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I'm confused as to this because while reading the Isha Upanishad I came across this mantra or verse (which is the ninth verse) of the Isha Upanishad it says according to (my knowledge) that those who worship avidya reach and darkness and even those who worship vidya enter even greater darkness. Now what is trying to be said here? Is it trying to be said that the two (i.e Vidya and avidya) are to be performed together for the benefit as seen in the next verse? I tried reading Shankaras commentary on this verse but I couldn't get a grasp of the meaning so could you please explain this verse for me?

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  • All desires bind a Jiva into a vicious circle of becoming.(reason for bondage), whose root cause is Avidya .. One who is not enamourerd by the glamour of the world, and does not cherish worldly desires(ie one who has got vairagya-dispassion) opts for Spiritual pursuit, thus has a seeking for some means, ... that prepares ones mind for spiritual wisdom. This means-upaayam is understood as Vidya here in this context (Say like bhakti yog, karma yog, jnana marg etc.)
    – Athrey
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:19
  • The connotation here is akin to that of Bhagavad gita Sri Krishna ,enumerates in 13th chapter , those 20 qualities of mind , which are termed as jnana (Same as Vidya in Isavasya) or knowledge, as it prepares the mind , befitting an aspirant to know the Kshetrajna(Spiritual Knowledge- Tattvam ).(20 qualities starts from amanitvam , adhambhitvam (13.7).... till Tattva jnarta darshanam).
    – Athrey
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:19
  • Why greater darkness? Here the aspirant is captivated by Vidya(means-methods sought for spiritual wisdom) ( in modern times something like Bhajans / listening to spiritual discourses etc). Aspirant, smitten by the means-upaayam is still stuck in a bondage.A transport is sought for reaching the destination.One have to leave the transport also , upon the culmination of destination. If one bound by the transport itself , even then the destination is not attained.That is the idea.
    – Athrey
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:19
  • @Athrey why don't you not post rather than just commenting?
    – Rajam
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:21
  • If in answer box , I may have to quote the words of a bonafide acharya/scholar in verbatim .But In comment I ve the advantage to freehand, whatever I've come to know of.
    – Athrey
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:43

4 Answers 4

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Sri Shankaracharys intreprets , avidya to be cermonial piety vaidika rituals ( like darsapurnamasa etc ) that are purpose oriented/ upaasana of deities..... Vidya to be intellectual knowledge on ritualistic philosophy ( without getting attuned to its deeper meaning/intent)

Here Vidya cannot be the tattva-jnana(knowledge of Brahman), because a state of tattva-jnana cannot be a greater darkness

As Sri Shankara, had disapproved/refuted Jnana Karma Samucchaya (combination of jnana and karma is a means to liberation) in and through His commentries (though mimamsakas may advocate it), .. any cermonial piety cannot be a direct cause of tattva jnana ,(still it could be an indirect cause via chitta shuddhi - if it's deeper sense is recognised).... notwithstanding one (ritual) can be a fallback of the other(upasana) according to Sri Sitarama Saastri

acquisition of knowledge of the Brahman by renunciation of all desires (as precursor) has been already explained in the first mantra .. īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |(renounce desire for ephemeral things and do not crave for possession)**as one can't advance to ascetism without true renunciation.( also Gita demeans ascetism without renunciation as Mityachara/ Vimudathma - chap3)

Some commentators opine Vidya to be the (intellectual conceit,)those who have intellectually understood scriptures without any actual experience , (but spiritually poor ) is more dangerous than (more darkness) than ignorance itself.(according to Swami Sarvananda)

those who are exclusively devoted to pursuit of wisdom (those who have become ascetic by surpassing the spirit of renunciation/it may not refer to a genuine sage/ascetic)


Principal Upanishads Dr. S Radhakrishnan

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Isavasya Verse 9 ,Swami Sarvananda RK mutt

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Isavasya Verse 9, Sitarama Saastri

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andhaṁ tamaḥ praviśanti

ye ’vidyām upāsate

tato bhūya iva te tamo

ya u vidyāyāḿ ratāḥ

Those who engage in the culture of nescient activities shall enter into the darkest region of ignorance. Worse still are those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge. -- Sri Isopanisad 9

The so-called knowledge refers to the education of the karmis who think that materialistic advancement is the ultimate goal of life, and to so-called scholars who misinterpreted the real message of the Vedas. Their knowledge is misleading and is therefore more dangerous than ignorance of the simple men. It is better to be ignorant that have a misleading education.

