I have read many Q&As here on ignorance but I am concerned with the recognition of my own ignorance on particular topics. I feel like recognizing my ignorance helps me to reduce my identification with my limited understanding and the opinions and emotions this brings up. I feel like it keeps me from feeling any need to argue about things I recognize I am not well informed about, and rather communicate how my limited understanding connects to things I believe in. For lack of a better word it seems to help me with equanimity, this posture of recognizing that I just don't know.

Maybe ignorance is the wrong word, but I am wondering if Buddhism addresses this idea.

  • 3
    I think that in this topic you're not asking for a simple definition of Avidyā. Instead I think you're saying that you find it better to "recognize ignorance" when it exists (instead of perhaps identifying with, grasping, or arguing in favour of a wrong view); and you're asking whether Buddhism addresses (has more to say about) this seemingly-beneficial aspect of recognition-of-ignorance.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 20:38
  • Precisely. You have expressed my real question well.
    – GregJarm
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:30

5 Answers 5


These suttas might be relevant to what you're asking about:

I think that what the OP is describing is not "ignorance" -- it's describing not getting attached to views, not getting into arguments about views.

The second statement in the OP, i.e. "communicate how my limited understanding connects to things I believe in", might be related to dharma being something you should "see (or know) for yourself".

Also (in a different way from the suttas above) I think that this answer is a description of living with ... let's call it "uncertainty" rather than "ignorance".

  • I like the use of the term uncertainty here. If ignorance is a lack of knowledge but there is no such thing as complete knowledge, then uncertainty captures the idea of "I know not enough to be certain" without assuming there is some perfect state of "knowing all" so as to be free of ignorance on the matter. Uncertainty captures the practice in my mind of being able to say to others that I am not knowledgeable enough to assert my opinion with much certainty.
    – GregJarm
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:39
  • Paramatthaka Sutta appeals the most to me as an answer. Thank you. I like to say "The world is too complex for me to know it is right to rain tomorrow." This captures that essence. I can learn all there is to learn yet still realize my opinion on the rightness of rain is only a formulation of my ego. I feel like we live in a world where people think "the one with the most facts wins" But to me this feels like attachment. Uncertainty says to me "I do not know but this is how I feel" and it allows me to feel differently tomorrow and it leaves open room for how everyone one else feels.
    – GregJarm
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:50

I heard a talk recently in which a Zen master said ignorance in Buddhism really meant a lack of awareness of the mind (i.e. letting it wander in stories and daydreams), rather than the normal meaning of ignorance.

I don't know if this is orthodox Buddhism (or orthodox Zen for that matter), but it makes more sense to me than interpreting 'ignorance' as factual ignorance.


Ignorance is a bad word, a bad translation. Avija means "state of not knowing". Just like you said. We are all identifying unless we are enlightened or something. Do you mean that you are aware of what you don't know? Like seeing things as they are + the '"not knowing"? .. with practice, the "not knowing" will slowly leave. I hope I understood you correctly- Metta

  • Yes. Ignorance sounds bad and when I look it up in relation to Buddhism I seem to find this Avija which seems to be more about a lack of awareness of the mind or the nature of reality. But here I just mean that I feel like there is something within Buddhism that speaks to the recognition of one's limited understanding of a particular matter.
    – GregJarm
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:36
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    @Greg Well, we don't really 'need' to know. We need to be wholesome, be mindful and recognize our limitations. Then knowing just happens. There is no striving for vija(knowing). Oh yes, we need to be aware of our limitations in avija, intellectual knowledge ,endurance and courage. We should be gentle with ourselves and at other times be strict with ourselves. Just like a teacher would. The more we practice the better our inner teacher can teach us, so to speak.-Metta
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 1:51

Avijjā / Moha in refers to not knowing the Three marks of existence at the experiential. It is not necessarily being ignorant about the subject matter may it being even a Buddhist theory.

Also one way the Buddhist practice can be viewed as is: pariyatti (theory), patipatti (practice), pativedha (experience / verification). Hence it is vital to learn the theories and it is this which will be validated and verified through the practice. More you need knowledge gaps try your best to learn and fill them.

Also do not let you mind get disturbed due to any knowledge gaps. Be equanimous, than being jubilant, develop ego, when you know more and let down when you know less.


You are concerned about the cup of water you are holding (ignorance on a particular topic, and your reaction to seeing your ignorance of that) when you are standing in the ocean up to your neck (ignorance - the basic condition for existence until enlightened).

The Upanisa Sutta lists the Supporting Conditions for enlightenment, and at the very bottom - the fundamental condition - is Ignorance. This word comes from the word Gnosis: to know. So ignorance simply means, to not know. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about that, we are all born that way. So, it is not bad or blameworthy, it just means: get some knowledge.

You can never know everything, so there will ever be "ignorance on a particular topic", but you are not called to know everything, you must only know how to run your own life: how to have equanimity and balance, and to respond skillfully. (That wasn't so dreadful, now was it?)

Enlightenment is not so incredibly high a bar; stop thinking it is far off. Like awakeness when you are asleep. You will get there inevitably. Then the ocean will be drained and you can walk across.

  • I appreciate the response, it is eloquent. But it doesn't seem to match my question. I'm not worried or ashamed. I said I thought my recognition of my ignorance was helpful and wondered if Buddhism had something to say about this. I did not ask about enlightenment or say I thought it was difficult or far away. I also don't see how you can reconcile "get some knowledge" with both the assertion that ignorance is a fundamental condition for enlightenment as well as the assertion that there one will always be ignorant. If knowledge is a bottomless well, why would you ask that I jump down it?
    – GregJarm
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:09
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    I apologize for an unclear response, thank you for asking. Yes, you are not concerned, I suppose I was trying to write a more general answer and missed the mark. My main point was to mention the Upanisa Sutta, which I have found extraordinarily helpful. It lists a series of stages, and I have seen some of these in my progress. The message of the sutta is positive, and I think that the idea of 'ignorance' is often misunderstood. Perhaps I was trying too hard. But this sutta seems to directly fit with what you asked about.
    – user2341
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 19:36

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