Definition - What does Avidya mean?

Avidya is a Sanskrit term used in both Buddhism and Hinduism to denote delusion or ignorance. It is sometimes translated as “incorrect understanding.” The Buddhist concept is misunderstanding of the nature of reality or ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. The Hindu concept is delusion or ignorance of the Self. It is the opposite of vidya (wisdom).

Avidya is similar to the concept of maya, the difference being that maya is universal illusion, while avidya is individual ignorance or delusion.

Yogapedia explains Avidya

In yoga, avidya goes beyond the dictionary definition of ignorance, although it does not suggest failure or wrongdoing. It is a spiritual ignorance that prevents the individual from connecting to the Source of being and the true Self. Avidya can also be described as non-knowledge of Brahman, or the supreme spirit.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the five kleshas (obstacles) that block the spiritual path. Avidya is the first of the kleshas listed because it is the basis for the others. By destroying avidya, the other kleshas are no longer an issue. Avidya obscures the higher Self by firmly establishing our life habits and preventing change.

To overcome avidya, the Yoga Sutras suggest these methods:

  • Yogic asanas and breathing exercises.
  • Self-examination through meditation.
  • Spiritual detachment from and observation of one's actions.
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