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It means we need both avidya and vidya for liberation. Verse 9 of the Isha Upanishad:

Whoever knows knowledge and ignorance – both of them, together – by ignorance crosses over death and, by knowledge, reaches immortality.

We have the effect of knowing avidya - crossing over death - and what one crosses over to - immortality. In other words, by knowing avidya, one knows vidya. But knowing avidya comes first; crossing over death comes first. Then you arrive at the destination of immortality - knowledge of vidya.

For the ninth verse, the confusion comes from using darkness to describe both avidya and vidya. As it does, the darkness pertaining to avidya is of a different kind to that of vidya; that of vidya is a greater darkness. What this means is that it has depth, and, unlike with avidya, one knows they are in it. The darkness of avidya is described as "blind" darkness. Vidya is the awareness that one is or was in darkness. This knowledge brings depth, hence greater darkness.

Darkness is not exclusively associated with ignorance - the origin of creation is said to begin with darkness within darkness, where there was neither night nor day, death nor immortality. This pertains to the absolute truth, where there is nothing to realise and all is unchangeable.

Another way of looking at it is one who has avidya experiences deep or dreamless sleep as blind darkness (non-existence) and one who has vidya experiences it as a greater darkness - knows existence does not stop in sleep, Turiya. Turiya is the place of vidya.

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  • 11th verse of which text? Do you mind adding that as well?
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jun 25, 2023 at 16:12
  • My apologies - from the same text. I will edit my answer.
    – Lewis
    Jun 25, 2023 at 16:26
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Upanishads and Vedic literature classify knowledge into two categories:- the lower knowledge (apara vidya) which includes karma-kanda, sacrifices, duties and knowledge of scriptures. This is often equated with ignorance (avidya). The second one is called upper knowledge (para vidya) which includes atma-gyan i.e. knowledge of Atma (soul) and Paramatma (supereme being). It is equated with knowledge (vidya).

Mundaka Upanishad 1:1:5. 'The lower knowledge is the Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (ceremonial), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Khandas (metre), Gyotisha (astronomy); but the higher knowledge is that by which the Indestructible (Brahman) is apprehended.'

Agni Purana Chapter 383 1-4. I have expounded to you the Āgneyapurāṇa of the form of Brahman. It with extension and without extension consists of the two vidyās[1]. The learning consists of the Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva (veda). Viṣṇu is the creator of the world. Prosody, phonetics, grammar, lexicon, astronomy, etymology, dharmaśāstra (treatises on religious duties), mīmāṃsā (inquiry), nyāya (logic), science of medicine, archery, science of music and science of statecraft are all (known as parā) vidyā. The other one beyond the Vedas is lord Hari known as aparā vidyā (that which has nothing superior to it). Highest knowledge is the supreme undecaying thing.

A person must posses both these knowledges to attain enlightenment or moksha.

Mundaka Upanishad 1:1:4. He said to him: 'Two kinds of knowledge must be known, this is what all who know Brahman tell us, the higher and the lower knowledge.'

Isha Upanishad also presents the same idea that no one can reach the god with just vidya or avidya.

  1. They who worship Avidya alone fall into blind darkness; and they who worship Vidya alone fall into even greater darkness.
  1. He who simultaneously knows both Vidya and Avidya gets over Death by Avidya and attains immortality by Vidya.

Isha Upanishad (Shankar Bhashya)

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