigrates, not another’?”

“Absolutely, reverends. As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, it is this very same consciousness that roams and transmigrates, not another.”

Then, wishing to dissuade Sāti from his view, the mendicants pursued, pressed, and grilled him, “Don’t say that, Sāti! Don’t misrepresent the Buddha, for misrepresentation of the Buddha is not good. And the Buddha would not say that. In many ways the Buddha has said that consciousness is dependently originated, since without a cause, consciousness does not come to be.”

Rather it is a “virile spirit” (gandhabbo) MN38

But when these three things come together—the mother and father come together, the mother is in the fertile phase of her menstrual cycle, and the virile spirit(gandhabbo) is ready—an embryo is conceived.

Thanks.

In fact, as in DN15, consciousness is perpetuated by craving and ignorance, settles into the womb, and combines with nāma-rūpa to begin the next life:

"‘Consciousness is a condition for name and form’—that’s what I said. And this is a way to understand how this is so. If consciousness were not conceived in the mother’s womb, would name and form coagulate there?”
“No, sir.”
“If consciousness, after being conceived in the mother’s womb, were to be miscarried, would name and form be born into this state of existence?”

"‘Name and form are conditions for consciousness’—that’s what I said. And this is a way to understand how this is so. If consciousness were not to gain a footing in name and form, would the coming to be of the origin of suffering—of rebirth, old age, and death in the future—be found?”
“No, sir.”

Also, see DN28:

“They understand a person’s stream of consciousness, unbroken on both sides, established in both this world and the next. Purisassa ca viññāṇasotaṁ pajānāti, ubhayato abbocchinnaṁ idha loke patiṭṭhitañca paraloke patiṭṭhitañca.”

In MN38, the key point is that Sāti retained a belief in a persistent, same, consciousness that transmigrates:

" ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, it is this very same consciousness that roams and transmigrates, not another’?”

This goes against the Buddha’s teachings on conditionality.

Great answers, thanks.

So I spent yet another hour with the Ven. Bhikkhu “Aquinus” Bodhi … he is of @Jasudho’s oppinion.

He says that in an endless chain, the 12 factors are generally distributed over three lifetimes.

He specifically does not think that ignorance was the first cause of dependent origination (such as in a parallel to Plato’s emanation).

Rather we do not have an insight into the beginning of dependent origination and must therefore think of it as eternal.

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Seems to me that you are quite right. The Aitareya Upanisad makes brahmana patrilineal beliefs about this quite clear.

Not possible. You return to the whole question of maker of DO. Especially if you think DO is the 12 nidana. Vedanta provides a better answer for this question.

Hi again,

Did Ven. Bodhi specifically say “eternal?”
Of course, the promise of Dhamma practice is that DO, and all dukkha, can utterly cease.

With respect to its “beginning” the words the Buddha used point not so much to “eternal” or “beginningless” as to being unknowable and indiscernible:
Anamatagga means “with inconceivable beginning”.
This is reinforced by the second sentence in which the Buddha states in SN15.3:

"No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, shrouded by ignorance and fettered by craving. Pubbā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṁ sattānaṁ taṇhāsaṁyojanānaṁ sandhāvataṁ saṁsarataṁ.

This is a more empirical teaching based on experience compared to a metaphysical assertion of something being beginningless.

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And I think one of the Analysis suttas defines birth as seven times. Not three.

No, I dabbled, I’m sure what he said was more along the lines of what you added.

The whole time I’m thinking that the Buddha anticipated critical epistemology…

Personally I pick Bh. Bodhi before the Vedanta :wink:

It will make sense if you clearly establish yourself in understanding that you don’t understand the Noble Truths.

Again you don’t understand the second noble truth or dependent arising but than you take for granted that with ignorance as condition … consciousness is a description of temporal process. What about idea that to explain the second noble truth in this way is precisely an aspect of ignorance of which you don’t know?

In other words while samsara is indeed temporal, as temporal phenomenon it is nonsense to describe it in the terms of the three lives.

“Bhikkhus, this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. What do you think, bhikkhus, which is more: the stream of blood that you have shed when you were beheaded as you roamed and wandered on through this long course—this or the water in the four great oceans?”

“As we understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, venerable sir, the stream of blood that we have shed when we were beheaded as we roamed and wandered on through this long course—this alone [188] is more than the water in the four great oceans.”

“Good, good, bhikkhus! It is good that you understand the Dhamma taught by me in such a way. The stream of blood that you have shed when you were beheaded as you roamed and wandered on through this long course—this alone is more than the water in the four great oceans. For a long time, bhikkhus, you have been cows, and when as cows you were beheaded, the stream of blood that you shed is greater than the waters in the four great oceans. For a long time you have been buffalo, sheep, goats, deer, chickens, and pigs…. For a long time you have been arrested as burglars, highwaymen, and adulterers, and when you were beheaded, the stream of blood that you shed is greater than the water in the four great oceans. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning…. It is enough to be liberated from them.”

SN 15 : 13

The question is why we are born again and again?

“It is, bhikkhus, because of not understanding and not penetrating the noble truth of suffering that you and I have roamed and wandered through this long course of saṃsāra. It is because of not understanding and not penetrating the noble truth of the origin of suffering … the noble truth of the cessation of suffering … the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering that you and I have roamed and wandered through this long course of saṃsāra.

