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