Question 167: How does ignorance affect people?

ignorance - suffering and rebirth
The young Rama asks about ignorance and the effects thereof. The Sage tells that ignorance causes suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. The only activity that halts ignorance is seeking – and experiencing – the Atma.

avidya San. f. ignorance, especially in a spiritual sense arising from the illusion of maya, the veil of separateness. The darkness of ignorance veils our perception, so that we see a snake in a rope and are deluded by our senses into believing the world is real; we are unaware of the true Reality that underlies and sustains it.

vidya Hin., San. f. learning, study; education; science; knowledge, especially of the vedas; wisdom, understanding. Vidya is moksha, avidya is samsara.

jiva: individual soul embodied as a person. Soul with a body.

atma-gyan: direct knowledge of the Atma; self-realisation; knowledge of the Atmic state.

purushartha is understood to mean the four great goals of life:

  • dharma – the pursuit and practice of right conduct in everyday living;
  • artha – the acquisition of wealth to support family and necessary expenses;
  • kama – (normally translated as desires) – the fulfilment of needs necessary to one’s station in life.
  • moksha – the supreme goal, release from the cycle of birth-death-and-birth-again.

avichar: non-contemplation; immersion in maya, illusion
vichara: self-inquiry; contemplation, thought


Question 167: Sir, what are the functions of ignorance (avidya)?

Answer: Ramji, the jivas who cognise the world as true and are bound with it, undergo numerous sufferings. But those who cognise the world as illusory like a dream are not bound in attachments and are not dragged in the sufferings of the world. Ignorance is destroyed with atmagyan only (experience of the Atma). Ignorance generates many illusions and attachments. He who is entangled in ignorance loses his true state. Therefore, do not dwell upon this ignorance, but strive to stay in the Atmic state. When you are thus engaged in purushartha you will realise what ignorance is. In reality, there is nothing like ignorance. The experience of ignorance is the result of non-contemplation (avichar) and it vanishes with contemplation (vichar). Hence you should always be engaged in spiritual discipline so that your ignorance is liquidated. Many a great person has suffered because of ignorance, and it is the root of all sufferings. Abandoning all other ideas, strive for the liquidation of ignorance so that you are saved from all sufferings. It is ignorance that generates attachments in people and causes numerous sufferings to them. You must, therefore, try to realise the non-being of ignorance and attain the state of tranquillity.

Question 168: Sir, how to be free from the malady of ignorance (avidya) ?

Answer: Ramji, relief from ignorance is not possible in any way except by spiritual discipline or practice of enquiry into – seeking the Atma. All ideations and errors (sankalpa-vikalpa) vanish with spiritual discipline. He who does not follow spiritual discipline (i.e, seeking experience of the Atma) is lost in vices such as attachments, etc., and he cannot know his true state. He wanders in the cycle of rebirths.


27. Why is it that people do not know this deep truth? Because as soon as they are born they are led to believe that the world around them is ‘real’. They forget their oneness with Divinity and fall into a pattern of likes and dislikes that gives rise to all sorts of desires, attachments, and aversions. With their nervous systems thus conditioned, their sense of individuality (ego) is reinforced time and time again. It does not dawn on the impure mind preoccupied with ego to make room for devotion to God. Without that devotion it is impossible to see one’s oneness with God.

28. “But those who purify their actions by dedicating them all to the Divine gradually grow less influenced by their own habits and desires. One step at a time, they overcome the lower self, worshiping Me, the One who is not separable.

29. “No matter how strongly you ascribe to the universal delusion that you can avoid pain and only have pleasure in this life (which is utterly impossible), sooner or later you must confront the fact of your inevitable aging and eventual death. Some people, trying to escape the fear of death, come to Me for refuge. Once with Me, they learn of their True Self (Atma) and ascertain the nature of Divinity. Therefore, because death stirs people to seek answers to important spiritual questions, it becomes the greatest servant of humanity, rather than its most feared enemy.

30. “Finally, Arjuna, yogis know that it is I, the Godhead (Brahman), the Adhyatma, who presides over the entire cosmos, including the physical universe (adhibhuta), the deities who serve divine purposes (adhidaivas), and the spirits who handle all sacrifices or offerings (adhiyajna).

“The wisdom and devotion of these yogis, these wise souls, serves them throughout their lives – and especially at the hour of death, the time when most people are scared and confused. That is why spiritual wisdom is so important. These yogis truly know their own Atma (which is Divinity itself, Me), and so they calmly accept death as a matter of course. Their God-realization is at its zenith when they drop their bodies. At that instant their whole consciousness becomes one with My Cosmic Consciousness, and they are thus liberated from rebirth.” (BG: 7: 27-30)


ignorance - suffering and rebirth



Hamsa Gayatri
Om Hamsaaya Vidmahe
Paramahamsaya Dheemahi
Tanno Hamsa Prachodayat
“May we realise Hamsa that is our own Self as the Swan. Let us meditate on that Paramahamsa, the Supreme Self. May Hamsa illumine us.”