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The cost of ignorance: YSP 2.4

2.4 avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vicchinna udaranam


Bouanchaud: Ignorance is the source of the other four causes of suffering, whether these are latent, feeble, intermittent or intense.

Desikachar: Misapprehension is the source of all the other obstacles. They need not appear simultaneously and their impact varies. Sometimes they are obscure and barely visible; at other times they are exposed and dominant.

Swami J: 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.


Okay, folks, here we go again. Yesterday I posted this week’s rendering on the aphorism of the week. It posted successfully. I saw it. Other people saw it. WordPress lost it. I write again.

Referring back to Avidya (ignorance) which is the foundation for all the kleshas, comes in four strengths: strong, fluctuating, weakened and stable. The goal of yoga practices is to weaken or enfeeble the kleshas, thereby clearing up our thinking. When the kleshas are strong, high, up (various terms are used), we don’t see things clearly and we tend to make faulty decisions accordingly. When the kleshas are weak, diminished or down, we see reality as it really is. You can see where this could prove handy when making a life-altering decision.

If you’re anything like me, with my all-or-nothing mindset, you might be wondering why all the dancing around with weakening and enfeebling and all that. Why not just up and get rid of the things if they cause so much trouble? Surely that’s got to be a more lasting solution to the problem of the mind being coloured by the kleshas.

Not so fast. Apparently the problem is we can’t actually get rid of them entirely because they are a function of being a human being. The origin of the kleshas is when matter meets spirit. In yoga speak, when purusha joins with prakriti. It’s the cost of doing business for a spiritual entity living an embodied experience. We can’t eliminate the kleshas so we best learn how to live with this little glitch. In short – deal.

1. PrasuptaAvidya is at rest. The kleshas are very small and it’s easy to forget that they were ever there. The danger is that we get overconfident and stop working on them, allowing them to burst forth at any time. The idea of “I have dealt with that” as opposed to needing to continue to deal with things is an example of this. It would be like the alcoholic who after several years of sobriety decides that she’s “fixed”. Frequently that attitude is the first stop on the road called relapse.

2. Tanu — Here, avidya is of a moderate strength and the kleshas are subtle. They don’t disturb the mind to any great extent. This is in the person who has been working on the mind (Chapter one work) and things are pretty clear. The danger here, like with prasupta, is that ignorance can arise at any moment with the right trigger. Slacking off, dropping practice … all of these things encourage the kleshas to grow.

3. Vicchinna – This is a tough state of existence characterized by alternating states of the kleshas or they show up temporarily. They’re running hot and cold, fluctuating between active and the not active. In People who are stuck here have a lot of physical, emotional spiritual drama in their life. It’s living on a roller coaster. Ego says”I’ve finally fixed that” and then everything is back in crisis in short order. I’ve lived entire decades of my life in this state.

4. Udaranamavidya is very active and life is very difficult. Many people come into yoga at this stage because suffering is off the scales. The weeds of avidya have grown so tall and are blocking everything. It’s difficult to see the mess because we’re so far into it. At this point, we don’t care how “lame, unscientific, mystic, mumbo-jumbo, superstitious New-Age nonsense“ all this chakra aligning yoga stuff is. We get to the point where it doesn`t matter why it works, if it works. If the suffering stops, then the reason why yoga works isn’t important.

This is where I came into yoga. I had developed asthma after quitting smoking – technically, the asthma had always been there but the smoking had hidden it – and I really didn`t care how much `hoop and la` was involved, if yoga would help restore my breathing, I was in. That didn`t keep me from rolling my eyes at my new classmate who was looking for “inner peace and a deeper connection with the consciousness of the cosmos”. I was raised polite so I kept my mouth shut and didn`t comment. Or giggle. Nary a guffaw, I tell you. The point is when we are that deep into suffering of avidya and its ugly thug friends, it doesn’t matter how or why or what brand of strange. If it works – that’s all that matters. What keeps the sceptics like me coming back, year after year, is that it continues to work. My life is better, on any dimension I chose to measure, because I practice yoga. I know this because it feels worse when I stop practicing. There is a direct and demonstrated correlation here.

That’s all for now, and with any luck at all, WordPress won’t eat this version.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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