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Yoga Sutra 2.5: Four types of Ignorance (Avidya) to transcend

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    Yoga Sutras: Yoga Sutra 2.5 FOUR TYPES OF IGNORANCE (AVIDYA) TO TRANSCEND http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-20109.htm#2.5 (Useful graphics are shown at this
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2005
      Yoga Sutras: Yoga Sutra 2.5
      (Useful graphics are shown at this link)

      YOGA SUTRA 2.5: Ignorance (avidya) is of four types: 1) regarding
      that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure,
      3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4)
      taking that which is not-self to be self.
      (antiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih

      antiya = non-eternal, impermanent, ephemeral
      ashuchi = impure
      duhkha = painful, sorrowful, suffering
      anatmasu = non-self, non-atman
      nitya = eternal, everlasting
      shuchi = pure
      sukha = pleasurable, pleasant
      atman = Self, soul
      khyatih = taking to be, supposing to be, seeing as if
      avidya = spiritual forgetting, ignorance, veiling, nescience

      VIDYA IS "WITH" KNOWLEDGE: Vidya means knowledge, specifically the
      knowledge of Truth. It is not a mere mental knowledge, but the
      spiritual realization that is beyond the mind. When the "A" is put in
      front of Vidya (to make it Avidya), the "A" means without.

      AVIDYA IS "WITHOUT" KNOWLEDGE: Thus, Avidya means "without" Truth
      or "without" knowledge. It is the first form of forgetting the
      spiritual Reality. It is not just a thought pattern in the
      conventional sense of a thought pattern. Rather, it is the very
      ground of losing touch with the Reality of being one with the ocean
      of Oneness, of pure Consciousness.

      MEANING OF IGNORANCE: Avidya is usually translated as "ignorance,"
      which is a good word, so long as we keep in mind the subtlety of the
      meaning. It is not a matter of gaining more knowledge, like going to
      school, and having this add up to receiving a degree. Rather,
      ignorance is something that is removed, like removing the clouds that
      obstruct the view. Then, with the ignorance (or clouds) removed, we
      see knowledge or Vidya clearly.

      Even in English, this principle is in the word "ignorance." Notice
      that the word contains the root of "ignore," which is an ability that
      is not necessarily negative. The ability to ignore allows the ability
      to focus. Imagine that you are in a busy restaurant, and are having a
      conversation with your friend. To listen to your friend means both
      focusing on listening, while also ignoring the other conversations
      going on around you. However, in the path of Self-realization, we
      want to see past the veil of ignorance, to no longer ignore, and to
      see clearly.


      Temporary <-----> Eternal
      Impure <-----> Pure
      Painful <-----> Pleasureful
      Not-self <-----> Self

      fabric, like a screen on which a movie might then be projected. It is
      the ground in which comes the other four of the colorings described
      below [I-ness, attachment, aversion, fear]. Avidya (ignorance) is
      somewhat like making a mistake, in which one thing is confused for
      another. Four major forms of this are:

      1) SEEING THE TEMPORARY AS ETERNAL: For example, thinking that the
      earth and moon are permanent, or behaving as if our possessions are
      permanently ours, forgetting that all of them will go, and that our
      so-called ownership is only relative.

      2) MISTAKING THE IMPURE FOR THE PURE: For example, believing that our
      thoughts, emotions, opinions, or motives in relation to ourselves,
      some other person, or situation are purely good, healthy, and
      spiritual, when they are actually a mixture of tendencies or

      social, familial, and cultural settings there are many actions that
      seem pleasure filled in the moment, only later to be found as painful
      in retrospect.

      4) THINKING THE NOT-SELF TO BE THE SELF: For example, we may think of
      our country, name, body, profession, or deep predispositions to
      be "who I am," confusing these with who I really am at the deepest
      level, the level of our eternal Self.

      BOTH LARGE AND SMALL SCALES: As you reflect on these forms of Avidya,
      you will notice that they apply at both large scales and smaller
      scales, such as the impermanence of both the planet Earth and the
      object we hold in our hand. The same breadth applies to the others as

      I AM A TOMATO: Imagine that I said to you, "I am a tomato." What
      would you think? At first, you might smile and wait for the punch
      line of the joke. What if I said it again and again, "I am a tomato."
      What if you came to discover that I really believed that I am a
      tomato? You would probably think I was crazy and want to have me
      locked up. Yet, this is exactly what we do with many aspects of life
      and relationship to the objects of the world. We identify with them
      and mistakenly think that, "This is 'who' I am." This is avidya, the
      veiling or ignorance that prevents us from seeing clearly. We come
      from a country and think we "are" that country. We say, "I am
      American," or "I am Indian," etc. We follow a certain path or teacher
      and say, "I am Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, or Muslim." We
      say, "I am a daughter, son, father, mother, sister or brother; I am
      the doer of this or that action; I am good or bad, I am happy or
      sad." Actually, none of these are ultimately "who" I am. One who
      begins to intuit that "who I am" is beyond all of these has begun the
      journey of seeing beyond the ignorance called avidya, and is on the
      journey to realization of the True Self, by whatever name you call
      that, whether Purusha, Atman, Self, Soul or something else. It is a
      journey of yoga meditation and contemplation, leading one from the
      ignorance or avidya of the not-self to knowing that, which we truly

      individual thought patterns, it is Avidya (spiritual forgetting) that
      allows us to get entangled in the thought in the first place. If in
      the moment the thought arises, there is also complete spiritual
      awareness (Vidya) of Truth, then there is simply no room for I-ness
      to get involved, nor attraction, nor aversion, nor fear. There would
      be only spiritual awareness along with a stream of impressions that
      had no power to draw attention into their sway. Witnessing this
      Avidya (spiritual forgetting) in relation to thoughts is the practice.

      A MISTAKE OF DIRECTION: Avidya is a sort of mistake of direction (not
      meaning that manifestation of people or the universe is a mistake).
      One direction leads you into greater suffering, while the other leads
      towards the eternal joy.

      See the graphic on the wave and the ocean:

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