Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras II.3: The lack of awareness of Reality, the sense of egoism or “I-am-ness”, attractions and repulsions toward objects and the strong desire for life are the great afflictions or causes of all miseries. (Taimni’s translation)
The Sanskrit word translated usually as “ignorance”, but above as Taimni’s more complete translation of “lack of awareness of Reality,” is “avidya.” “A-“ means “without” or “not” and “Vidya” means “wisdom” or “knowledge;” so avidya means literally without wisdom or knowledge, without knowing, not knowing.
From the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras quote above, ignorance is said to be the root cause of all our suffering and the source of all the other issues listed, but as Taimni’s translation says, it’s not just “normal” ignorance that is our problem, but a special kind: ignorance of Reality. Of the Big “R” Reality, it must be true that we are ignorant of it, or at least so it seems, so clearly wrapped up as we are in our ego, our attractions and repulsions, and our strong desire for life and fear of death. We don’t see the Truth… yet. We’re a work-in-progress. Much has been written and spoken about Reality, but all those words are just pointing at an experience that we haven’t had, and what the heck it really is, we don’t really know, yet. (Remember that according to Patanjali and others, we don’t see the Reality because we’re just seeing the thoughts in our mind and mistaking them as Reality, to our own and others detriment.)
However, from the ultimate perspective, Truth or Reality MUST be HERE right now and always, otherwise it wouldn’t be True or Real. We must be our True Nature always or it wouldn’t be our True Nature. So I think maybe a better single-word translation of “avidya” in this case should be “ignore-ance”, meaning we are really, in some deep, unnoticed way, ignoring the fact of Reality or Truth or our True Nature. I imagine everyone has had at least of glimpse of this truth, if not seeing it shockingly full blast at some point. Just a little observation of the mind should fairly quickly reveal some way that we are actively ignoring some Truth, if we are brave enough to see it and have God’s Grace on our exploration.
On purely a mundane level, don’t we already KNOW what we “should” be doing, the actions that, were we to be taking them consistently and long enough, would be leading us and others to our Highest Good? Are we really ignorant, meaning not knowing, of what would be for our best? I think really we are just, at least from time to time if not chronically and habitually, ignoring the facts, ignoring our conscience, ignoring the obvious guidance we are getting from our body or from the Divine or our Innermost Self or from Life/the Universe, and instead choosing to do as the fickle and attached little mind is guiding.
So then maybe in some way ignorance is not the root of our problem. Once we have some basic knowledge, ignorance ceases to be our problem, using ignorance here in the mental-knowing/intellectual realm (though, of course, that “knowing” is so weak compared to actual direct experience). Even if we don’t have some basic knowledge of Higher Truth, everyone has a conscience which will accurately guide us, though sadly it does have to be interpreted through the mind. Our problem then, really, is implementation, often simply an inability to implement actions we know we need to, sometimes to the extent of blatant disregard for what we know to be Right. At some point, the negative results we have repeatedly gotten will, no doubt, lead us to decide otherwise; currently we just haven’t suffered enough.
For the purist yoga scholars, and it’s true, if we were not ignorant of Reality, of our True Nature, then we would automatically be choosing the actions most conducive to felicity. However, until that is our experience, it would be good if we were following the teachings and insights that we already have and know. If we believe them and have some degree of faith in the teachings we already have, let’s try more and more to live them, to bring them into action in our life, even when it’s challenging BUT DEFINITELY when it’s easy! Maybe you already have an idea of something you want to implement today or right now. And rather than second-guessing ourselves when we have an idea for a good action to take, let’s see what happens if we take it. If we practice implementing what we already know, or implementing the next level of what we know, then I think we’ll find our ignorance of our True Nature/Reality waning naturally of its own accord.