Avidyā (Sanskrit IAST; devanāgarī: अविद्या; pāli: avijjā; Chinese: wúmíng 无明; Tibetan: ma rig pa; Japanese: mumyō 無明), means "confusion ", "ignorance ".
In Hinduism, it is primarily ignorance of one's true nature covered by successive obscurations of pure consciousness (the Self) produced by desire and attachment. In Buddhism, avidyā is the first step in the chain of causes (pratītyasamutpāda) of suffering (duḥkha) and one of the Three Poisons.
According to Tagore: "In typical Indian thought, true deliverance [nirvāṇa] for man is considered to be that which brings him out of avidyā, ignorance. It is the destruction, not of something positive and real - that would be unattainable - but of that which is negative and obstructs our vision of the truth.
It is only when this obstruction, which is ignorance, is removed, that the eyelid is lifted, which is not a loss to the eye. It is our ignorance that makes us believe that our self, as a self, is real, and that it possesses in itself its full meaning.
It is, therefore, only avidyā that makes the self a chain for us; it makes us believe that it is an end in itself, and prevents us from seeing that it contains the idea that goes beyond the very limits of that self."
In the Advaita Vedānta, avidyā is ignorance of the true nature of things. It has two effects: it first hides reality (avarana-śakti, power of obnubilation) and it makes something else appear instead (viksepa-śakti, power of projection).
Avidyā is related to jīva (empirical individuality) and falls under Māyā , the principle of cosmic illusion: avidyā is "its specific conditioning, its particularized aspect ". Avidyā is related to the interplay of the mixture and imbalance of the three qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas) of primordial matter (Prakṛti) in which Brahman is reflected and corresponds to Kāraṇa śarīra.
The philosophers who followed Ādi Śaṅkara often distinguish between an individual ignorance (tūla-avidyā) and a universal ignorance (mūla-avidyā), a distinction that Shankara rejects.
In the waking or dreaming state, avidyā practices divisions within consciousness; it is the origin of both the subject/object division, which hides non-dual reality, and the concept of causality, as conditioning that affects the waking mind. It has no origin, being illusory, and it keeps the individual in the saṃsāra.
In Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra, avidyā is one of the five factors that are the cause of afflictions (kleśa). It is also itself the cause of the other four factors which are asmitā: egoism, rāga: passion, dvesha: aversion, and, abhinivesha: self-love. Avidyā is due to the identification of the subject or seer with the object of perception or conception.
Avidyā is, with desire and hatred, one of the Three Poisons; yet it is the origin of the other two. Ignorance is thus a passion, but a passion all made up of illusions, and which causes all desires;
Avidyā is the first link in the conditioned coproduction, which describes the conditioning of all phenomena. In this cycle of twelve links ignorance is not the cause of all conditioned phenomena. Simply, in conditioned coproduction, ignorance conditions the volitional activities, samskara ;
Avidyā is the last of the ten bonds, samyojana, that hold "beings" trapped in rebirths in samsara (Saṃsāra). When practice leads to weakening or even destroying these bonds, such as pride, ignorance is the last one to give way, as it conditions all the others.
In Theravāda Buddhism, avidyā (pāli: avijja) is the "primordial source of all the evils of this world. " A synonym is moha (skt. and pa.; devanagari: मोह; "misguidance"). It is:
ignorance of the four noble truths: ignorance of duḥkha, as well as its origin, cessation and remedy;
not only ignorance of the suffering involved in all conditioned phenomena, but also of the other peculiarities which form, together with suffering, the three characteristics of existence, namely impermanence and impersonality;
ignorance of conditioned coproduction;
ignorance of the karma that is associated with all intention.
Ignorance thus makes life appear satisfying, enduring, and the property of individuals, where there are only unsatisfying, ephemeral, and selfless phenomena.
In Mahāyāna Buddhism, avidyā is the ignorance of emptiness. Phenomena are empty; they can be understood as illusory, deceptive, which corresponds to the first teaching of emptiness, in Madhyamika Buddhism; but phenomena can also be understood as pure manifestation of consciousness, which corresponds to the teaching of emptiness in Cittamatra.
In Atiyoga, or Dzogchen, avidyā is specifically the non-recognition of one's primordial nature, vidyā or rig pa in Tibetan.