Avidya, aka: Avidyā; 16 Definition(s)


Avidya means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit, Marathi. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Hinduism

Dhanurveda (science of warfare)

Avidyā (अविद्या) refers to a weapon (“missile of illusory power”). It is a Sanskrit word defined in the Dhanurveda-saṃhitā, which contains a list of no less than 117 weapons. The Dhanurveda-saṃhitā is said to have been composed by the sage Vasiṣṭha, who in turn transmitted it trough a tradition of sages, which can eventually be traced to Śiva and Brahmā.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Dhanurveda
Dhanurveda book cover
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Dhanurveda (धनुर्वेद) refers to the “knowledge of warfare” and, as an upaveda, is associated with the Ṛgveda. It contains instructions on warfare, archery and ancient Indian martial arts, dating back to the 2nd-3rd millennium BCE.


1a) Avidyā (अविद्या).—Of five degrees—tāmisra, andhatāmisra, tama, moha, and mahātama.*

  • * Bhāgavata-purāṇa III. 20. 18.

1b) Pañcaparva; precedes creation.*

  • * Vāyu-purāṇa 6. 37.
(Source): Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: The Purana Index
Purana book cover
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The Purana (पुराण, purāṇas) refers to Sanskrit literature preserving ancient India’s vast cultural history, including historical legends, religious ceremonies, various arts and sciences. The eighteen mahapuranas total over 400,000 shlokas (metrical couplets) and date to at least several centuries BCE.

General definition (in Hinduism)

1) Avidyā is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is "ignorance", "delusion", "unlearned", "unwise" and opposite of, Vidya (Knowledge). It is used extensively in Hindu texts, including the Upanishads, and also in Buddhism.

2) In Advaita Vedanta: The effect of avidya is to suppress the real nature of things and present something else in its place. In effect it is not different from Maya (pronounced Māyā) or illusion. Avidya relates to the individual Self (Ātman), while Maya is an adjunct of the cosmic Self (Brahman). In both cases it connotes the principle of differentiation of an experienced reality into the subject ('I') and an object, as is implicit in human thinking. Avidya stands for that delusion which breaks up the original unity (refer: nonduality) of what is real and presents it as subject and object and as doer and result of the deed.

What keeps humanity captive in Samsara is this avidya. This ignorance,"the ignorance veiling our true self and the truth of the world", is not lack of erudition; it is ignorance about the nature of 'Being' (Sat). It is a limitation that is natural to human sensory or intellectual apparatus. This is responsible for all the misery of humanity. Advaita Vedanta holds that the eradication of it should be humanity's only goal and that will automatically mean realisation of the Self (Ātman).

3) Avidyā, in all Dharmic systems, is a cognitive limitation to be overcome by each individual and does not imply a failure or transgression. The "entrenched misunderstanding of ourselves and the world" is avidyā (false knowledge) which gives rise to several root causes of misery or kleshas, which include ruinous states of mind and addictive habits.

(Source): WikiPedia: Hinduism

In Buddhism

Theravada (major branch of Buddhism)

Unawareness; ignorance; obscured awareness; delusion about the nature of the mind.(Source): Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

M (Ignorance). Absence of knowledge of the dhamma.

(Source): Dhamma Dana: Pali English Glossary

'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.

(Source): Pali Kanon: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines
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Theravāda is a major branch of Buddhism having the the Pali canon (tipitaka) as their canonical literature, which includes the vinaya-pitaka (monastic rules), the sutta-pitaka (Buddhist sermons) and the abhidhamma-pitaka (philosophy and psychology).

Mahayana (major branch of Buddhism)

Avidyā (अविद्या, “ignorance”) (pali avijjā) refers to the first of twelve pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination) according to the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra chapter X. Avidyā, ignorance, is all the afflictions (kleśa) of past existence (atītyajanma). From avidyā there arise actions (karman) which realize fruition in a universe (lokadhātu). These are the saṃskāras, formations.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra
Mahayana book cover
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Mahayana (महायान, mahāyāna) is a major branch of Buddhism focusing on the path of a Bodhisattva (spiritual aspirants/ enlightened beings). Extant literature is vast and primarely composed in the Sanskrit language. There are many sūtras of which some of the earliest are the various Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.

General definition (in Buddhism)

Avidyā (अविद्या, “ignorance”) refers to the first of the “twelve factors of conditional origination” (pratītyasamutpāda) as defined in the Dharma-saṃgraha (section 42). The Dharma-samgraha (Dharmasangraha) is an extensive glossary of Buddhist technical terms in Sanskrit (eg., avidyā). The work is attributed to Nagarjuna who lived around the 2nd century A.D.

Avidyā also refers to one of the “six defilements” (kleśa) as defined in the Dharma-saṃgraha (section 67).

(Source): Wisdom Library: Dharma-samgraha

A man cannot be liberated from the trammels of Avidyā through his own effort. The bondage of individuation is due to the self-limitations, which can be removed by the grace of Lord Śiva and lord Kālacakra respectively. With the grace of Śiva or kālacakra a sentient is being delivered from the galse sense of dualism of subject and object.

(Source): Google Books: Buddhist Tantra: A Philosophical Reflection and Religious Investigation

Avidyā (Sanskrit; Pāli: avijjā; Tibetan phonetic: ma rigpa) is commonly translated as "ignorance" or "delusion". It can be defined as not understanding the full meaning and implication of the four noble truths or as a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality.

