Ignorance and definition

I created a separate topic because I wanted to focus on a different direction Definition of Ignorance:

4 Noble truths says that I am suffering and enlightenment can be achieved through cessation of ignorant(or wisdom). When I ask what I am ignorant about it says I am ignorant about 4 Noble truths.

This seems circular and not really applicable to practice. I do think I know about suffering intellectually and that does not seem to lead to enlightenment. Someone might say you need to see(vision) suffering - not just faith or intellectual ideas.

From MN9

Ignorance originates from defilement. Ignorance ceases when defilement ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of ignorance is simply this noble eightfold path.

But what is defilement? What is its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation?
There are these three defilements.
Tayome, āvuso, āsavā—
The defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance.
kāmāsavo, bhavāsavo, avijjāsavo.
Defilement originates from ignorance. Defilement ceases when ignorance ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of defilement is simply this noble eightfold path.

So understanding defilements should definitely help us clarify the concept of ignorance.

Types of Defilements:

  • kāmāsavo - defilements of sensuality
  • bhavāsavo - defilements of being/existence/bhava
  • avijjāsavo - defilements of ignorance

Defilements of Sensuality - kāmāsavo

Perhaps this means we assign sensuality to objects that does not have it intrinsically. For example: all colors, lines, shapes are the same without one being better than others. But for paintings which are a collection of them, we assign “beautiful” or “good/bad”. So in this case sensuality is assigned to an object(painting). This leads to not seeing(ignorance) the real nature of the object.

Defilements of sensuality may be also the cause of wilful ignorance. Example: Suppose a person is suffering from an illness that prevents him from eating a certain food. Although he knows it is bad for health, he may still eat it, citing that it’s just one time or perhaps it has less impact on the health. Here it’s clear that sensuality prevents a person from acknowledging the reality.

Defilements of existence - bhavāsavo

From SN 22,

"'“Everything exists”: That is one extreme. “Everything doesn’t exist”: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle

But when one sees the origination2 of the world as it has come to be with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it has come to be with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.

It seems both existence and non-existence are defilements to seeing the world as it is. Example: A person might insist ‘there is a soul’. It will be hard for that person to see ‘there is no soul’.

avijjāsavo - defilements of ignorance

This seems circular again and I am not sure what it means. But I would think ignorance of being ignorance(or thinking that they know) is part of this.


  • Ignorance: Not clearly seeing due to defilements
  • Sensuality defilement:
    • Assigning sensuality to objects
    • ignoring reality due to sensuality
  • Existence defilement:
    • insisting on existence or non existence

Quite true. And this is precisely the reason why puthujjana - who does not see the Four Noble Truths - does not practice Dhamma properly. I don’t mean keeping precepts, rather that without right view one doesn’t understand what dukkha is, one doesn’t understand dependent arising, one doesn’t understand nibbana, and one doesn’t understand the path leading to the cessation of dukkha.

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The Vibhaṅgasutta (SN 45.8)

Right View (sammādiṭṭhi) is knowing suffering, the arising of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering (which is the Noble Path)

Here is an outline of the Noble Path from the same sutta:

Right View (sammādiṭṭhi), Right Thought (sammāsaṅkappo), Right Speech (sammāvācā), Right Action (sammākammanto), Right Livelihood (sammāājīvo) Right Effort (sammāvāyāmo), Right Mindfulness (sammāsati), and Right Completion (sammāsamādhi)

So you have, now, at least a list of the eight-fold factors that you have to learn something about (in order not to be ignorant).

If you go to the sutta, you will see that it provides a basic definition of each of the factors of the Noble Path.

If you go to AN 3.61 it gives a basic definition for each of the four noble truths.

Hope that helps.


Thanks @har1ndu15 for the solution.

Just to inform:

What is avijja, how do the EBT describe this?

  • not knowing the Four Noble Truths (SN56.17, MN9, SN12.2, SN38.9)
  • not knowing all aspect of the khandha’s, i.e. their arising, ceasing, path to cessation (SN22.113, SN22.126) and also their gratification, danger and escape (SN22.129, SN22.130)

This also means (i believe): one who denies there is gratifications in the khandha’s does not see things as they really are, because this is also an aspect of the khandha’s.

Sometimes the sutta’s talk about the element of ignorance (MN115, SN22.47) like there can also be an element of pain or pleasure in what we experience. Vibhanga §180 explains the element of avijja as an element of absence of knowledge and right view, a presence of foolishness, etc.

Texts also speak of ignorant contact (SN22.47). This seems to refer to that kind of sense contact that is coloured/loaded with the notion “I am”, and also gives rise to further mental proliferation upon that basic conceiving. See also SN22.81

Aviija is also knows as higher fetter (DN33, SN45.180, SN46.130, SN47.104, AN9.70, AN10.13)

Aviija is also known as anusaya, a subconscious abiding tendency (DN33, MN18, MN44, SN45.175, AN7.11)

Like dosa-anusaya and pain are closely related in the sense that if pain arises, almost immediately dosa anusaya is triggered. And this gives rise to irritation, repulsion towards that painful feeling. In the same way pleasure and kama-raga anusaya are related but now the pleasure is liked, welcomed.
Avijja anusaya is closely related to neutral feelings (MN44). MN148 explains in more detail. I sum it up as: neutral feelings tend to become ignored. While we are very aware of the arising and cessation of pain- and pleasurable feelings, not of neutral ones. Neutral feelings, as it were, do not give rise to the knowledge that all such feeling arise and cease. They do not lead to understanding.

