Ignorance (P., avijja; S., avidya) is really the inability to distinguish between what arises and vanishes, namely, the Five Aggregates, with what does not arise and vanish, namely, the self. The self, according to the commentarial literature (Sâratthappakâsinî, ii. 268), is the island (dîpa), the refuge (tâna), the rock (lena), the ultimate rest (parâyana), and by implication, nirvana since it, too, is an island.
It is only by abandoning our identification with what is not the self, anattâ/anâtma, this being the Five Aggregates does, logically, arise vidya or gnosis. Before vidya, I was under the bondage or spell of anattâ (the aggregates) insofar as the Five Aggregates were believed by me to be my self. Now I have knowledge (vidya) of the true self which is an island, a refuge—the ultimate rest or parâyanam.
In straightforward English, ignorance is a state of spiritual confusion. I cannot distinguish between what is not my self (anattâ/anâtma) and my true self (attâ/âtma). In such a state of ignorance, I even believe that the Five Aggregates are the measure of all things. But how can what is impermanent be a measure? How can the aggregates be the noble witness, in other words? Only the self is the noble witness, according to the Buddha (A. i. 149).
Given that most of us exist in a state of profound ignorance, unable to distinguish between what is not really our true self from what is our true self, what does this mean for popular Buddhism? The quick answer: Almost all of popular Buddhism is wrong. Unknowingly, it teaches from a state of ignorance. Its basis is what is not the self (anâtman), namely, the Five Aggregates. Unfortunately, the multitudes of Westerners lap it up.
This is such a serious problem for modern Buddhism that it threatens to destroy the entire religion and its foundation. The Zennist blog is one of the few places on the Internet that doesn’t follow the mindless herd but listens, instead, to what the Buddha teaches. What is really amazing is that the Pali canon and the Chinese Agamas are so clear that we are not to regard as our self that which is not the self (the aggregates), that one could fairly conclude that modern Buddhists are stark raving mad—totally inverted (viparyâsa).