Attachment to Maya is an ocean of darkness (ignorance); its neither this
shore nor the one beyond can be seen. (sggs 89).

The SGGS (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) stresses the importance of the Shabad-Vicchar to understand as to what the ignorance is, how to remove it, become Pure or Untainted within...

This Gurbani Reflection is a minute attempt to reflect on this. During "ਸਿਧ ਗੋਸਟਿ" - Sidh Gosti - (also spelt Sidh Gost etc.), Sidhas posed many questions to Baabaa Nanak. Baabaa Nanak's answers a few of their questions in the following verses (ਰਾਮਕਲੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਸਿਧ ਗੋਸਟਿ ):

  • ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਬਾਧਾ ਸਰਪਨਿ ਖਾਧਾ ॥ ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਖੋਇਆ ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਲਾਧਾ ॥ ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਅੰਧਿਆਰਾ ॥ ਇਹੁ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੈ ਸੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਹਮਾਰਾ ॥੧੪॥ ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਬਾਧਾ ਸਰਪਨਿ ਖਾਧਾ ॥ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਖੋਇਆ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਲਾਧਾ ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਅੰਧੇਰਾ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਹਉਮੈ ਮੇਟਿ ਸਮਾਇ ॥੧੫॥: Kiou kar baadhaa sarapan khaadhaa. Kiou kar khoiaa kiou kar laadhaa. Kiou kar niramal kiou kar andhiaaraa. Ihu tatt beechaarai s guroo hamaaraa ||14|| Duramat baadhaa sarapan khaadhaa. Manmukh khoiaa Gurmukh laadhaa. Satigur milai andheraa jaai. Nanak houmai meti samaai ||15||: How is one (Jeeva or individual being) placed in bondage that the serpent (of Maya) keeps consuming him? How has he lost (the precious life, ਜੀਵਨ ਦਾ ਲਾਹਾ, etc.)? How can he rediscover or regain it (ਜੀਵਨ ਦਾ ਲਾਹਾ)? How does one become immaculate (within, ਅੰਤਹਕਰਨ) and pure? How is the darkness (of ignorance) removed? One who understands this Essence of Reality is our Guroo. ||14|| (Baabaa Nanak aswers the preceding questions posed by Sidhas) man is bound by evil-mindedness, and (because of bondage) he is consumed by the serpent (of Maya). As the self-willed Manmukh, one loses (the precious life, ਜੀਵਨ ਦਾ ਲਾਹਾ, etc.), and by becoming the Gurmukh, one gains (ਜੀਵਨ ਦਾ ਲਾਹਾ). Meeting the True Guru, darkness (of ignorance) is dispelled. Says Nanak, (it is by) eradicating egotism (becoming Pure within, ਅੰਤਹਕਰਨ), one merges in the Lord. ||15|| (sggs 939).

Spiritual ignorance (ਅਗਿਆਨੁ - Agiaan) is the shoreless ocean of darkness and suffering (Dukha). One exhibits this false consciousness under the sense of limited individuality grown out of his body-bound inclinations. Due to this wrong identity or impression that we are the product of material nature (Maya), we function with an arrogant sense of doership and enjoyership called false ego-sense (Haume) - the Manmukh lifestyle. Both these doership and enjoyership (egotism) go together, and create in us the misapprehension (ignorance) that we are limited entities.

  • ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਅੰਧੇਰੁ ਮਹਾ ਪੰਥੁ ਬਿਖੜਾ ਅਹੰਕਾਰਿ ਭਾਰਿ ਲਦਿ ਲੀਜੈ ॥੭॥: Agiaanu andheru mahaa panthu bikhraa ahankaari bhaari ladi leejai ||7|| (sggs 1326).
  • ਮਨਮੁਖ ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਜੋਨੀ ਪਾਏ ॥੨॥: Manmukh agiaanee jonee paae ||2||: The ignorant, self-willed Manmujhs are consigned to reincarnation ||2|| (sggs 160).
  • ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਜਗਤੁ ਅੰਧੁ ਹੈ ਭਾਈ ਸੂਤੇ ਗਏ ਮੁਹਾਇ ॥੨॥: Agiaanee jagat andh hai bhaaee soote gae muhaai ||2||: O brother, in ignorance the world is blind (due to the love of Maya); people sleeping in this ignorance are plundered (they lose their spiritual wealth - ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦੀ ਰਾਸਿ-ਪੂੰਜੀ ਲੁਟਾਣਾਂ) ||2|| (sggs 603).
In reality, we are the Joti-Svaroopa. Hence, Unlimited and Eternal. Being in the framework of time and space (Maya), it is our material body that is limited. However, we, the Spirit Soul, are made in the true image of God (Joti-svaroopa) which is Infinite. Thus, our identification with the physical body-frame creates non-apprehension of the Reality, which in turn, creates in us the misapprehension (ignorance) that we are the finite beings. The doubt (Bharam) and duality (Doojaa Bhaav) thus created become wall between us and ourMool within (Source, Origin...). This is the blind well of Spiritual ignorance the Gurbani so much talk about.
  • ਜੀਅ ਕੀ ਸਾਰ ਨ ਜਾਣਨੀ ਮਨਮੁਖ ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਅੰਧੁ ॥: Jeea kee saar na jaananee manmukh agiaanee andh: The self-willed Manmukhs are ignorant and blind; they do not know the secrets of the soul (i.e., they only pamper the physical body-frame or only know about sense-gratification, etc.) (sggs 959).
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਗਿਆਨ ਦੁਖੁ ਭਰਮੁ ਹੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਪੜਦਾ ਦੂਰਿ ਪਈਆਸਿ ॥: Antar agiaan dukh bharam hai parradaa doori paeeaas: There is ignorance and pain of doubt within, like a separating veil (i.e., veil of ignorance) between the man and God (sggs 40).
  • ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਅੰਧੇ ਦੂਜੈ ਲਾਗੇ ॥: Agiaanee andhe dhoojai laage: The blind (blind because of the love of Maya) ignorant (who don't not know their True Nature - ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਤੋਂ ਬੇ-ਸਮਝ ਮਨੁੱਖ) are attached to duality (sggs 1063).
A couple of examples may help us further understand and appreciate this point further. In the dark, a rope laying on the ground may be mistaken for a snake. We know that the rope alone is real, not the snake. However, the non-apprehension of the rope gives rise to the misapprehension of the snake. Once the darkness is removed, the rope alone remains; its misapprehension as a snake disappears. Similarly, in the darkness of a moonless night, a pole by the roadside may be mistaken for a ghost. As the darkness is removed, the ghost disappears; only the pole remains as reality. Thus a non-apprehension of the pole gives rise to misapprehension of a scary ghost. Similarly, the non-apprehension of the Reality gives us the misapprehension that we (Spirit Soul) are limited, unhappy, sorrowful, and miserable individuals. This non-apprehension and consequential misapprehension of the same Reality are together called ignorance (Agiaan) — Maya, illusion, delusion, false ego, mistaken identity, etc.
  • ਸਕਤਿ ਅਧੇਰ ਜੇਵੜੀ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਚੂਕਾ ਨਿਹਚਲੁ ਸਿਵ ਘਰਿ ਬਾਸਾ ॥: Sakti adher jevarhee bhram chookaa nihchal siv ghari vaasaa ||: In the darkness of Maya, I mistook the rope for the snake, but that is over, and now I dwell in the eternal home of the Lord (sggs 332).
  • ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥੫॥: Iou kahai Nanak mann toon joti saroop hai apanaa mool pashaan ||5||: Thus says Nanak: O my mind, you are the embodiment or the True Image of the Divine Light (i.e., God) - recognize your Origin ||5|| (sggs 441).
Let's Look at it from an another angle. For a gold-bracelet to think it is separate from the gold shows nothing but ignorance of its very nature, which is nothing but gold. Ocean can exist without a wave, however a wave can not exist without the ocean. For a wave to think that it is separate from the ocean is its ignorance. Similarly, a clay-pot is part of the clay; for it to think separate from the clay is ignorance of its very nature. Just as there is no division between a bracelet and gold, a wave and ocean, and a pot and clay, there is no division between a Jeeva (individual being) and the Infinite Consciousness. The division appears to exist only due to the ignorance of the mind identifying itself as different and separate substance.
  • ਤੋਹੀ ਮੋਹੀ ਮੋਹੀ ਤੋਹੀ ਅੰਤਰੁ ਕੈਸਾ ॥ ਕਨਕ ਕਟਿਕ ਜਲ ਤਰੰਗ ਜੈਸਾ ॥੧॥: Tohee mohee mohee tohee antar kaisaa. Kanak katik jal trang jaisaa ||1||: You are me, and I am You—what is the difference between us? We are like gold and the bracelet, or water and the waves ||1|| (sggs 93).
Form is possible only to the limited entity such as our physical body. Being in the framework of time and space, all such forms of existence are temporary. As our Soul is Unlimited, it is Formless and thus Eternal. However, the superimposition of our bodily consciousness (egoism) onto True Nature gives rise to this phenomenal world of names and forms. In other words, when one thing gets conditioned by something else, it possesses a form. Space is formless because it is unlimited. Similarly, the Pure Consciousness is Formless because it is beyond the limited body, mind, and intellect equipment.

