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Translations of
English ignorance,
Pali moha
Sanskrit moha
Tibetan གཏི་མུག
(Wylie: gti mug;
THL: timuk
Glossary of Buddhism

Moha (Sanskrit, Pali; Tibetan phonetic: timuk) is a Buddhist term commonly translated as "ignorance", "delusion", "bewilderment", "stupidity", etc. In the Theravada tradition, moha is considered to be a fundamental ignorance of the nature of reality. In the Mahayana tradition, moha is defined as a sub-category of this fundamental ignorance, that is a dumbfounded state of not knowing what to do–a state of being deeply clouded, in which the mind is not clear.



Within the Theravada tradition, moha is classified as one of the three unwholesome roots, which are the root or source of all of the other unwholesome mental factors.[1]

In this tradition, moha is considered to be synonymous with avijja, but the terms are used in different contexts. Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:

Ignorance (avijja) is actually identical in nature with the unwholesome root "delusion" (moha). When the Buddha speaks in a psychological context about mental factors, he generally uses the word "delusion"; when he speaks about the causal basis of samsara, he uses the word "ignorance" (avijja).[2]

Thus, the term avijja is used when identifying the first causal link in the twelve links of dependent origination, and moha is used when discussing the mental factors.


In the Theravada tradition, moha is considered to be a fundamental ignorance of the nature of reality.[3]

Nina van Gorkom explains:

When there is moha we live in darkness. It was the Buddha's great compassion which moved him to teach people Dhamma. Dhamma is the light which can dispel darkness. If we do not know Dhamma we are ignorant about the world, about ourselves; we are ignorant about good and ill deeds and their results; we are ignorant about the eradication of defilements.[3]

The Atthasālinī (Book II, Part IX, Ch.1, 249) states about moha:

'Delusion' (moha) has the characteristic of blindness or opposition to knowledge; the essence of non-penetration or the function of covering the intrinsic nature of the object; the manifestation of being opposed to right conduct or causing blindness; the proximate cause of unwise attention; and it should be regarded as the root of all akusala....[3]

Nina van Gorkom explains:

There are many degrees of moha. When we study Dhamma we become less ignorant about realities; we understand more about paramattha Dhammas, about kamma and vipaka. However, this does not mean that we can already eradicate moha. Moha cannot be eradicated merely by thinking about the truth; it can only be eradicated by developing the wisdom which knows 'the world in the ariyan sense': eye-sense, visible object, seeing-consciousness, ear-sense, sound, hearing-consciousness, and all realities appearing through the six doors.[3]



Within the Mahayana tradition, moha is classified as one of the three poisons, which are considered to be the root cause of suffering.

In the Mahayana tradition, moha is considered to be a subcategory of avidya. Whereas avidya is defined as a fundamental ignorance, moha is defined as an ignorance of cause and effect or of reality that accompanies only destructive states of mind or behavior.[4] Moha is sometimes replaced by avidya in lists of the three poisons. In contemporary explanations of the three poisons, teachers are likely to emphasize the fundamental ignorance of avidya rather than moha.


In the Mahayana tradition, moha is defined as a dumbfounded state of not knowing what to do–a state of being deeply clouded, in which the mind is not clear.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche writes:

While ignorance [avidya] is simply the state of not knowing, stupidity [timuk] is the state of mind that allows us to repeat the same thing over and over again despite its negative consequences. Stupidity shares a partnership with other disturbing emotions, for instance in the way we get burnt again and again by our own aggression or the way, when coupled with attachment, stupidity supports its addictions. The persistent indifference and murkiness of stupidity allow us to continually re-create our mistakes, even if they make us sick.[5]

Chögyam Trungpa writes:

The klesha of ignorance (timuk) is just superficial ignorance. In contrast, fundamental ignorance (avidya) is the refusal to relate at all with the totality of suffering. You want to boycott the whole situation.[6]

Alexander Berzin provides the following explanation based on the teaching of the Abhidharma:

Naivety (moha) is the confusion, either about cause and effect or about reality, that accompanies destructive behavior and thought. Such confusion may arise because of not knowing about these things or because of apprehending them in an inverted manner.[7]

Alternate translations[edit]

The following English terms are used as translations for moha within the Mahayana tradition:

  • bewilderment (Jeffrey Hopkins)
  • confusion
  • delusion (Jeffrey Hopkins)
  • ignorance (Chogyam Trunpa)
  • mental dullness
  • naivety (Alexander Berzin)
  • stupidity (Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path, Chapter: The Way to End Suffering
  2. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path, footnote 1
  3. ^ a b c d Gorkom (1975), Chapter 7: Ignorance
  4. ^ Berzin, Alexander. Berzin Archives, Glossary of Buddhist Terms
  5. ^ Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche (2008). p. 47.
  6. ^ Chögyam Trungpa (2009), p. 48
  7. ^ Berzin, Alexander (1998). p. 172


  • Ajahn Sucitto (2010). Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching. Shambhala.
  • Berzin, Alexander (1998). Developing Balanced Sensitivity: Practical Buddhist Exercises for Daily Life. Snow Lion.
  • Chögyam Trungpa (2009). The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation. Shambhala.
  • Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche (2008). Light Comes Through. Shambhala.
  • Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Bantam. Kindle Edition.
  • Leifer, Ron (1997). The Happiness Project. Snow Lion.
  • Mingyur Rinpoche (2007). The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness. Harmony. Kindle Edition.
  • Nina van Gorkom (1975), Abhidhamma in Daily life, Zolag

External links[edit]

Mahayana sources:

Theravada sources:

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