The Sanskrit term avidya translates loosely as “ignorance,” but more specifically, an ignorance of the nonduality of one’s own awareness. The cause of avidya is attributed to many things in the literature of the nonduality traditions, but if we’re going to move forward with the idea that nonduality becomes known when attention is able to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects, we have to admit that avidya can only be comprised of those things which prevent attention from resting on awareness without objects.
We’ve already talked about conceptual displacement, the tendency for conceptual objects about nonduality to be enlisted as proxies when one is imagining what nondual enlightenment is like as an experience. But this is only a problem for those who have already decided to believe that their consciousness is nondual. If you found somebody who had no inkling about the nonduality of their consciousness and asked them to put their attention on their awareness apart from conceptual objects, there’s very little chance they’d be successful, for the simple reason that avidya seems to have an origin that’s a priori to an awareness of conceptual objects.
I’m going to surmise this is due to the simple fact that nonduality has been completely and utterly ubiquitous as the source of our awareness. We can’t see it primarily because we have never seen without it. It’s not that the nonduality is somehow hidden, it’s more because it’s always been right here in front of us. This makes avidya a function of the lack of contrast between awareness with and without conceptual objects. Or put another way, we are and have always been too close and familiar with our nonduality to be able to notice it easily. Thus, an inattentional blindness arises from the looming ubiquity of nonduality, putting us right back into an appeal to grace, because that seems to be the only way that attention comes to rest on awareness apart from conceptual objects. This is why the famous and rather unusual 19th-century Bengali Hindu saint Sri Ramakrishna said, “Bhakti (devotion to God) is the easiest path.”
We’ll expand on that in a future essay. Suffice to say there is great value in an openness to be surprised rather than an attempt to meet what is often an ambitious personal schedule for nondual enlightenment. After all, everything you experience is already sopping with nonduality, so even if it remains unrecognized, you’ll always remain as close to it as anyone can ever be.