Avidya in Vedanta shastra is a technical word. In Vedanta texts we see ‘avidya’ as the cause of the world. If it is translated as ‘ignorance’ can create a problem - it means we are saying ‘ignorance’ is the cause of this world. When we look at the world what we see it is all knowledge – in fact the world is a manifestation of knowledge. So a translation of ‘Avidya’ as ignorance is wrong.
Is ‘Avidya’ absence of knowledge? It cannot be absence of knowledge either – because there is no substance called ‘absence’ or abhava – world cannot come from abhava – absence. Nothing is ever born of no thing. Everything is born of something … something positively exisistent. And ‘Avidya’ is told to be the cause of the world.
So then what is the meaning of ‘Avidya’ – as cause of the world, it can only be the Maya shakti of Brahman – the power of absolute consciousness to create, sustain and resolve all that is here that appears to be many.
The Shastra vision is na iha nana asti kincana – there is no maniness here whatsoever. Shastra points out that duality does not exist any which way you look at it, because this jagat is brahma karyam - an effect of Brahman – and therefore this universe, is non-separate from Brahman being its effect. A golden chain is nothing but gold. In fact, there is no substance called chain, the chain is all the way gold, simply and a name for a form of gold. The cause is gold and the effect the chain is gold. So too this jagat being an effect of Brahman is nothing other than Brahman. The cause exists without the effect, yet the effect can never exist without the cause. Brahman is jagat karanam. Does brahman exist without jagat? Yes. It is satyam, jnanam, anantam Brahman. It exists without the effect, but the effect does not exist without the cause. Brahma kaaryatvaat it is Brahma.
In the jagat what we see is that when we create a pot, we need both the clay, the material cause, as well as the pot-maker, the maker or efficient cause. In the case of jagat, there are no two causes. There is only one cause – no second cause whatsoever – because there is only one here – ekam eva advitiyam – one without a second. And whatever is that one cause it obtains in the effect. The Shastra gives us an example to assimilate this – it points out that the spider is the maker of its web and the material for the web is also from the spider itself. Both the maker and material are one and the same.
It means the maker has the knowledge of what it is going to do. There is a fact here – that the maker should know what he/she makes – this fact is always there for us to assimilate the nature of the cause-effect relationship. In the case of this jagat what is the material cause? If we say ’avidya’ and take it as meaning as ignorance – it would be ridiculous.
In the Brahma Sutra adhyasa-bhashya Bhagavan Shankaracarya points out that that adhyasa – atasmin tad buddhi seeing something as what it is not is avidya - that which is opposed to knowledge. In what is not dual, one sees duality – atasmin tad buddhi - ‘in that which is not dual you have buddhi of duality’ - this is adhyasa and this is the cause of samsara. Removal of adhyasa is moksha or liberation. Removal of adhyasa is by knowledge alone. In the ADHYASA BHASYA Bhasyakara proves that there is no duality whatsoever.
Here we see that avidya is taken as the cause for our confusion and to remove that confusion you need knowledge. Avidya if taken as ignorance is the cause for our confusion – it is the cause for our perception of duality as real. Duality is not real. If it is not real what is it? If it is non-existent it would not appear to be there. If it is existent it cannot be negated. Duality is anirvachaniyam – neither existent non non-existent – that is it is mithya - a dependent reality, dependent on Brahman, the independent (satyam) reality.
Brahman alone is the cause of the jagat. In the Taittiriya Upanishad Brahman is presented as the cause of the Universe – yato vaa imaani bhuutani jaayante, yena jaataani jiivanti, yat prayanti – tat brahma tat vijijnasasva – That from whom all the beings have come, by whom they are sustained and into whom they go back – that is Brahman – may you know that Brahman. So the cause of the jagat is Brahman, not ignorance. This Brahman becomes Ishvara – the efficient cause and the material cause. As efficient cause Brahman is all-knowledge.
And avidya is not knowing jagat to be non-seperate from Brahman. This not knowing goes away by knowledge. What goes away is avidya. And what is non-separate from the vast-u svarupa is vidya.
In the tradition avidya is used as a synonym of Maya - the power of Brahman to appear as the maniness that is the jagat. This Maya shakti is anirvacaniyam – that which cannot be categorically explained – neither satyam nor asatyam. Maya has a two-fold power – the power to veil or cover (aavaranam) and the power to create (vikshepa).
Pujya Swamiji says “Maya is the shakti of jiva. Jiva upadhi makes the conscious being – the Being is Consciousness. Makes the jiva possible. Because of the upadhi of avidya. Otherwise this fellow is sarvajna. Tat Tvam Asi – means You are That. You are sarvajna .. Brahman is sarvajna. And you are Brahman. You are sarvajnam Brahman.
Swamiji, how can I be sarvajna Brahman? Okay you are alpajna - small-knowing.
Because this avidya is part of Maya shakti. avidyaya jivah, mayaya ishvarah. Avarna shakti covers – the same Maya covers you. The same Maya creates the jagat. Therefore we have to say there is a upadhi a samasthi upadhi. It is not ignorance put togther is Maya! Samasthi upadhi. Samasthi is Ishvara. All that is here is Ishvara. This avidya is avarana shakti of Maya … the power of cover – kosha. Once the cover is there, then the mistake is possible on your part. Therefore there is duality.
Aavritih is aavrnoti – yaa shaktih vastu svarupam aavrnoti - not that vastu (consciousness) is covered – if vastu is aavrnoti then vastu becomes paroksha and you will have to know your existence through some other pramana!
‘I am’ – that is self-evident. You don’t need a pramana (a means of knowledge) for it. If you say I see myself, I see billions of others and so I become one of them – that is avidya – that is duality.
What is – is one, non-dual. What YOU see is dual – that taking duality to be real is avidya.”
Om Tat Sat