2.5 antiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih avidya
Bouanchaud: Ignorance is the confusion of the temporary with the permanent, the pure with the impure, anguish with the pleasure of being, and the relative with the absolute.
Desikachar: Misapprehension leads to errors in comprehension of the character, origin and effects of the objects perceived.
Swami J: 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.
Avidya (ignorance) is a fundamental confusion about our own nature. Unlike some philosophical/ religious / spiritual traditions, yoga doesn’t see this as being any body’s fault. It’s simply part of the human condition. This is actually an important point because it starts from the premise that none of us did anything wrong to find ourselves in this predicament. I do not suffer from this foundational state of ignorance because I have sinned nor has anyone in my ancestral apple tree, for that matter.
Again, like all the kleshas, there’s no cure for this condition. It’s a function of being human, part of the programming, and we just have to learn to deal with it. Dealing with it would be a whole lot easier if we knew the nature of our ignorance and Patanjali nicely steps up to the plate on that one. Here is the problem, in 25 words or less…
We confuse the temporary with the permanent, the pure with the impure, anguish with the pleasure of being and the relative with the absolute
– thank you Bernard Bouanchaud.
There it is in a nutshell. In case you’re looking for a few examples to make it more concrete, here’s a few out a possible bazillion…
Thinking that my body is going to last forever;
Thinking that my feelings about this subject are going to be how I feel about it forever;
Thinking that a bigger TV, a bigger house, a nicer doo-dad is going to make me happy;
Thinking that I’d already be enlightened if only I’d lose 60 pounds;
Thinking that I already know all this (whatever THIS should turn out to be) and so I don’t need to open myself to learning;
Being ridiculously stubborn about a political or sociological or cosmological or theological ideology;
Using food (or any sensual distraction) as a drug to numb myself from discomfort;
Using the little improvements I have honed in my personality as “proof” that I really am better than the unwashed masses;
Hardening my heart to the suffering of others because I think I have found the solution;
Thinking that because I have cleaned up my act in some respects that I don’t have a lot of work to do yet;
Off the mat, and when I’m not reading a lot of mish-mash from a bunch of dead sociologists, I’ve been reading a book by Dan Gardner called Risk. It’s about all the many, many ways we scare ourselves witless because, as a species, we really are terrible at calculating risk. Seriously, we suck at it, as individuals and as a society. Although (so far), he hasn’t said as much, the problem arises from our ignorance on how our own minds work. We spend billions of dollars on airport “security” measures, strip search old ladies wearing Depends(tm) because they might be smuggling a bomb in their incontinence underwear, won’t allow a sealed bottle of water on an airplane, expect people to endure ‘body scans” – all measures which in 100 years won’t stop ONE attack yet… yet… the baggage handlers in major airports can be made members of the Hell’s Angels and other organized crime groups. Apparently there’s no security risk there…
No wonder the commentators on this sutras keep stressing that it’s our ignorance that the foundation for all the forces that make us suffer. A former professor of mine used to remind his students when they were griping about rising tuition costs “If you think education is expensive; try ignorance”.
He’s right. Our ignorance, from our ability to assess risk, to not knowing how our mind works, to our lack of understanding on our own spiritual nature, exacts a high price from each of us. It’s time for me to stop paying that highwayman and resolve to eliminate some of my ignorance.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,