Ignorance (Avijja)


Ignorance (Avijja),

By Venerable Suy Sovann (Pannavaro)

This term is very familiar to all Buddhists, but they might or might not properly understand it as the root cause of violence in societies. Avijjà is termed pàøi which means ‘ignorance, the main root of evil and of continual rebirth’7. Again, avijjà that obstructs the way to a heavenly rebirth and to the attainment of Jhàna and Nibbàna can also be called ‘moha’ from abhidhamma point of view.

It can be said, “Moha is one of the three roots of evil and is common to all immoral types of consciousness. It is opposed to Paññà-wisdom. The chief characteristic of Moha is confusion with regard to the nature of an object. Moha clouds one’s knowledge with regard to Kamma and its consequences and the four Noble Truths.”8

The real evil situations in our modern society are led by ignorance according the definition above. All actions through body, speech and mind are under the cover of ignorance of human beings.

Here, the Buddha said, “People seek pleasant sense objects, good sights, good sounds, good food, etc. Their effort to secure what they believe to be the good things of life is due to their illusion about their existence. Ignorance works here like green eyeglasses that make a horse eat the dry grass, while mistaking it for green grass. Living beings are mired in sensual pleasure because they see everything through rose coloured glasses. They harbour illusion about the nature of sense objects and mind and matter.”9

Actually, the evil doers do also need to live in harmony, peace and happiness, but they have gone the wrong paths because of their ignorance. They always hold the negative thoughts in their daily lives, therefore the violence has arisen among their family, society and themselves. Here, the Buddha said,

“They take untruth for truth; they take truth for untruth; such persons can never arrive at the truth, for they hold wrong views.”10

As worldling persons live in the ocean of tears, and promise with sufferings because of ignorance and craving (avijjà and taähà). In addition, taähà, in differences may exist in the way conditions situations of violence. On analysis, two broad and mutually interdependent areas emerge: (1) violence arising from an individual’s maladjustment, and (2) craving and violence arising from unsatisfactory social and environmental conditions, caused by the craving of others.

“The Buddha saw that all beings were slaves of lust and greed, and that moved him to great compassion. Living beings serve their lust and greed even at the risk of their lives. They have to work daily during all their lives to satisfy their craving, and after death and in the next existence, too, they remain slaves of the same master, craving. There is no period of rest for them. In the human world a slave may remain a slave for one lifetime, but a slave of greed has an unending term of servitude, spanning uncountable lifetimes, unless he/she becomes an arahant and thus ends his/her wandering through the cycles of birth and death.”11

Living beings have attachments to sensual pleasures. Because of delusion, we develop greed and hatred. We make all out effort to do everything for personal survivals. In this modern society, living beings are surely slave of lust and greed. Some are fighting each other because of material needs. They kill thousands of innocent citizens surround the world every day. A greedy person alone can also make the world become ashes.

Buddhist view violence as the response of a confused mind to worldly experiences. Violence is, however, not considered a ‘sin’ but an unskillful means toward the ultimate end of achieving happiness. People commit violent actions out of greed, hatred and delusion and they become angry because they are confused about what will make them happy. So, the angry person thinks that by forcing the person or situation to be different she or he will be happy, but true happiness results from recognizing that it is really our grasping at pleasure that causes our suffering.

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