Avidya – the first Klesha

turning a blind eye





As mentioned in the previous newsletter, the kleshas are said to be the main causes of unhappiness or suffering in our lives. Regular yoga practice aims to improve our total well-being: the physical as well as the mental. A lot of the ‘feel-good’ effects of yoga practice happen sub-consciously, but it adds an extra dimension if we look at these ‘mind-practices’ with a little more consciousness.

The first Klesha, or obstacle of the mind, is Avidya. Direct translation from Sanskrit gives us the meaning ignorance, not as in ignorant meaning stupid, but more in the literal sense of the word ignoring. In Yogic texts you often see the explanation: ‘Like the wave forgets it’s part of the ocean, so do humans forget they are part of a larger consciousness, that is avidya.’  On a more basic level avidya happens when we ignore or forget the true nature of things. This true nature becomes hidden or veiled and consequently perceived truths are, in fact, just illusions (Maya).
To bring this esoteric concept closer to home, I have conjured up a few real life examples relating to Avidya:

  1. It often happens that we feel singled out and alone during tough times. We tend to ignore or forget that we are all energetically connected. Seeing the bigger picture and connecting with other humans or feeling connected with nature and animals is a wonderful antidote to this suffering (dukha).
  2. Short term thinking & acting, while ignoring long term goals, often leads to suffering (regret).
  3. Thinking yourself to be the centre of the universe, like children do, can lead to many disappointments (another form of dukha). Recognising and considering other people’s wants and needs will put things back in perspective, will ease the dukha.
  4. Seeing the Self in terms of status in society  – what you do, where you live, went to school and what you have, will lead to dukha, either because we feel we miss out or because we feel superior.
  5. Ignoring or forgetting that life is a continual change of events also increases suffering. Perhaps you can remember a time when you were filled with sadness and thought you would ‘never get over this’, but realizing that some time later the intensity has lifted.
  6. Probably the simplest example of avidya is ‘the habit’. We can even see this popping up during our asana practice, where our mind is no longer in the body and we ‘mindlessly’ go through the motions. It would be prudent to revisit some of our habitual patterns on a regular basis, particularly those that give you grief (cause dukha). Just think of the following: repeatedly getting annoyed with the same people about the same things, procrastinating, short cutting, bad eating habits, etc. We subconsciously allow ourselves to be blinded by avidya on those occasions.

Becoming aware of the Kleshas has been an eye opener for me. I feel, that understanding their nature, allows a deeper insight in general and takes us one step closer to happier and healthier self.

May the benefits of your practice stay with you and extend beyond you,