The non-apprehension of Mool, by an individual (egoism) is called ignorance at the microcosmic level.

  • ਹਉਮੈ ਮੋਹੁ ਉਪਜੈ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ॥: Haumai moh upjai sansaraa: Out of egotistic attachment, the Universe is born (sggs 1057).
The dense forest of ignorance has many anthills occupied by poisonous snakes in the form of cravings for sense pleasures, many hidden holes and traps known as death, and many forest-fires of repeated pain and suffering. In this forest of ignorance roam thieves known as lust, greed, anger, pride, attachment, enviousness, violence, stubborn mindedness; with the most deadly enemy called false ego.

Unripe ego flourishes in the darkness of ignorance. According to the Gurbani, it is the worst disease man is afflicted with. Called the dreadful enemy of wisdom, it generates endless sinful actions, tendencies, mental conditioning, and limitations. In fact, our all sufferings evolve around it.

There are two kinds of ego: false ego and True or Pure Ego. The True Ego is Unconditioned Consciousness. The false or impure ego grows out of man's identification with the body (senses), mind (emotions), and intellect (thoughts). Thus, our material body is said to be the manifestation of ignorance born false ego. Those who are situated in their Mool are liberated.

  • ਹਉਮੈ ਸਭੁ ਸਰੀਰੁ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਓਪਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: Haumai sabh sareer hai hayumai opati hoi: Ego is within all the bodies; and through ego the beings are born (sggs 560).
The impure mind deluded with the wine of ignorance plays tricks on us. For example, when we do not know the true nature of something, it creates doubts about it. As a result, we feel bewildered. This is how the Maya separates us from the Reality and makes us forgetful of our Essential Nature, which is Sat (Truth), Chit (Knowledge or Consciousness), and Anand (Bliss).
  • ਸਦਾ ਸੱਚਿਦਾਨੰਦ ਸਰਬੰ ਪ੍ਰਣਾਸੀ ॥ Sadaa sachchdaanand sarabang pranaasee ||: Thou art ever Lord Truth, Consciousness and Bliss (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Jaap Sahib).
Living with ignorance is like sleeping in a burning house. In ignorant of the Truth, we aimlessly wander in the dreadful forest of the ever-changing objects of this world. So long one is under the spell of ignorance, he is unable to apprehend the Reality. Consequently, he makes the mistake of accepting this body as the oneself.

In this mistaken identity, one gets bound to spouse, children, friends, sense-pleasure, and so on. So deluded, man accepts an impermanent thing to be a permanent, an unreal to be a real, a false to be a truth, an end full to be an endless, an unlimited to be a limited, an infinite to be a finite, a poison to be a sweet, and so on. To put it otherwise, due to mental wilderness caused by ignorance (or darkness), one takes this world to be stable or permanent. In fact, this world is like potter's wheel that looks as if it stands still, but it revolves (or changes) at a tremendous speed!

