अविद्याक्षेत्रमुत्तरेषां प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम् I
Misapprehension (avidya) is the fertile soil (ksetram) for the other (uttaresam) sources of suffering. Misunderstanding (avidya) can be found in four stages: (1) dormant (prasupta); (2) feeble (tanu); (3) alternating (vicchinna); and (4) fully active (udaranam).
PRACTICAL LIVING As mentioned in the previous sutra, Patanjali says that there are five reasons why we suffer. The first one he mentiones is avidya – a lack of clarity, of understanding. It is considered to be the breeding ground for the other four sources of suffering: attachment, avoidance, ego and fear. When we cannot see or understand something because the mind is unclear, this has several consequences which we will be discussing in the next few sutras. This inability to perceive and experience things as they are is due to our conditioned mind. We perceive through lenses that are ‘scratched’ or ‘dirty’. Lack of awareness is another way to describe avidya. Due to this lack of awareness, our life experiences are based on fear, desire, escape and the ego (or over-identification). The latter are like seeds planted in the field of avidya. Picture the seeds as the non-beneficial habits (actions and thought patterns) that we are born with and cultivate throughout the years. These seeds can be in four different stages:
1. dormant (prasupta) – either that klesa has not been given the correct environment to ‘sprout’, or, in a very aware individual, the person has done the work to cause the klesa to be dormant. For example, up until last December, I did not know I was so scared of death. In an airplane on the coldest day of Chicago’s last winter, my two-month daughter and I took off and 4 minutes later we experienced two very loud explosion-like sounds coming from the left wing (where my baby and I are were sitting). The flight attendants panicked, rushed to our window to check the wing. The passengers were in deep silence. My heart pounded, my chest was very hot. The airplane stopped going up, which felt like it was descending. This was the first time I feared for my life. An internal conversation happened in my head where I thanked life for everything I had lived and decided I would leave this body while breathing deeply and holding my precious baby in my arms. The point is that up until then, the klesa of fearing death was dormant in me. A clear way of seeing the kleshas arise from being dormant is watching a child grow. At the beginning, children have no attachment to a person – they will happily snuggle with whomever gives them attention. As they grow however, they become very attached to the parents (or the people closest to them) and express intense discontent when that person leaves their environment. From dormant, the klesha of attachment (raga) becomes active.
2. feeble (tanu) – the state that many yoga practitioners are aiming for, this is where the seeds of the kleshas are hardly manifesting. When we have worked through our “baggage”, resolved past issues, and made peace with ourselves, the kleshas still exist within us, but it takes a lot to trigger them. For example, someone who experienced bullying in their childhood and suffered from its consequences for many years may have avoided (one of the kleshas – dvesa), anyone looking like the person who bullied them. If this person got help to overcome this and now lives happily and confidently, they still have the seed of avoidance within, but it now has a very weak effect on that person.
3. vicchinna (alternating) – we can understand vicchinna in a few ways. Firstly, when avidya (lack of understanding) is triggered, the dominant klesha may change from one to another. This is often seen in arguments between people. An argument may start because two different people are attached (raga) to two different beliefs. If one person insults the other, then the egos (asmita) flare up. When the egos are agitated, people become angry. One person may threaten to hit the other and fear (abhinivesa) kicks in. Often, in the end, these two people may avoid (dvesa) seeing each other again due to fear, attachment to their own beliefs and protection of the ego. Secondly, our kleshas may alternate from being feeble to being active. For example, an ex-cigarette smoker may spend days, months or years without the desire for a cigarette (the klesha is then weak). But, that same person one night may go to a bar they spent a lot of time in smoking decades ago and see old friends that are still smoking. The memories come back and the desire for a cigarette comes back and can be very active. After a moment of reflection the person comes back to being confident about not smoking. In other words, in minutes, the klesha’s dominance alternated from weak to strong to weak again.
4. fully active (udaranam) – when our kleshas are fully active we are in a lot of pain. This pain can manifest in our emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, depression, doubt, in our state of mind being negative, in our breath being short and shallow, and in our body being uncomfortable (see Sutra I.31). In this state, it is very difficult for us to step back and see the level of our misunderstanding. However, as a friend, a mentor or someone who is not in this state, we can often see someone else in this state. Think of someone you were with who completely over-reacted to something small that happened.
To summarize, the kleshas manifest as fear, ego, attachment and avoidance from the ‘Mama klesha’, which is avidya. There is a spectrum of how active a klesha is, ranging from asleep to blowing up like a volcano. Our goal as yogis is to enhance awareness, which gradually shifts our kleshas from an volcano to a dormant one. This takes action, reflection and letting go (kriya yoga – remember Sutra II.1).
IN THE YOGA WORLD The complete extinction of the kleshas is not possible, not even in an enlightened being. This is because as long as we have a body and a mind, the kleshas will still be alive. The goal is to slowly “dry” them up so that they require a lot of water to manifest, as opposed to when they’re “ripe”, and can sprout with any drop of water. A very wise teacher, TKV Desikachar, described yoga as the ability to do something today that I could not do yesterday, or the ability to do something tomorrow that I could not do today. Step by step, day by day, is the journey of yoga.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Since the beginning of this project I wondered whether I would one day dedicate a sutra to myself. The day has come! I have not posted on the blog for weeks due to my personal avidya. I have been going through a beautiful cathartic moment of growth and could not write about avidya in the midst of my volcano-like avidya. But now that the volcano has quieted a little, here I am. The beauty of slowly working with the wisdom of the sutras is that from hating that I have avidya, I have slowly cultivated some sort of gratitude and compassion towards my cloud. I have began to see suffering as a teacher, as guidance to seek for help and peel another layer off of my ‘smelly onion’. I dedicate this sutra to myself because today, after more than 10 years of studying the sutras, I can say I love the beautiful person I am. Yes, I go through moments of crying and anger, and yes I go through moments of profound laughter and love. This is all me. Today I have so much love for the amazing woman, friend, wife, mother, teacher, student, daughter, sister and human being that I am. Thank you life for the people and opportunities you have gifted me with!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will deepen the perspective of the klesa called ‘avidya’, or ignorance.