Avidya is a Sanskrit word that translates to an incorrect comprehension or ignorance. This is a skewed outlook that often clouds our judgement without us even knowing that it is present. I visualize it as an invisible toxic doom cloud that takes over the mind, blinding us to our truest self.
Avidya is active and lives in our subconscious mind so we aren't always aware of its presence. It’s actually easier to notice when it is absent rather than when it is present. The opposite state of mind, the one we strive for, is vidya which translates to wisdom or knowledge. This is the equivalent to someone thinking that they are blind when in reality all they had to do was open their eyes to see. The result of avidya, this misperception, is that we often fall short of an expectation (that we or someone else set) and feel dissatisfied in various components of our life.
All of us suffer from this at some point. I refer to it as making mountains out of molehills because we are not seeing the situation clearly. Sound familiar? I’m guilty of doing this more often than I care to admit. Imagine a world where we could all see clearly? Where everybody had their senses full, purified and functioning fully so that they could take it all in then react? Rather than boldly reacting without having all the information.
To do this we must understand the branches of avidya that lead to this misinterpretation. This empowers us by allowing us to become mindful of these tendencies.
First, I must give credit to where credit is due: Patanjali is an unknown but renowned Hindu sage who wrote The Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are a huge resource for modern day yoga. His verse s2.3 discusses avidya and he states the roots that lead to this dissatisfied state when not properly tended to. The Yoga Sutras discuss how avidya is a klesha which is a colouring within ourselves that causes one to suffer (duhka).
So back to branches - there are four that extend off of avidya: they are raga (attachment), avesa (refusal), abhinivesa (fear) and asmita (ego). These branches darken our heart and our perspective as avidya is the root obstacle that inhibits us from recognizing situations for what they are.
I am just thinking of scenarios where we often allow avidya to take over and in turn miss out on a potential opportunity. A great example is the concept of asking someone out on a date. Initially you may doubt that the person of interest may not reciprocate your interest; due to your ego, you don’t even want to go out on a limb and ask them out because of the fear of rejection. This refusal could be powerful enough to take a blow to someone’s ego and cause future issues of attachment. This reaction is all because you gave some stranger the power to invalidate your entire existence. This example hits all four branches of avidya.
Lets imagine a scenario where you ask this person out and they say no. Rather than having this harsh internal reaction, you could always ask the person why they said no. It turns out that this person is currently seeing someone else and it has nothing to do with you, it's just not the right timing but hey at least you tried, right?
Our biggest ally and weakness is our ego, if we can curb it and control it, we would be able to absorb so much more without having a false perception. The ego, a Latin work that translates to I am (ego Sum) functions almost like a temporary personality within ourselves. Have you ever encountered a moment where you reflect back on it and have no idea why you reacted the way you had in an odd social encounter?
The ego often gets used to measure our self-importance through the lens of our relationships with others. I find it can be so easy to allow the negative portion of your ego to conquer. Especially in situations where other people are watching.
An example of when my ego wants to take over is when someone threatens my ability, especially if it is someone I would consider a weakness. This used to ruffle my feathers so much so that I would snap. My energy was misdirected and my “rage bubble” would overflow. This would happen even more frequently when I was hungry (hanger; its a real thing). I then learned that my outbursts were unfair to those around me and needed to take better control of my own emotions and reactions.
Even though I would get over it quickly, it was not fair to put that negative energy on those around me. Though my ego is something I still grapple with, I have become a lot more aware of my energy, my responses and what makes me “prickly.” In turn, I breathe and try to communicate better.
I am still working on this but the fact that I am aware of the topics or triggers that cause my back to go up, provides me with the power and control to reflect and analyze before I respond. In turn, my ego doesn't take the same kind of hit it used to! If we all became more aware of these branches within our mind that alter our perspective and lead to self-doubt and unhappiness. If we could recognize it we could be more equipped to battle against them we would live beautifully.
I have become more aware of the versions of myself that drag me down (my ego, attachments, refusal, and fear) which have lessened their strength and power. I encourage you to do some introspecting and see if you can pick out the tendrils of a web that lead to your own unhappiness. This may provide you with some insight to lessen their strength/power. Currently, I strive to be my own best-friend, encouraging myself; I aim to be someone with a clear perspective (vidya).