Gyaan-Agyaan and Vidya-Avidya

Forums Vedic Texts and Verses Gyaan-Agyaan and Vidya-Avidya

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    Hare Krishna Prabhuji, please accept my humble obeisance.

    What is gyaan- agyaan and Vidya- Avidya? What is the difference between two?


    Jñana is experienced truth and vidyā is theoretical truth. Ajñana is experienced non-truth and avidyā is theoretical non-truth. Ajñana is the experience produced due to the covering of the soul that filters reality from its vision. It means that we see a part of the truth. However, we believe that there is nothing apart from our present limited vision. This is ajñana; it denotes that which we experience, but it is a partial truth. However, we think that there is no other truth. Based on this partial experience, we create theories about the whole truth, by extending what we have seen even to everything else we have not seen. Such a theory is avidyā.

    I can give an example. Everything around us is interconnected. Everything we see is connected to everything else in some way. However, we don’t see that connection. Then we think that if I don’t see the connection, then things must be unconnected. This is ajñana. Then we formulate a theory of reality by converting the non-perception of connection into non-existence of connection to say that the world is disconnected, independent, and isolated things. This false theory is avidyā.

    Suppose a person is suffering from some sickness. Nobody knows what the cause of the sickness is. The sick person lies in their bed and tries to think of a valid explanation for their sickness but they cannot see any connection between their sickness and their actions. Most viral or bacterial infections are like that; we cannot see when, where, or how we got infected. If they suffer for long, they could ask: Why me? Why can’t I be healthy like others? What did I do to deserve this? They cannot see any connection between their sickness and their actions. All this is ajñana.

    After failing to find a legitimate explanation, they conclude: There is no connection. I’m suffering for no reason. My life is an accident. Then, they formulate a theory of reality: Things happen without a cause. Nature is random. Things happen irrationally. There may be high or low probabilities of some events, but we don’t know when, where, and to whom something might happen. Since I cannot find an explanation after searching so hard, therefore, there is no explanation. If I have found inexplicable things in my life, then reality is irrational. Things happen unpredictably. There is no explanation for our life’s events. This is avidyā.

    To overcome this avidyā, we might give an explanation. That explanation can be true or false. A false explanation is that which explains one or two particular events but doesn’t explain other events. It might explain some events but not others. Such an explanation is an incomplete theory. It may be better than no explanation. Or, it may be as bad as no explanation. All these explanations are considered avidyā.

    Vidyā is the true explanation. It is true because it explains every possible event. It is a complete theory. It is better than no explanation. And it is better than partial explanations. However, even as we provide a complete explanation, the person listening to it may not be convinced. He might say: You explain my sickness based on karma and reincarnation, God and soul, past lives and their results, but I cannot see anything. I don’t see God, soul, past lives, karma being created, or the reincarnation of the soul from one life to another. What is the evidence for these things? You can counter: This is a complete theory of everything. However, you are unable to convince the person because even if you are offering them an explanation, they cannot see the elements of that explanation due to ajñana. For them to believe or trust what you are saying, they must see some of the elements.

    That seeing of what previously lay unseen is called jñana-cakṣu or the “eyes for seeing”. Those eyes cannot be given to anyone because they already exist but are covered by ajñana which filters the reality and makes it impossible for us to see the whole truth. To see that hidden reality, we have to remove the covering of ajñana. This process is called purifying the chitta, or ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ.

    The chitta is called a “mirror” because it reflects reality. In the chitta, we get a picture of reality. If that chitta is contaminated by ajñana, then the picture is incomplete because parts of reality are filtered from the picture. You can say that it is an incomplete picture of reality in which we don’t see the full truth. Purifying the chitta is the process of removing ajñana so that we can see the complete picture of reality. When the chitta is completely purified by removing ajñana, then we can see the complete picture of reality. That vision of the full truth can be called jñana-cakṣu or the “eyes for seeing”. But it was always there. It had been covered like goggles covering our eyes, filtering the reality, to make us not see reality.

    When we see the reality, that vision is jñana. It verifies and confirms the vidyā or the theory of reality which we might have heard earlier, but we may not have trusted or believed in that theory because even as the theory seemed very rational and pervasively true, we still could not see it ourselves. That theory or vidyā was just intellectually satisfying but it wasn’t something we believed in fully.

    So, we can summarize the process as: ajñana → avidyā → vidyā → jñana. However, it may not always be strictly sequential. Generally, as ajñana makes us increasingly blind, we create progressively more false theories of reality called avidyā, which then progressively make us more blind, which then increases the number of false theories. Conversely, as we hear more vidyā and try to purify the chitta, we get more experiences that we did not have; this is the increase in jñana. With that jñana, we develop more trust in the vidyā. We practice the process of purification more, and accept more of the vidyā as true, which then leads to a new experience of jñana.

    Both ajñana and avidyā, and vidyā and jñana, are cyclical. This saves us during the cycle of ajñana and avidyā, as it takes us a long time to become completely ignorant and foolish. But the cycle of vidyā and jñana also delays the knowledge of the full truth. People don’t complain about how long it took them to become completely ignorant and foolish. They just complain about the time it takes them to become knowledgeable. But this is the process. The same method saves you from falling immediately into the depths of ignorance, as it takes time to come out of it.

    There are further distinctions between jñana and vijñana. The former is knowledge represented in the chitta, and the latter is directly within the soul. Hence, sometimes jñana is considered inferior to vijñana. For example, even if you see something many times, you might not be convinced about it. You might harbor some suspicions. What if it disappears tomorrow? What if it is merely an appearance and not reality? Therefore, there are many steps beyond the initial step of ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ. The first step is like seeing the reality in a mirror. And the later steps are like seeing that reality directly, without the mirror. What you see in the mirror may not be true. But what you see directly is considered truer than the picture in the mirror.

    The final stage is when you see the truth always, continuously, and directly. It took time to fall into the depths of ignorance, so it will take time to come out of it.

    Next time when you ask a question, you can provide more details about what is bothering you, the events that led to your question, or how you came to have certain types of doubts. The answer that follows will also resolve your real issue. Right now it seems you are replacing the real issue with something simple but it may not be the real issue. Of course, that is if you can disclose the real issue.

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