Avidya: Lack of Awareness


Lack of Awareness

In darkness unawakened, they make foolishness cover

Their wisdom and overflow. One remembrance of illumination

Can break through and leap out of the dust.

Zen Master Hongzhi




According to yoga tradition and philosophy, this is the main evil that can manifest: lacking awareness or knowledge. The root word, vidya, means inner light of knowledge, so avidya is without knowledge.


Up to this point, here are the other yoga sutras that I am commenting on, according to Nicolai Bachman’s classic, The Path of the Yoga Sutras:


  1. Atha: Readiness and Commitment
  2. Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
  3. Purusa: Pure Inner Light of Awareness
  4. Drsya: Ever-changing Mother Nature
  5. Viveka: Keen Discernment
  6. Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
  7. Vairagya: Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
  8. Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
  9. Isvara: The Source of Knowledge
  10. Karma and Samskara: Action and its Imprint
  11. Parinama: Transformation
  12. Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
  13. Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
  14. Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
  15. Pramana: Correct Evaluation
  16. Viparyaya: Misperception
  17. Vikalpa: Imagination
  18. Nidra: Sleep
  19. Smrti: Memory
  20. Antaraya-s: Obstacles that Distract
  21. Klesa-s: Mental-Emotional Afflictions


Bachman says, “When our field of consciousness becomes muddled by perceptions and actions that are harmful to ourselves or those around us, then our inner light of awareness cannot shine out into the world.”


What Bachman is speaking to is the lens through which our inner light shines, our citta. It accumulates debris over time from experiences we have had, and the more we allow that lens to get covered in matter, the less knowledge we are able to attain about ourselves and the world because when light cannot get let out, nothing can come in, either. In other words, you see the world “…less and less truthfully” than if your citta was clean and clear from clutter from your inner and outer world. The eyes through which we see perceives things as being inaccurate, because there is so much in our way cluttering our spiritual, mental, and emotional vision.


Avidya is one of the klesa-s, and it is the first because it is the most important. The other four rely on avidya in order to exist.


Avidya is the root cause on unhappiness and discontent.


I have experienced this recently in a personal event. A friend who I once considered loyal, honest, and compassionate has shown she lacks in those characteristics. My own lack of awareness around her behavior and way of being, after I had been warned by those close to me of this behavior, clouded my judgment because we always had fun together, always hung out together, and would get quite a bit of work done together. Then slowly, over time, I began to notice her priority was actually to have more fun, and not to focus on work, and she would distract me over and over again (if you notice, I have not blogged in over six months), causing me to be resentful and not speak my truth for fear of upsetting her, rather than being in listening to my own personal needs. Furthermore, I realized in much too long of time that I considered her to be a greater priority in my life than I was a priority in her life.  In the end, the behavior caused me to discontinue the friendship when a quarrel erupted between her and another dear friend of mine, which left me sadly choosing sides. This experience taught me many things through the yoga sutras in the last six months since this drama has unfolded: my judgment was severely clouded by the perceived friendship we had, a relationship that seemed promising and prosperous on the surface. However, had I taken the time to truly tune in to my inner voice, take a step back and be a witness to the events occurring, I could have avoided suffering. And yet, as the sutra of duhkha reminds us, all suffering is opportunity, and without the fortunate events that did cause me to meet her, I did have wonderful experiences I have learned from, gained more recognition for my work, and started projects that, even though she left them unfinished, I have an opportunity to work with other professionals and expand my network for Red Cheetah Yoga and for personal projects.

The past few months had left me in a space of inner darkness because I was in a blaming frame of mind, which clouds the citta considerably, and intensifies avidya. Blaming is never a solution for any problem, and I recognized I was doing it, even though it felt as though I couldn’t stop. For a time I was silently accusing the third person in our group for causing the friend fall-out, and it was through a crystal singing bowl meditation I participated in that I was able to separate myself from the experience, and realized I had done all I could to mend the relationship; steps were not taken on her part, and my heart-mind sensed were not ever going to be taken. A situation that had started out as joy, fun, and work ended up being a distraction, an intense antaraya, resulting in klesa-s, or mental-emotional afflictions. Thankfully the work of yoga and meditation exist to help direct and guide me during tough mental-emotional situations like needing to give up a friendship that has turned sour. In yoga sutra terms, it was an experience that turned my perception from viparaya (misconception) into pramana (correct evaluation), at least for the time being.