Avidyā is identified within the Buddhist teachings as follows:

  • The first link in the twelve links of dependent origination.
  • One of the three poisons within the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
  • One of the six root kleshas within the Mahayana Abhidharma teachings
  • One of the ten fetters in the Theravada tradition
  • Equivalent to moha within the Theravada Abhidharma teachings
(Source): WikiPedia: Buddhism

Avidyā Skt., lit., “ignorance, nescience.” As a Vedantic term, avidyā refers to both individual and cosmic ignorance. Individual ignorance is the inability to distinguish between the transient and the intransient, between the real and the unreal; cosmic ignorance is maya. Its effect is the same as that of ajñāna (Pali, avijja), which is delusion, that is, noncognizance of the four noble truths, the three precious ones (triratna), and the law of karma. Avidyā is the first part in the nexus of conditionality, which leads to entanglement in the world of samsāra as well as to the three cankers. It is one of the passions (klesha) and the last of the ten fetters.

Avidyā is considered to be the root of everything unwholesome in the world and is defined as ignorance of the suffering-ridden character of existence. It is that state of mind that does not correspond to reality, that holds illusory phe­nomena for reality, and brings forth suffering. Ignorance occasions craving (trishnā) and is thereby the essential factor binding beings to the cycle of rebirth. According to the Mahāyāna view, avidyā with regard to the emptiness of appearances means that a person who is not enlightened will take the phenomenal world to be the only reality and thus conceal from him- or herself the essential truth.

(Source): Shambala Publications: General

Languages of India and abroad

Pali-English dictionary

avijjā : (f.) ignorance.

(Source): BuddhaSasana: Concise Pali-English Dictionary

Avijjā, (f.) (Sk. avidyā; fr. a + vid) ignorance; the main root of evil and of continual rebirth (see paṭicca-samuppāda, cp. S. II, 6, 9, 12; Sn. p. 141 & many other passages). See on term Cpd. 83 n. 3, 187 sq, 262 sq. & for further detail vijjā. avijjā is termed an anusaya (D. III, 254, 282; S. IV, 205, 208 sq. , 212); it is one of the āsavā (Vin. III, 4; D. I, 84; III, 216; It. 49; Dhs. 1100, 1109), of the oghā (D. III, 230, 276; Dhs. 390, 1061, 1162), of the nīvaraṇāni (S. II, 23; A. I, 223; It. 8; Dhs. 1162, 1486), of the saṃyojanāni (D. III, 254; Dhs. 1131, 1460). See for various characterisatons the foll. passages: Vin. I, 1; III, 3; D. III, 212, 230, 234, 274; M. I, 54, 67, 144; S. II, 4, 26, 263; III, 47, 162; IV, 256; V, 52; A. I, 8, 285; II, 132, 158, 247; III, 84 sq. , 414; IV, 228; It. 34 (yā kāc’imā duggatiyo asmiṃ loke paramhi ca avijjāmūlakā sabbā icchā-lobha-sammussayā), 57, 81; Sn. 199, 277, 729 (jāti-maraṇa-saṃsāraṃ ye vajanti punappunaṃ ... avijjāy’eva sā gati), 730, 1026, 1033 (avijjāya nivuto loko); Dh. 243; Nd2 99; Pug. 21; Dhs. 390, 1061, 1162; DhA. III, 350; IV, 161 (°paligha). (Page 85)

(Source): Sutta: The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary
Pali book cover
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Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravāda Buddhism and contains much of the Buddha’s speech. Closeley related to Sanskrit, both languages are used interchangeably between religions.

Marathi-English dictionary

avidyā (अविद्या).—f S Erroneous apprehension through the illusiveness of the material world; admission of these unrealities as real; error or ignorance as opp. to knowledge. Ex. jivāsīṃ a0 asādhā- raṇa. To avidyā or Ignorance are ascribed the two envelopments of the Pure spirit or Divine particle called sthūladēha & liṅgadēha.

(Source): DDSA: The Molesworth Marathi and English Dictionary

avidyā (अविद्या).—f Error, ignorance.

(Source): DDSA: The Aryabhusan school dictionary, Marathi-English
context information

Marathi is an Indo-European language having over 70 million native speakers people in (predominantly) Maharashtra India. Marathi, like many other Indo-Aryan languages, evolved from early forms of Prakrit, which itself is a subset of Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages of the world.

Sanskrit-English dictionary

Avidya (अविद्य).—a.

1) Not educated, unlearned, foolish, unwise, अविद्यानां तु सर्वेषामीहात श्चेद्धनं भवेत् (avidyānāṃ tu sarveṣāmīhāta śceddhanaṃ bhavet) Ms.9.25. also अविद्यक (avidyaka) a. Mb.5.16.64.

2) Not pertaining to knowledge.

-dyā 1 Ignorance, folly, want of learning. अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः (avidyāyāmantare vartamānāḥ) Muṇḍ. Up.1.2.8.

2) Spiritual ignorance; Av.11.8.23; Vāj.4.12.14.

3) Illusion, illusion personnified or Māyā (a term frequently occurring in Vedānta; by means of this illusion one perceives the universe, which does not really exist, as inherent in Brahman which alone really exists). The term appears also in the systems of Gautama, Patañjali, Kapila, where it has different bearings; (with Buddhists) ignorance together with nonexistence.

(Source): DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary
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Sanskrit, also spelled संस्कृतम् (saṃskṛtam), is an ancient language of India commonly seen as the grandmother of the Indo-European language family. Closely allied with Prakrit and Pali, Sanskrit is more exhaustive in both grammar and terms and has the most extensive collection of literature in the world, greatly surpassing its sister-languages Greek and Latin.

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