Avijja is conditioned, impermanent, arises (SN12.20)

How does Avijja arise?

  • When asava arise, also avijja arises (MN9)
  • avijja is a condition for asava to arise (AN6.63)

So there seems to be a mutual dependency. I tend to see it this way: there are certain fermentations in us (asava) that lead us in state of conceiving. We spin around in our heads. Meanwhile having established a strong sense of “I am”, and being involved in a proces of mental proliferation.
Spinning around in our heads and holding that all for the reality.
Those fermentation blind us. And at the same time avijja causes that we become involved in conceiving and mental proliferation. (see further)

What is the counterpart of avijja?

  • True knowledge (MN44). True knowledge leads to liberation (AN10.105, SN45.1)

What is true knowledge?

This is explained as the 3 kinds of knowledges: of former lifes, kamma and rebirth, four noble truths
(MN4, MN19, MN36, MN51, MN65, MN76, MN79, MN101, MN112, AN3.58, AN8.11, SN56.18 e.a.)

True knowledge is also described as the complete knowledge of the khandha’s, their arising, ceasing, gratification, danger, escape (SN22.114, SN22.126, SN22.130, SN22.132)

What does it really means when avijja is abandoned and true knowledge has aroused?

All these ideas about I am, I am this, I will be this and that…etc. disappear (SN22.47)
All kinds of attachment are gone, Nibbana is arrived at (MN11)

How does avijja come to an end?

  • develop the noble eightfold Path (SN38.9, MN9)
  • one must know what is wholesome and not, blameworthy and not, what is low and noble, what to practice and not, what is moral and immorel etc (DN18)
  • when one knows and sees that the senses, what is sensed, the sense-contacts, the sense-vinnana’s, the feelings that arise with sense contacts, all that is impermanent (SN35.53, SN35.79)
  • if one understands that nothing is worth holding on to, worth attachment (SN35.80)
  • mindfulness established on the body (AN1.586, AN1.587)
  • samatha and vipassana (AN2.31)

Avijja plays a role in Paticca Samuppada. Karmically loaded formations have avjja as condition.
(MN9, SN12.2, SN12.10)
Also meritorious formations, or bright karma, arises with avijja as condition (SN12.51)

The result of avijja and karmically loaded formations (punnabhisankhara, apunnabhisankhara and
Anenjabhisankhara) is never a bare vinnana. Also the vinnana has got that karmic load.

In this sense i like to see it this way: there is goodheartedness and there is purehearthedness.
Goodheartedness is connected to bright kamma with bright results. But still contains an element of passion and defilement (often a belief in self). Purehearthedness does not give rise to kamma, and makes and end to bright, dark and mixed kamma. It is based upon dispassion, purity. Most worldings, i know, are goodhearted people, wanting to do good.

Asava are not merely defilements but asava are like deep fermentations that well up in us, ebullitions that will grasp us. Like in a proces of fermentation. Gas wells up. In the same way things well up in us. And when they well up, they tend to cause that we start conceiving and becoming trapped in that conceiving. Deluded. Seeing that as reality. That is why asava and avijja go together i believe.

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I never read the 4 Noble Truths say “I am” suffering. It says suffering is when the five aggregates are grasped as “I am”.

It reads it means there is an underlying tendency to sensuality that later creates thoughts of “I am”. For example, there is hunger for food, sensual urges for food & thoughts about food and later the thought “I am” hungry arises. It is the body that gets hungry. It is not “I am” that gets hungry.

Someone has certainly been putting in the time for sutta study! :joy: :pray:

all gut-feeling Yeshe :blush:

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But these true knowledge only arise when one is enlightened or close to enlightenment.

True knowledge is also described as the complete knowledge of the khandha’s, their arising, ceasing, gratification, danger, escape (SN22.114, SN22.126, SN22.130, SN22.132)

We should examine the khandha’s to understand their arising, ceasing etc. It’s ignorance that causes us to stick and cling to the khandha’s. I think this is a viable path of practice. But I think without ‘Right View’ people will examine khandha’s and grasp other views.
example: “World is mind made”, “Desire is divine”, " I am awareness".

So we should examine the khandha’s and steer towards less grasping views. As said in suttas, Dhamma has one taste: taste of dispassion.

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sensual world = kama lokha
Although both form worlds, formless worlds have the conceit “I am”, they are not described as sensual worlds.