And being how I am, I cannot forget the concept of pramana, and that it is always a possibility. “Pramana” is the Sanskrit word for “transformation”. And with the transformations I have witness not only in myself and my dear boyfriend and business partner, Al, as well as the hundreds of yogis who have completed the yoga teacher training program at greenmonkey yoga, formerly Bala Vinyasa Yoga, never has there been a more profound program that alters individuals’ consciousnesses like this one, that transforms people from outer to inner and back to outer awareness again without so much as mentioning the yoga sutras as a crutch or resource in order to achieve this inner transformation. Truly, the modernization of their yoga teacher training has the ability to make manifest pramana in the most profound ways, and I can say it definitely gave me the tools in order to speak clearly and straight with my friend and take effective action on what I needed to do for myself in order to heal and move forward, no matter what I was feeling.  My freedom in this situation was my commitment to myself five years ago in teacher training to take action in my life, something I have fallen back on over and over again since I graduated and grew with the BV/greenmonkey community and worked to grow Red Cheetah Yoga with Al.  With this being said, I know there is always hope for a pramanic change to occur with my friend one day, as it has for me, and I am so grateful for everything the experience has taught me, and for all the great laughs we shared together.


Losing friendships always seems senseless, but when personal growth is at stake, it is what must be done.  I am grateful I gave myself the time I needed to feel what had to be felt, in order to even get to the place I am now to be able to write about it.


This entire situation was a perfect example of samyoga, or false identification of the seer with the seen, or mistakenly thinking that the two identities were the same, as best friends can often be, which made this split all the harder for me. As human beings, we can take much comfort and solace in relationships such as these, without realizing the consequences of smudging lines between yourself and another, and how disempowering those smudged lines can be when there is an imbalance in an interpersonal relationship. And the hurt feelings I was feeling after this situation had nothing to do with how I was treated by this former friend, it had everything to do with how much I had separated from myself, and attached myself to her and overly identified with her instead of my own inner light. I was truly the source of my own inner conflict and suffering as a result.


For now, my course of action will be to flow with drsya, ever-changing mother nature, and stick to viveka (keen discernment) when it comes to making decisions in the moment, by asking myself, “Does this serve me and my highest purpose?”. My commitment is taking a step back to being the witness to what repercussions there are to ALL of my decisions, including creating partnerships and friendships that move my own life and others’ lives forward generously and with a sense of compassion and non-attachment. This situation, however, does not mean I will not form friendships any longer, in fact, the absolute opposite. The power of samyoga was so powerful with this former friend I had stopped making many connections with other people, for business as well as friendship relationships, that now I have more freedom to do so, and come out into the world and play uninhibited again.


Casting out relationships in your life that do not serve is one of the most significant ways to cleanse and purify your life. My relationship with my business partner and boyfriend has become much closer and deeper, and we are experiencing great growth in all our businesses. This experience has left me feeling more open-minded towards others, and while I am compassionate and present for others, I am also more aware of being able to take care of myself more energetically, as in standing up for myself and what it is I want to do with my time, especially when it comes to completing projects on the deadlines I choose. Open-mindedness contributes to the learning of my own truth, and the awareness of these afflictions helps me to wipe them away with conscious awareness, to step forward more gracefully and empowered into the next steps of my life.


My greatest learning from this experience is this: no matter what the yoga sutras say on the surface, it seems to be unwise to make decisions solely off of avoiding pain and suffering.  Because, no matter what my emotional reactions were over the course of the last six months that distracted me, it created an impetus to transform things in my life that normally I would not have addressed, things that I will remain private and close to my heart and those closest to me.  The sutras SEEM to err on the side of avoiding pain and suffering, yet without pain and suffering, how can we grow?  And aren’t the most difficult yoga practices meant to challenge us in ways to give us new experiences, so that we may expand in exactly the same way?


Look beyond the mere words of the sutras, and get into the heart of what they truly mean, because, at the end of the day, suffering TRULY IS opportunity.



The inability to perceive clearly and act consciously causes pain and suffering.


As I purify my body and heart-mind, I experience glimpses of my divine inner light.


I will vigilantly strive to weaken and neutralize the latent afflictions responsible for suffering.


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