Sunday, 28 March 2010


Avijja is everywhere translated as “Ignorance”, especially "Ignorance of the Four Noble Truths". Ignorance means not knowing. Knowledge (κ+νουσ) refers to data which is retained in the mind. It can be factually correct, "I know your aunt: I know the French for 'thank you'." It can be incorrect, "I know 2+2 = 5". In this case you do know something; it just happens to be wrong. Ignorance is simply not knowing. "I don't know your aunt. I don't know any French. I don't know 2+2 = anything."

Vijja is usually translated as “Knowledge”; for example in the Three Vijjas where it refers to attainments certain types of Arahats attain. But Vijja is different from Knowledge. It is not just data retained in the mind. It means actually seeing something in the present and, therefore, having immediate understanding of it.

Most Buddhists know the Four Noble Truths. They can recite them in the way a young child can repeat its nine times table. They are certainly not ignorant of them. But this knowledge is not sufficient to remove Avijja as the first step in the Dependent Origination. It cannot thereby bring about the psychological process which the Buddha experienced under the Bodhi tree and by which he achieved Enlightenment. On the contrary, most Buddhists, who are fluent in their knowledge of the First Noble Truth, cannot even see that the food on their plates got there as the result of being bred in captivity and killed, usually painfully. They cannot see Suffering.

So Vijja is not Knowledge and Avijja is not Ignorance.

Consider this example. I know there are cobras in Thailand. I have been told this by the people here and I believe them. I have seen pictures of them. I have seen them in the zoo. I even know that they get into houses and there could, in theory, be one in my house. Compare this collection of knowledge with actually going into my bedroom now and seeing, on the bed, a cobra, with its hood raised, watching me as I come through the door. True seeing and understanding of this event and its relevance to me would be immediate and effective. I would not speculate on which of the several species of cobras, which can be distinguished by variations in their markings, this one might be. Nor would I attempt to measure it with a tape in order to assist identification (by relating this datum with other data in my mind.) On the contrary, I should leave the room quickly and close the door behind me.

So it is with Vijja. Seeing the First Noble Truth, means seeing suffering wherever it appears, immediately and with direct, decisive understanding; the corpse on the plate, the screaming child, the widow at the funeral, the old man crying silently as he dies. Avijja means not seeing these things with immediate understanding in the present, wherever they appear.

Knowledge means just knowing these things as data, stored mentally in the memory banks together with "the sun rises in the east", "a jellyfish sting can be unpleasant", "Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Jesus, although it is believed he was born on an altogether different day." Ignorance means not even knowing the facts (i.e. not having these data in the mind).

New Project: Negativity

Sunday, 21 March 2010


avijja: "Not seeing things as they actually are." The tenth fetter.

Vijjā means "seeing" (cognate with "vision") and also understanding what you see. In this case, it means seeing the world and everything in it as it actually is, without projecting viewpoints upon what you are looking at, which make it appear otherwise. This means "correct seeing" or "right view". Seeing correctly means seeing unsatisfactory things as unsatisfactory and satisfactory things as satisfactory.

Avijjā (a + vijjā) means not seeing things as they actually are. Not seeing unsatisfactory things as unsatisfactory.

This is first step in the Dependent Origination. It is also the primary fetter . If we see unsatisfactory things as in some way satisfactory, then we cling to them and make of them a fetter. This fetter binds us to the level of unsatisfactory things; the level on which beings experience birth, sickness, old age and death. That is, it keeps us in the sangsara. Forever.

If we have succeeded in releasing ourselves from all these fetters during this sequence of projects, we are Arahats. If we haven't, we can use them as a tool to see and identify those things which arise in the mind and keep us trapped in a world of suffering. We can patiently weaken them and, ultimately, free ourselves from them forever.

New Project: Seeing and Knowing

(See Sanyojana The Buddha's Doctrine of the TEN FETTERS)

Sunday, 14 March 2010


uddhacca: restlessness, mental agitation, the ninth fetter.

This is a state of mind which is agitated and scattered. The image is of a layer of dust which has been stirred up or a bowl of still water into which more water is poured so that ripples go out in all directions.

Whenever the mind is working, it is moving.  This in itself is not a problem.  What creates the fetter is when it is out of control.  As one discovers when one tries to stop it.  Since "mind comes first" and everything which is to be done starts with the mind, one cannot overestimate the seriousness of this.  

When one says it is "out of control", one usually means it is out of one's control.  The dust doesn't stir itself up.  Nor does the water agitate itself.  So what does control it?  Associative thoughts (one thing leading to another); feelings, memories, desires, sense objects appearing at the sense doors (one hears something or sees something or smells something or one's body itches or hurts) - the list is endless.

This is why one so rarely moves smoothly towards an intended goal.  It is as though one sets off to drive somewhere but other people keep trying to grab the steering wheel and steer off in different directions.

Uddhacca is also listed as a hindrance to meditation.  One can't progress in meditation if one can't control the mind and keep it on the meditation object.

So, whether one is a meditator or just someone who wants to bring his mind under control in ordinary everyday life, it is essential to deal with this problem.

There are two ways of doing this; both equally difficult.  One forces the mind to focus on a single, chosen object.  With the other, one patiently undertakes the task of observing the mind and its workings in order to thoroughly understand how it operates.  One then uses one's growing understanding to gradually bring it under control.  Both methods require patience and perseverance.  But the rewards of success are enormous.  

One can see that some people find this easier than others. This is because the more one has neglected one's mind, the harder it is to put it to rights.  If a gardener goes off for a couple of years, what he finds when he comes back will appear daunting.  "Nature" has taken over.  Neglect of one's mind may have lasted much longer than a couple of years!  Karma is perfect.

New Project: The Tenth Sanyojana

Sunday, 7 March 2010


mana: conceit, pride, the eighth fetter

This is generally translated as "conceit" or "pride". "Conceit" means "an exalted conception of self worth".  Mana is both gross and subtle.  It appears as asmi-mana, the conceit of "I am": i.e. "I exist as a separate physical or mental entity".  It is an underlying tendency (anusaya) to compare oneself with others in ways where one is identifying oneself with own mind or own body.  Comparison is in itself not the fetter.  I can say "I am bigger than he is or older or speak more French" but these may be simple conventional matters of fact, similar to "He has red hair, I have brown" or even "His hair is redder than mine".  It is when I identify with something which may or may not be a fact, but which I grasp after as belonging in some way to me personally, that the fetter arises.

It arises in three forms: I am better than him, I am equal to him; I am not as good as him.  Each of these may be matters of fact.  One needs to be aware of the mental state that accompanies them to see if there is any trace of self-exaltation or self-satisfaction.  One often meets people who are insistent that they are not as good as someone (Jesus perhaps.  Or Joe DiMaggio.).  This may well be true but, if they take undue satisfaction in their humility, it will, on examination, be found to be not humility at all but inverted pride.

It is clear that mana depends upon duality.  Using the Universal Octopus, one can see that a tentacle is comparing itself to another tentacle.

"There being really no duality, pluralism is untrue." The fetter consists in being bound to (holding on to) a secondary level of being, the level of duality.

New Project: The Ninth Sanyojana

(See Sanyojana The Buddha's Doctrine of the THE FETTERS)