अनित्याशुचिदुःखानात्मसु नित्यशुचिसुखात्मख्यातिरविद्या I
anitya-asuci-duhkha-anatmasu nitya-suci-sukha-atmakhyatih-avidya I
Misunderstanding is when we perceive the temporary (anitya) as eternal (nitya), the impure (asuci) as pure (suci), pain (duhkha) as joy (sukha) and matter (anatmasu) as the soul (atma).
PRACTICAL LIVING In the previous sutra we saw that misunderstanding (avidya) can show up in different states: dormant, feeble, alternating and fully active. In this sutra, Patanjali describes in more detail how avidya distorts our perception of ourselves and the world. Avidya has different layers. The deeper we work, the more aware we become of the misperception that we have in our value system. Avidya is mistaking one thing for another:
(a) That which is temporary (anitya) with what is eternal (nitya). For example, the media has devoted itself to transmitting the message that youth can be eternal. So instead of embracing the beauty of change, we begin to believe that we can bring youth with us through the decades. This has made people spend a lot of energy, money and time in plastic surgery, creams and all sorts of treatments that promise to remove wrinkles, grey hair or anything else related to aging. How much less would we suffer if we embraced and loved the changes that our bodies go through?!
(b) That which is impure (asuci) with what is pure (suci). The purest thing we have in this planet is nature. The rate at which we are destroying places like the Amazon forest (referred to as the ‘Lungs of the Earth’) is dramatic. And why are we doing it? To lead lifestyles that take us further away from nature. A connection with nature, according to yoga, is one of biggest sources of prana, of energy, of that feeling of inner peace. Avidya makes us value cement, processed foods, convenient packaging etc. as more valuable than a beautiful connection with nature. If you haven’t been outdoors to take in the grandiosity of nature recently, instead of going to Disney World or Las Vegas on your next trip, try out going to a National Park instead.
(c) That which is painful (duhkha) with what is joyful (sukha). Are you familiar with the idea of “No Pain, No Gain”? This statement is ingrained in the value systems of many of us. Though suffering sometimes brings growth, thinking that we MUST suffer in order to feel joy is a distorted value. We are attached (one of the next sources of suffering we will explore) to drama. The more dramatic one’s life, the more interesting we become to others. Drama is painful, yet to get more attention from others we exchange a joyful non-dramatic life for a roller-coaster gossip-filled one. People “love” and admire us more if we run a marathon instead of going for a delightful jog along the lake every morning. How does this show up in your life?
IN THE YOGA WORLD
(d) Matter (anatmasu) with the soul (atma). I decided to place this last part of the sutra under this heading since it encompasses a deeper, a spiritual aspect of Yoga. According to Patanjali, the deepest source of suffering comes from the fact that we think we are only bodies that think and feel. And though we have bodies and minds, we also have an atma, something that is beyond the body and mind. We have mentioned Samkhya philosophy previously (see History) and how Yoga is based on it. The soul needs the mind to experience the world and the mind needs the body in order to function in the world. Reversely, the body needs the mind in order to know what to do, and the mind needs the soul in order to be alive in the world.
According to Patanjali, as long as we identify ourselves with the bodies and minds only, suffering (duhkha) will exist. Yoga is therefore the path to clarifying our values and understanding that peace lies within us, not in more wealth, power, sex, drugs, etc. which are all short-lived.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Long walks and long talks is how we spend a lot of our time. Laurita is this beautiful human being who allows me to express (or try to) the topic of avidya. Our extensive conversations feed me. It is hard to find people who are interested in the same things as I am, so when I find one, it feels like home 🙂 We share a beautiful and profound friendship that is continuously growing and has manifested as a student-teacher relationship, as walking buddies, neighbors, babysitter and this has all culminated into a beautiful friendship. I am deeply grateful for your words, ears, sense of humor and love Laurita! Thank you for being there. I look forward to sharing many more walks and talks!
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 explore asmita – the ego!
When I turned 50 I decided to work on not being so hard on myself. I am working on appreciating the aging process and doing it gracefully. I’m trying to not focusing on being the best , however enjoying what I’m doing. If I love what I’m doing then I am being the best. Forget the no pain no gain.
I often times feel that I have a good grasp on what appears as avidya in my life, but it takes much effort, time, and patience in order to come to a place where have loosened my attachment from prior misunderstandings. One way I try to do this is to be mindful of my intentions and to treat my actions with more gravity. An example of this is: Like many people, I have a complex relationship/attitude toward my body and ideals of beauty, fitness, worth. This does not evaporate overnight, so I try to reframe the relationship – instead of worrying about looking old, I consider my actions as ritual-care toward the only body I have, which I should treat with the same respect that I try to give my mind and the other actions of my life.
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