Vidya and Avidya

If you read translations of Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads, you will see that lot of people translating अविद्या as ‘ignorance’, and suggest we should get rid of it.

But is that what it really means, let’s try to find out, by understanding what Vidya and Avidya actually are.

As per Vishnu Purana, सा विद्या या विमुक्तये, i.e. “Vidya is what liberates”, which means any knowledge that leads to self-realization, is called as Vidya. This will include Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, various Puranas, and literature based on them.

In the same way, anything that is NOT meant to help achieve self-realization is called ‘Avidya’. That would includes all the knowledge of medicine, laws, science, technology, maths, finance, management, manufacturing, any everything else.

Not only that, as per Mundaka Upanishad (1.1.5), even the rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sam-Veda and Atherva-Veda, rituals, vratas, grammar, nirukta, Chandas, astrology is Avidya too.

So, calling all these streams of knowledge “ignorance”, doesn’t sound correct, right.

Thankfully it is NOT.

As per Isha Upanishad, 
अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽविद्यामुपासते । ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ विद्यायां रताः ॥ (Isha Upa. 9)
One enters into blinding darkness who study Avidya alone; and into more greater darkness if they study Vidya alone.

Not only that,
विद्यां चाविद्यां च यस्तद्वेदोभ्य सह ।अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वाऽमृतमश्नुते ॥ (Isha Upa. 11)
One who knows both vidya and avidya together, overcomes death through avidya and experiences immortality through vidya.

This way, we are expected to give equal importance to both “Vidya and Avidya”, as they help us fulfill different aspect of life. 

Avidya helps us fulfill the responsibilities and obligations that we have towards family, society or world, while Vidya helps is further on spiritual path.

So, lets not lose focus of both Vidya and Avidya, and work towards making progress on both.