SN 56 : 21

I have never met a teacher who discussed the second noble truth in the terms of the three, two, one, existences, no as a momentary process. And quite rightly since Noble Truths are just descriptions, the first two describe the state of puthujjana the third descibes arahat …And yet the same teachers when the very same second noble truth is described in the terms of dependent arising suddenly start to teach us about the three, two one existence, and so on.

It is very unlikely that with such “help” one will escape from samsara.

Most important thing to understand is that puthujjana does not understand his own experience as much as that of arahat, in other terms he doesn’t see his own ignorance. So it is good to think about dependent arising as the mirror, offered by the Lord Buddha to puthujjana, so that for the first time in the beginningless samsara one can see one’s own ignorance.

And one’s own ignorance can be seen only here and now. Not only past and future are irrelevant to understanding one’s own ignorance, but simply introducing past and future makes seeing one’s present ignorance impossible.

But, Udāyi, let be the past, let be the future, I shall set you forth the Teaching: When there is this this is, with arising of this this arises; when there is not this this is not, with cessation of this this ceases. Majjhima viii,9 <M.ii,32>

“When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination and these dependently arisen phenomena, it is impossible that he will run back into the past, thinking: ‘Did I exist in the past? Did I not exist in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what did I become in the past?’ Or that he will run forward into the future, thinking: ‘Will I exist in the future? Will I not exist in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? Having been what, what will I become in the future?’ Or that he will now be inwardly confused about the present thus: ‘Do I exist? Do I not exist? What am I? How am I? This being—where has it come from, and where will it go?’

“For what reason [is this impossible]? Because, bhikkhus, the noble disciple has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination and these dependently arisen phenomena.” SN 12 : 20

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Thank you for your reply.

Indeed Sāti had such belief, and it was then stated that it is not the same viññāṇa, rather gandhabbo is ready when embryo is conceived.

In DN15 it states about viññāṇa to be conceived/gain footing in mother’s womb - does this event happen after embryo is conceived? I haven’t found an answer in sutta yet.

DN28 states third attainment of vision, it does not look like it talks about transmigration, but rather seeing viññāṇasotaṁ here and now in both this world and other one.

They understand of a person that their stream of consciousness is consistent on both sides: established in both this world and the next.
This is the third attainment of vision.

Or if we translated vinnana as discrimination it would state:

They understand of a person that their stream of discrimination is consistent on both sides: established in both this world and the next.
This is the third attainment of vision.

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How does Ignorance lead to a toothache? Please explain conclusively.

It’s a process. See for example AN3.61:

“Supported by the six elements, an embryo is conceived. When it is conceived, there are name and form. Name and form are conditions for the six sense fields. …”

And, of course, name and form and viññāna are co-dependent in DO.

imo, the most important aspects of this with respect to the teachings are not the exact “scientific” details of this process, but the fact that it is all selfless processes, from one life to the next.

Regarding DN28, the context of the sentences are with respect to rebirth, (“both sides”):

“They understand of a person that their stream of consciousness is consistent on both sides: established in both this world and the next.
Purisassa ca viññāṇasotaṁ pajānāti, ubhayato abbocchinnaṁ idha loke patiṭṭhitañca paraloke patiṭṭhitañca.

patiṭṭhita here refers to the establishing, or planting, of consciousness with respect to rebirth.
See SN12.64 for teachings on this.

Viññāna is not limited in the suttas to this definition.

This is an interesting find, thank you for sharing. There is also an interesting term in that sutta, namely

okkantiyā sati nāmarūpaṁ

I wonder how would one translate that

Indeed I do agree on that fact that technical detail are not important - however the point is the mention of “virile spirit” (gandhabbo) in this context. I wonder how do you see this, do you think there is a spirit as the translation says or by calling it a selfless process imply there is not?
But I do agree on calling it selfless process, since even a baby has no concept of “identity view” but the underlying tendency to such view may still be there.

But how do you see the context to talk about rebirth from words “both sides” in DN28? The next sentence also states how it is called:

This is the third attainment of vision.
Ayaṁ tatiyā dassanasamāpatti.

Regarding patiṭṭhitañca, what would you then say is being said in the next sentence about apatiṭṭhitañca in fourth attainment of vision?

Fourth attainment of vision (dassanasamāpattīsu):

They understand of a person that their stream of vinnana is consistent on both sides: not established in either this world or the next.

Ayaṁ catutthā dassanasamāpatti.
This is the fourth attainment of vision.

This is unsurpassable when it comes to attainments of vision.
Etadānuttariyaṁ, bhante, dassanasamāpattīsu.

Thank you for the sutta reference, I’ve read it. Eg:

If there is desire, relishing, and craving for solid food,
viññāṇaṁ becomes established(patiṭṭhitaṁ) there and grows.

In this context if we translated viññāṇaṁ as consciousness, it states that the consciousness with desire, relishing and craving grows? What does it mean for consciousness to grow and increase? Would one be more conscious the more one desires, relishes and craves and less conscious if one did not? Or how do you see it?
Were we to translate it as discrimination or discriminative consciousness - the meaning of growth would be the more frequent discrimination between pleasure, pain, neutral.

I don’t think you understand what I am saying. Like not at all. But go ahead.

It’s a little difficult to know which of the previous posts you are referring to when you don’t quote.

What you and Knigarian seem to suggest is that I am ignorant since I cannot just let Dependent Origination be, and this is the very ignorance the 2nd noble truth is talking about.

Same question to you: How does ignorance of the 2nd noble truth lead to a toothache?

Cheers, Lunky