andham tamah : Blinding darkeness
pravis’anti ye : enter those who
avidyAm upAsate : serve (are close to, adore, are engaged in ) avidyA
tatah bhUya iva te tamah: they (enter) that darkness like state of being
ya u vidyAyAgm (vidyAyAm) ratAh : who take pleasure in (are devoted to) Vidya.
Initial Thoughts :
The root vid means “to know”. Vidya refers to knowledge or personified knowledge Vidya Devi – Saraswathi Devi.
aVidya could refer to not-knowledge or the personification of not-knowledge Avidya Devi. Not-knowledge might be ignorance or it might be anything else rituals, devotion… as long as it is not-knowledge.
What does Sankaracharya say?
He quotes the statements “vidyayaa devalokah” and “karmaNaa pitrulokah”.
He says that Vidya is the perception of oneness as described in the previous mantras and anything else including Vedoktha Karma (Karma as stipulated in the Vedas) which is done for a benefit, is avidya, because it implies not-seeing oneself in all and all in oneself. So performance of Karma alone, without knowing, will lead you to darkness.
Similarly those who neglect the Vedoktha Karma (Karma as stipulated in the Vedas), and happily take pleasure in knowledge, Vidya alone, also go into darkness.
In Sankara’s life context, he may have just had to worry about avidya as selfishly done karma and vidya as knowledge isolated from karma. At other times, in other contexts, avidya may taken different meanings.
- Doing detached Karma with your karmendriyas, but with your mind engaged in Vidya – Divine Knowledge, not in what you are going to “get out of it”.