Yoga Sutra 2.4: Ignorance (Avidya) and four stages of colorings
- Yoga Sutras: Yoga Sutra 2.4
IGNORANCE (AVIDYA) AND FOUR STAGES OF COLORINGS
(Useful graphics are shown at this link)
YOGA SUTRA 2.4: The root forgetting or ignorance of the nature of
things (avidya) is the breeding ground for the other of the five
colorings (kleshas), and each of these is in one of four states: 1)
dormant or inactive, 2) attenuated or weakened, 3) interrupted or
separated from temporarily, or 4) active and producing thoughts or
actions to varying degrees.
(avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vicchinna udaranam)
avidya = spiritual forgetting, ignorance, veiling, nescience
kshetram = field, breeding ground
uttaresham = for the others
prasupta = dormant, latent, seed
tanu = attenuated, weakened
vicchinna = distanced, separated, cut off, intercepted, alternated
udaranam = fully active, aroused, sustained
SYSTEMATICALLY REDUCE THE COLORINGS: These colorings (kleshas) are
either: 1) active, 2) cut off, 3) attenuated, or 4) dormant. We want
to be able to observe and witness these stages so that we can
systematically reduce the coloring. Then the thought patterns are no
longer obstacles to deep meditation, and that is the goal.
See also the articles on:
Klisha and Aklishta Vrittis
Karma and the sources of Actions, Speech, and Thoughts
FOUR STAGES OF COLORING: The starting point is to observe what is the
current state of the coloring of individual thought patterns. This
self-awareness practice becomes a gentle companion in daily life and
1. ACTIVE, AROUSED (UDARAM): Is the thought pattern active on the
surface of the mind, or playing itself out through physical actions
(through the instruments of action, called karmendriyas, which
include motion, grasping, and speaking)? These thought patterns and
actions may be mild, extreme, or somewhere in between. However, in
any case, they are active.
Article on Indriyas (jnanendriyas and karmendriyas):
2. DISTANCED, SEPARATED, CUT OFF (VICCHINNA): Is the thought pattern
less active right now, due to there being some distance or
separation. We experience this often when the object of our desire is
not physically in our presence. The attraction or aversion, for
example, is still there, but not in as active a form as if the object
were right in front of us. It is as if we forgot about the object for
the now. It is actually still colored, but just not active (but also
not really attenuated).
3. ATTENUATED, WEAKENED (tanu): Has the thought pattern not just been
interrupted, but actually been weakened or attenuated? Sometimes we
can think that a deep habit pattern has been attenuated, but it
really has not been weakened. When we are not in the presence of the
object of attachment or aversion, that separation can appear to be
attenuation, when it actually is just not seen in the moment.
This is one of the big traps of changing the habits or conditionings
of the mind. First, it is true that we need to get some separation
from the active stage to the distanced stage, but then it is
essential to start to attenuate the power of the coloring of the
4. DORMANT, LATENT, SEED (PRASUPTA): Is the thought pattern in a
dormant or latent form, as if it were a seed that is not growing at
the moment, but which could grow in the right circumstances?
The thought pattern might be temporarily in a dormant state, such as
when asleep, or when the mind is distracted elsewhere. However, when
some other thought process comes, or some visual or auditory image
comes in through the eyes and ears, the thought pattern is awakened
again, with all of its coloring.
Eventually the seed of the colored thought can be burned in the fire
of meditation, and a burnt seed can no longer grow.
WHERE DOES ALL OF THIS GO? Through the process of Yoga meditation,
the thought patterns are gradually weakened, then can mostly remain
in a dormant state. Then, in deep meditation the "seed" of the
dormant can eventually be burned, and a burned seed can no longer
grow. Then, one is free from that previously colored thought pattern.
EXAMPLE: An example will help to understand the way these four stages
work together. We'll use the physical example of four people, in
relation to smoking cigarettes, because the example can be so clear.
The principles apply not only to objects such as cigarettes, but also
to people, opinions, concepts, beliefs, thoughts or emotions. The
principle also applies not only to gross level thoughts, but the
subtlest of mental impressions.
