Excerpted from the approximately 20 page article:
Karma and the Sources of Actions, Speech, and Thoughts
(Includes useful graphics; scroll down for the Avidya section)
AVIDYA/IGNORANCE: Avidya means ignorance, or to not see clearly.
Ignorance does not mean stupid or lacking in intelligence, but refers
to the root ability to ignore.
WAVE FORGETS IT IS OCEAN: Imagine an ocean, which is an ocean of
Consciousness, and that the wave forgets that its essential nature is
that of the ocean itself. That forgetting, or ignoring, allows the
wave to think that it is an individual, independent of the ocean. We
humans do this too; we forget we are part of the whole, and
declare, "I am so-and-so."
See also Yoga Sutras on Avidya or Ignorance:
Sutras 2.3-2.4 on five colorings
Sutra 2.5 on four kinds of Avidya
KINDS OF AVIDYA: The aspect of Avidya that has to do with our
fundamental forgetting that we are part of the whole is an extremely
subtle part of our being. However, this process also manifests in
more surface ways as well. For example, Avidya (ignorance) sets the
stage for us to confuse pain for pleasure, impure thoughts for pure
thoughts, temporary for long lasting, and our actions as being our
identity. You might want to read through Yoga Sutra 2.5 on types of
OPENS THE DOOR TO KARMA: This primal forgetting or ignorance of
Avidya allows for the possibility of the chains of Karma, or cause
and effect. Imagine for a moment that you were a totally enlightened
sage, and that you never, ever, lost touch with your eternal Self. If
you were in that state, you would be free, at all times, even when
actions were playing out! However, those who are not free, who do
have Karma, are influenced by this foundation of Ignorance or Avidya.
In forgetting our True Nature and falsely identifying ourselves with
the objects of the world that are stored in the mind, we are subject
to the playing out of the seemingly endless cycles of desires and
actions, cause and effect. The whole process of Karma begins with, or
rests on the foundation of Avidya or Ignorance.
AVIDYA IS AN ABILITY: This Avidya or Ignorance is actually an ability
or skill, in addition to being the most subtle obstacle; it is not
all bad. While it is true that Avidya masks our True Nature, it also
allows us to function in the world. Imagine that you did not have the
ability to ignore all of the thoughts going on in your unconscious
mind at a given moment. This could be a state of what psychologists
calling flooding of unconscious material, which might be called
psychosis. If we were masters of non-attachment (See Yoga Sutras 1.15-
1.16), then we could be completely open, with no Avidya or Ignorance,
and we would be unaffected by that flood of thoughts. That would be a
state of complete freedom from the bondage of Karma, the bondage of
thought, and the bondage of Avidya. However, in the meantime, it is
good to see how Avidya sets the stage for the play of Karma, so we
can do the practical work in our daily lives as spiritual aspirants.