My blog is about thy self, and for thy self, with bits and pieces of me sprinkled with creativity.
Avidya: An identity crisis
“…the yogic texts call avidya—a basic ignorance of who we are and of the underlying reality that connects everything in the universe.
“When everything you have relied on seems to dissolve, you get not only a glimpse of the cracks in your psychological infrastructure but also a chance to examine the source of the problem, which gives you a better shot at getting free of it.
“The Sanskrit word vidya means wisdom or knowledge—the wisdom earned through deep practice and experience. The prefix a indicates a lack or an absence. In the yogic sense, avidya means something that goes far beyond ordinary ignorance. Avidya is a fundamental blindness about reality. The core ignorance we call avidya isn’t a lack of information, but the inability to experience your deep connection to others, to the source of being, and to your true Self. Avidya has many layers and levels, which operate in different ways. We see it threaded through every aspect of our lives—in our survival strategies, our relationships, our cultural prejudices, the things we hunger for and fear. All forms of cluelessness and fogged perception are forms of avidya. But behind each of avidya’s manifestations is the failure to recognize that essentially you are spirit, and that you share this with every atom of the universe.
“In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.5, we are given four useful clues for identifying when we have slipped into avidya. Each clue points to a particular way in which we take surface perceptions for reality. It cautions us to look deeper—to inquire beneath what our physical senses or cultural prejudices or egoic belief structures tell us. “Avidya,” the sutra says, “is to mistake the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self.
“If you explore this sutra, it can lead you to a profound reflection on the illusory nature of perception… The primary purpose of the sutra is to question our notions of identity. But, at the same time, it offers a window into some of our garden-variety forms of cluelessness.
“…On a deeper level, it’s what keeps you from seeing that your conception of “me”—”my personality,” “my self”—is not stable and is certainly not permanent, that just as your body is an ever-shifting configuration of atoms, so your internal sense of self consists of thoughts about who you are (as in “I’m pretty” or “I’m confused”), feelings like happiness or restlessness, and moods such as depression or hopefulness—all of which are subject to change.
“…when you apply the sutra on a deep level, you see that it is describing the ignorance that makes you mistake what is a passing state—a complex of thoughts and emotions and bodily sensations—for the pure consciousness that is your true Self.
“Mistaking the false self for the true Self? This is the essence, the linchpin, of the whole structure of avidya. It’s not just that you identify with the body. You identify with every passing mood or thought about yourself, without recognizing that within you there is something unchanging, joyful, and aware…
Wake Up Call:
“Taken together, these flavors of avidya cause you to live in a kind of trance state—aware of what’s obvious on the surface but unable to recognize the underlying reality. Since this personal trance is fully supported by the beliefs and perceptions of the culture around you, it’s difficult for most of us even to recognize the existence of the veil. To fully dismantle avidya is the deep goal of yoga, and it demands a radical shift of consciousness. But the good news is that just recognizing that you’re entranced is to begin to wake up from the dream. And you can begin to free yourself from its more egregious manifestations by simply being willing to question the validity of your ideas and feelings about who you are.
“…One of the great moments for catching your own avidya is to tune in to the first conscious feeling that surfaces as you wake up in the morning. Then, notice where it takes you…
“…This automatic process is the action of what in yoga is called the “I-maker,” or ahamkara—the mechanical tendency to construct a “me” out of the separate components of inner experience…
“…The problem—the avidya— occurs because you identify with it. In other words, you don’t think, “Here’s some sadness,” but, “I’m sad.” You don’t think, “Here’s a brilliant idea.” You think, “I’m brilliant.” Remember, avidya is “to mistake the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self.” In your internal universe, that means habitually mistaking an idea or feeling for “me” or “mine.” Then you judge yourself as good or bad, pure or impure, happy or sad.
“…What you’ll notice here is how the basic misperception—taking the non-Self (that is, a mood) for the Self—leads inexorably to feelings of aversion (“I can’t stand being depressed”) or attachment (“I feel so much better now that the sun is shining”). And these feelings bring up fear—in this case, fear that the sadness would be permanent, or that I was trapped by my genetic predispositions, or that I needed to change where I was living.”
Lifting the Veil:
“Dismantling avidya is a multilayered process, which is why one breakthrough is usually not enough. Since different types of practice unpick different aspects of avidya, the Indian tradition prescribes different types of yoga for each one—devotional practice for the ignorance of the heart, selfless action for the tendency to attach to outcomes, meditation for a wandering mind. The good news is that any level you choose to work with is going to make a difference.
“You free yourself from a piece of your avidya every time you increase your ability to be conscious, or hold presence during a challenging event…
Sitting with the Self
“Meditations that tune you in to pure Being will begin to remove the deeper ignorance that makes you automatically identify “me” with the body, personality, and ideas. On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment level, you burn off a few layers of avidya every time you turn your awareness inward and reflect on the subtle meaning of a feeling or a physical reaction…
“Avidya is a deep habit of consciousness, but it’s a habit that we can shift—with intention, practice, and a lot of help from the universe. Any moment that causes us to question our assumptions about reality has the potential to lift our veil. Patanjali’s sutra on avidya is not just a description of the problem of ignorance. It’s also the key to the solution. When you pull back and question the things you think are eternal and permanent, you begin to recognize the wondrous flux that is your life. When you ask, “What’s the real source of happiness?” you extend your focus beyond the external trigger to the feeling of happiness itself. And when you seek to know the difference between the false self and the true one, that’s when the veil might come off altogether and show you that you’re not just who you take yourself to be, but something much brighter, much vaster, and much more free.”
Article by Yoga Teacher and author, Sally Kempton