PERSON A: Has never smoked and has never felt any desire to smoke.
When Person A sees a cigarette, he recognizes what it is. There is a
memory impression in the chitta, but it is completely neutral--it
just is a matter or recognition. It is not colored; it is aklishta.
(The thought of cigarettes might be colored by aversion, if he is
offended by smoking, but that is a different example.)
PERSON B: Has smoked for many years, but then quit several years ago.
Occasionally she still says, "I'd kill for a cigarette!" but does not
smoke due to health reasons. Her deep impression of cigarettes
remains colored, and is actively playing out in both the unconscious
and conscious, waking states. At times, the impression of cigarettes
might not be active, such as when she is asleep, or doing some other
distracting activity. However, at the latent level, the impression is
still very colored in a potential form.
PERSON C: Has smoked for many years, but then quit several years ago.
He always says, "Oh, no, I don't want a cigarette; I never even think
about it." At the same time his gestures and body language reveal
something different. He may have very colored mental impressions of
attachment, but they are not allowed to surface into consciousness.
There is separation from the thought pattern, but the coloring has
not truly been attenuated (even though it goes into latent form
during sleep, or when the mind is distracted). This kind of blocking
the coloring is not what is intended in Yoga science.
PERSON D: Smoked for many years, but then quit several years ago.
After some time of struggling with the separation or cutting off
phase (Vicchinna), she then sat with this desire during meditation,
allowed the awareness of the attachment to rise, gently refrained
from engaging the impressions, and watched the coloring gradually
fade. During that time, the thought patterns were sometimes active,
sometimes separated, and sometimes temporarily dormant. However, it
is now as if she were a non-smoker. The desire has returned to seed
form or is completely gone, not only when asleep, or when the mind is
distracted, but also when in the presence of cigarettes in the
NOTICE THE STAGE OF INDIVIDUAL THOUGHTS: We want to observe our
thinking process often, in a gentle, non-judging way, noticing the
stage of the coloring of thought patterns. It can be great fun, not
just hard work. The mind is quite amusing the way that it so easily
and quickly goes here and there, both internally and through the
senses, seeking out and reacting to the objects of desire. (See also
the article on the four functions of mind)
There are many thoughts traveling in the train of mind, and many are
colored. This is how the mind works; it is not good or bad. By
noticing the colored thought patterns, understanding their nature by
labeling them, we can increasingly become a witness to the whole
process, and in turn, become free from the coloring. Then, the
spiritual insights can more easily come to the forefront of awareness
in life and meditation.
TRAIN THE MIND ABOUT COLORING: An extremely important part of
attenuating, or reducing the coloring of the colored thought pattern
is to train the mind that this coloring is going to bring nothing but
further trouble (This is described in Sutra 2.33).
It means training the mind that, "This is not useful!". This simple
training is the beginning of attenuating the coloring (The process
starts with observing, but then moves on to attenuating). It is
similar to training a small child; it all begins by labeling and
saying what is useful and not useful. Note that this is not a moral
judgment as to what is good or bad. It is more like saying whether it
is more useful to go left or right when taking a journey.
OFTEN, WE ARE STUCK IN A CYCLE: Often in life, we find that the
colored thought patterns move between active and separated stages,
and then back to active. They go in a cycle between these two. Either
they are actively causing challenges, or we are able to get some
distance from them, like taking a vacation.
BREAK THE CYCLE: However, it is possible that we may never really
attenuate them when engaged in such a cycle, let alone get the
colorings down into seed form, when we are stuck in this cycle. It is
important to be aware of this possibility, so that we can
intentionally pursue the process of weakening the strength of the
MEDITATION ATTENUATES COLORING: This is where meditation can be of
tremendous value in getting free from these deep impressions (2.11).
We sit quietly, focusing the mind, yet intentionally allow the
cycling process to play out, right in front of our awareness.
Gradually it weakens, so we can experience the deeper silence, where
we can come in greater touch with the spiritual aspects of meditation.