Those who blindly follow rituals due to ignorance (avidya), enter into blinding darkness. Those who follow meditation (upasana/vidya) verily fall into greater darkness.
1). What is avidya ? What is the fate of people who live in avidya ?
Desire oriented action is called Avidya (kamya karma). All our life we look for happiness. In pursuit of happiness people indulge in different kind of activities both secular and religious. Many people follow religious rituals blindly. This is called avidya in Upanishad. Avidya is seeking happiness in the outer world while in reality SELF is of the nature of happiness.
There are people who blindly follow rituals with a view of getting benefits here in this world or hereafter in the next life. These rituals (karma) are called avidya ( ignorance) . The performance of rituals like agnihotra, puja, yagna and yaga for material benefits is described here as ignorance. We can also include all desire oriented actions (kamya karma) in this category of avidya.
Such people fall into blinding darkness of cycle of karma and consequent life of transmigration birth-death-birth cycle which keeps on repeating endlessly. After death they enter into world of manes (pitrloka) and subsequently come back to earthly plane.
2). What is vidya ? What is the fate of people who practice vidya ?
Vidya means knowledge. Knowledge is of two kinds – spiritual and secular. Spiritual knowledge is called apara vidya – higher knowledge and secular knowledge called para vidya. Vidya also refers to several meditation practices called upasana.
Meditation is of two types in Vedanta – objective and subjective. When an object is involved such a meditation is called upasana. On the other hand subjective meditation where SELF is meditated, such a meditation is called Nidhidhyasa.
Those who meditate on minor deities attain the abode of those deities after death. After exhausting karmic fruits of meditation, they are again born in earthly plane. They practice Upasana for benefits in this world or world hereafter. After death they go to the world of deities. On exhausting their karma they are born on earthly plane again. This is called greater darkness.
While karmakanda of Vedas prescribe rituals (karma) and meditation (upasana) as mandatory duties, we need to understand that both rituals and meditation can be practiced for a certain benefit (kamya karma) or simply as practices to be done to purify oneself (nishkama karma) to prepare oneself for SELF knowledge – atmajnana. _____________________________________________________________________
अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽविद्यामुपासते ।
अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽसम्भूतिमुपासते ।
andhaṃ tamaḥ praviśanti ye’vidyām upāsate |
tato bhūya iva te tamo ya uvidyāyāṃ ratāḥ || 9 ||
Andham – Blindness (ignorance of Self – I), tamaha – darkness characterized by ego ( I am body, mind, intellect, mine etc), ye – those who ; avidyam – rituals (karma) ; upasate – perform practices mechanically. tataha bhuya iva – into deeper; tamaha – darkness ; ya tu -he; vidyayam rataha – meditate (upasana) on minor deities.