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਸਹਜੈ ਸਭੁ ਅੰਧੁ ਹੈ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਗੁਬਾਰੁ ॥: Bin sahajai sabh andh hai maya moh gubaar: Without Sahaj (ਆਤਮਕ ਅਡੋਲਤਾ ), all are blind (in the love of Maya). (Because of this) emotional attachment to Maya, there prevails utter darkness (in the world) (sggs 68).
A Spiritual seeker who has gained fair control and purification of his mind and intellect may ask: what is the quickest means by which to cross over this ocean of ignorance and go beyond? In other words, how one can cross over this world-ocean of Maya which is so terrifying, agitated, and turbulent due to one's mental wilderness, delusion, fear, emotional attachment, doubts, duality, and so on ?

After explaining us the nature of ignorance, the Gurbani's (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS) Giaan offers guidance and instructions as to how the whole human race can go beyond this boundless state of ignorance.

Spiritual Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan) is an antidote to ignorance. In other words, it is this Spiritual Wisdom that can destroy the dense forest of ignorance. For example, sometime clouds may create an apparent covering of the sun from our limited vision. However, as wind clears away the clouds, we are able to see the sun again. In this analogy, the clouds are the ignorance, the sun is the Reality, and the wind is the Spiritual Wisdom. When the breeze of Spiritual Wisdom clears away the clouds of ignorance, we see the vision of the Reality.

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਤਿਮਰ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਅਧੇਰੁ ਚੁਕਾਇਆ ॥: Nanak Gurmukh giaan praapat hovai timar agiaan andher chukaaiaa: O Nanak, the spiritual wisdom (ਉੱਚੀ ਸਮਝ, etc.) is attained by becoming the Gurmukh, and the pitch-black darkness of ignorance is dispelled (sggs 512).
This deadly snake of ignorance can be killed with the sword of Divine Knowledge (Aatam Giaan) Understood through the Shabad-Vichaar.
  • ਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਜਨੁ ਗੁਰਿ ਦੀਆ ਅਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਧੇਰ ਬਿਨਾਸੁ ॥: Giaan anjanu guri deeaa agiaan andher binaasu: The Guru has given the collyrium of Spiritual Wisdom, (by which) the darkness of ignorance is distroyed (sggs 293).
  • Salutation to that noble Guru who with the collyrium stick of spiritual wisdom has opened my eyes of one blinded by the darkness of ignorance (Vedas).
The ignorance turns our mind into slag iron. The Spiritual Knowledge (Giaan) transforms this slag iron into gold. Therefore, the Gurbani promises us that - by becoming the Gurmukh (the spiritual Being, etc.) - if we make the Aatam-Giaan (Divine Knowledge) attained through the Shbad-Vichaar as the boatman, then we can go across this shoreless ocean of ignorance. The Gurbani reminds us to make this boat now. Because, when the ocean is already churning and overflowing, then it is too late to make it!
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾ ਮਾਰਣੁ ਸਬਦੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ ॥੨॥: Nanak Maya kaa maaran Sabad hai gurmukh paaiaa jaai ||2||: O Nanak, Shabad is the killer of Maya (ਮਾਇਆ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰਭਾਵ ਮੁਕਾਣ ਦਾ ਵਸੀਲਾ), and it is obtained by becoming the Gurmukh ||2|| (sggs 853).
The life is fruitful only to those who have awakened Divine Knowledge Within. Therefore, the Gurbani urges us to get established in Wisdom "here" and "now"; another opportunity may not arise.
  • ਕਿਆ ਭਵੀਐ ਸਚਿ ਸੂਚਾ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਸਾਚ ਸਬਦ ਬਿਨੁ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Kiaa bhaveeai sachi soochaa hoi. Saach sabad bin mukti na koi ||1||Rahaaou|| (sggs 938).
Misapprehensions are enchanting only to the ignorant mind. Divine Knowledge alone removes ignorance. Once the ignorance is dispelled, or once the mind is purified of egoism and illumined with the Spiritual Wisdom, its all misapprehensions end. Upon attaining this state of direct Vision or apprehension of the Self, non-apprehension of Reality will not rise again. When the True Wisdom arises, the unreality vanishes. Only the One Pure, All-pervading Consciousness remains.
  • ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੈ ਸਿਮਰਨਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਤਤੁ ਬੁਧਿ ॥: Prabh kai simran giaan dhiaan tat budh: In the remembrance of God are Divine knowledge, meditation and the essence of wisdom (sggs 262).

— T. Singh