Unawareness is a lack of understanding of the true nature of things, which leads us into wrong views. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, Gautama Buddha stated:
‘Because of their unawareness, people are always thinking wrong thoughts and always losing the right viewpoint and, clinging to their egos, they take wrong actions. As a result, they become attached to a delusive existence.’
As we are unaware of the true nature of the world, we start clinging to objects, people and ourselves, this leads to wrong actions and causes us to grow attached to our perception of reality.
So what exactly are we unaware of? There are three main things we are not aware of, or if we are, it is only on an intellectual level, they are impermanence, non-self and cause & effect.
The belief that things are permanent leads us to become attached to sensual objects. This in turn leads to endless suffering when things change, break or die. I am not just talking about material objects here, but also about people, religions, the weather, countries, sporting teams and so on.
Our strong attachment to a fixed and solid sense of self also leads us into unending suffering. Even though we know we are made up of innumerable parts, we still think of ourselves as being a solid, permanent thing. This causes great suffering for us when we become sick, grow old or are nearing death. In fact we are so attached to this sense of self, we cannot even face the fact that we are someday going to die.
If we plant an rice seed we are going to get rice, if the conditions, such as soil, weather and so on, are correct. What we most certain will not get is a banana, because the causes and conditions are not correct for a banana to grow. So everything comes into being through a series of causes and conditions. This is another thing we are unaware of.
It means your actions have consequences. If you spend your time being horrible to everyone around you, people are not going to like, respect and care for you. This is true for any of our actions of body and speech. So if we understand that there are consequences, we are more likely not to do wrong or harmful actions.
So in order to reduce our suffering and stop ourselves getting attached to a delusive existence, we have to become aware of impermanence, non-self and causes & conditions.