Regarding updana(clinging) MN 11:

  • sense-pleasure clinging (kamupadana)
  • all views clinging (ditthupadana)
  • rites-and-rituals clinging (silabbatupadana)
  • self-doctrine clinging (attavadupadana).

attavadupadana = clinging to self (“I am”).
kamupdana = sensual clinging

The same principle applies. The mind first experiences formlessness then soon after attaches to the formlessness as “I am formless”.

Upadana is the 9th condition. Ignorance is the 1st condition. The original post on this topic says: “I am ignorant”. If the “I am” was ignorant, ignorance would be a type of upadana, called “avijjupadana”. However, there is no “avijjupadana” in the sutta teachings because ignorance causes upadana. Upadana does not cause ignorance. The mind has ignorance. The “I am” does not have ignorance. The "I am " is created by ignorance. Ignorance is not created by the “I am”.

I think it is also possible, maybe even better, to think about PS as a wheel in which the axis is lobha, dosa and moha. This also means that avijja is connected to all these Nidana’s and not only sankhara.
There is avijja in vinnana, in sense contact, in upadana, in tanha, in bhava, in rebirth etc. In all those nidana’s because they are all connected to the axis. I think this is a better way to portray things.

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If it is a wheel, ignorance could not be ended because ignorance would have a preceding cause. The notion of an endless beginningless wheel of causes means there is no first cause that can be identified & ended. I read in the suttas dependent origination is not traced back beyond ignorance (SN 12.10; AN 10.61). If so, it is not an axis wheel. In the suttas, I read PS described as a :palm_tree:tree (SN 12.55) :deciduous_tree:. The concept of a wheel sounds like Tibetan & Visuddhimagga Buddhism; not Sutta Buddhism.

Just as water is within most life forms yet most life forms are not within water, similarly, ignorance is certainly in every PS condition however every PS condition is not within ignorance. As I suggested, it is not a preexisting self that is ignorant. It is a preexisting ignorance that creates the illusory concept of self. I read this is SN 12.12, SN 12.17, SN 22.81. :slightly_smiling_face:

Upādāniyadhammasutta (SN 35.123)

“Mendicants, I will teach you the things that are prone to being grasped, and the grasping. “Upādāniye ca, bhikkhave, dhamme desessāmi upādānañca. Listen … Taṁ suṇātha.

Ignorance has a cause, asava. It is much better to think about PS as a wheel. And when avijja ends the forces in the axis cease, and the wheel stops turning. Ignorance is never meant as first cause in PS.

It is your personal choice to think about PS as some linear proces. I do not think this is really conducive., but oke.

Yes, every nidana’s is rooted in ignorance. Tanha, bhava, rebirth all.
It is not at all like this that only the second Nidana is rooted in avijja. The whole development is based upon ignorance. See for example SN22.47 Avijja is an element in this whole determined proces.

Asava is not “cause” of ignorance. Asava is condition than maintains ignorance. However, the primary asava that is a condition for ignorance is the ignorance asava, called “avijjāsava”. I read this in MN 9. Ignorance does not have a cause.

Digital Pāḷi Dictionary


  1. masc. effluent of ignorance [avijjā + āsava]

If asava was cause of ignorance a non-returner without sensual asava would be free from ignorance. But a non-returner is not free from ignorance even though they are free from sensual asava.

Facts are not choice. The sutta describe PS as a tree with roots (SN 12.55). Not a wheel. A tree to be uprooted.

Its called ‘birth’; not ‘rebirth’. ‘Jati’ is ‘birth’. :wink:

So you feel that not knowing the four noble truths has no cause? It just happens to be so?

Why so rigid? Why not even consider for some moment seeing PS as a wheel. I see you only react all the time. But why not taking some time to think about all this?

Take for example…tanha-upadana…those nidana’s certain loupe back to avijja and sankhara.
feeding tanha also feeds avijja again.

. "And what, friends, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is craving, which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being, 51] and craving for non-being. This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.

"And what, friends, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering? It is the remainderless fading away and ceasing, the giving up, relinquishing, letting go, and rejecting of that same craving. This is called the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. (MN141)

What is avijja?

  • That is when you find yourself walking to the fridge, grasping something to eat, to enjoy, to relieve your suffering.
  • or when you feel bored and seek something to entertain yourself
  • or when you feel sad and start to intoxicate yourself
  • or when you suffer and want a good feeling and do this or that

Not really investigating the causes of our suffering, not penetrating it deeply, not really on the Path but still escaping our suffering. Or, in short…doing what we all do…seeking a solution to suffering externally.

That is the real avijja. That ignoble search we become involved in when we want to escape suffering. That wrong way to deal with suffering, that is what has to dissolve. What has to dissolve is the idea that this is the Path to end suffering.

Ignorance is very practical. When do we really investigate what causes our suffering? When do we really look into the causes and conditions in ourselves? When do we not seek relief in this or that?
When do we really try to abandon and remove those causes and conditions in our selves that cause suffering?

Avijja is about still becoming involved in that wrong search because there is still this wrong view that this is the Path to end suffering. Not giving up the tanha’s while they arise. Still following them. Still not really committed to Dhamma. Still not with right effort. That kind of things. Very practical.

I believe…

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