Avidyā = spiritual misunderstanding, not knowing, ignorance
Avidyā is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant and the non-Self as the Self.
--Sutra 2.5 the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
This sutra is essentially saying the same thing in many ways. God as you see it, the energy of the universe---is a cosmic vibration of joy and love that creates all things. We are all made of that energy. According to this philosophy, heaven is just another place where a consciousness goes, but it still has spores of personality shot through it like a fungus. Nirvana is beyond Heaven---it is joining that vibration of joy and love for all eternity, purely and without personality, conditioning. If vibrations of joy and love is the true reality, this whole life is impermanent and not real. It doesn’t matter what happens to “me”. This body changes daily. My opinions change daily. My moods change. I get energized, I get tired. All of it is impermanent and in flow. But the spark of the divine in my heart is unchanging and eternal. This "so-called" 'life' is but a dream.
--Vishnu, the God of Creation, dreaming up innumerable parallel universes. The universes arise and dissolve in his dreams. Vishnu is the true reality.
Avidya is a foundational concept in yoga, and I find it very peaceful and balancing to meditate on this concept. However, the concept can easily be twisted into spiritual bypassing or gaslighting. It is important to meditate and get clear for our own hearts and minds.
Avidyā (अविद्या) is a Vedic Sanskrit word, and is a compound of "a" and "vidya", meaning "not vidya". The word vidya is derived from the Sanskrit root Vid, which means "to know, to perceive, to see, to understand". Therefore, avidya means to "not know, not perceive, not understand". The Vid*-related terms appears extensively in the Rigveda and other Vedas. Avidya is usually rendered as "ignorance" in English translations of ancient Indian texts, sometimes as "spiritual ignorance".
The Sutras of Patanjali was compiled for earnest spiritual aspirants---essentially monks--- who left family life to meditate all day in the forests and caves, begging for food and enduring the elements. So as house-holding people, this might sound harsh. But I believe most of the sutras have wisdom for us all, no matter our circumstance. We just have to take certain things with a grain of salt. For example, instead of giving up all material possessions, we might practice mindfulness of acquisition. So often I think the next thing I buy is going to be "the thing" that makes me happy. If I just have this one thing, then I will be easier or more complete. But then next week I see something else and I want it, and I feel incomplete. . . practicing contentment and letting go of desiring the next new thing is spiritual and does create wisdom.
Impermanent vs permanent---God as you see it, the energy of the universe--is a cosmic vibration of joy and love that creates all things. We are all made of that energy. According to this philosophy, heaven is joining that vibration of joy and love for all eternity. So if that is the true reality, this whole life is impermanent and not real. It doesn’t matter what happens to “me”. This body changes daily. My opinions change daily. My moods change. I get energized, I get tired. All of it is impermanent and in flow. But the spark of the divine in my heart is unchanging and eternal. This life is like a dream.
This is a foundational concept in yoga. However, it can easily be twisted into spiritual bypassing or gaslighting. It is important to meditate and get clear for our own hearts and minds.
It gives me peace to meditate on the concept that “I” am not the things that have happened to me, have been done to me. “I” am nothing but pure spirit.
Spiritual Bypassing: However, this concept can be used as a weapon or escape. Trauma is real. Trauma absolutely harms our bodies and minds, and the effects sometimes last for years after the fact. Healing from trauma requires, among other things, being with the feelings, analyzing, meditating on, going through the “ring of fire” to get to the other side. It does not help to avoid the work and just say “oh, things happened to this body, but that’s not me, everything is ok, nothing to see here . . .” that is spiritual bypassing. And whatever we avoid or repress comes back out in our behaviors towards ourselves and others in ways both typical and unexpected.
What you resist, persists.
Gaslighting + Spiritual Bypassing: Similarly, telling someone who is suffering “oh that is not happening to ‘You’ --it just happened to the body, so snap out of it, think positive, pull yourself up by your bootstraps---you create your own reality so think happy.” Well this is a form of trying to control another person. I am uncomfortable with you showing emotions, so I am going to use a “spiritual concept” to shame you into shutting up so I don’t feel uncomfortable. Or, more kindly, "I, myself, do not feel equipped to respond to what you're saying, so I'm going to hold up a platitude and hope that makes things more ok."
Which circles back to Avidya
We can't "transcend" the "ego" without first healing. While we may be spirits, our spirits live in bodies, with memories and a complex system of chemical messengers helping to direct everything to keep us alive and as safe as possible. Our lived experiences imprint upon our bodies and minds, and repressed emotions, undigested experiences will resurface again and again until we heal ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually. Thinking we can bypass that, is itself, a form of avidya, or wrong understanding. When we eat food and transform it into energy, into maintaining our bodies, into fueling our consciousness--our bodies process the food. We chew it and break it down, we move it to the stomach and transform it through fire, assimilate it in the small intestine, transform it into cells through the body. Similarly, our lived experiences must be held in the mind and heart, analyzed, understood and transformed into understanding and wisdom. Then true understanding can be possible.
Striking a Balance
We can hold these two truths in balance. My experiences happened to me, and I need to do the work to heal. And also, my experiences are not anything that "I am". I am true spirit. I am a wave on the cosmic ocean of energy. As are we all. And the pain I feel now, will pass, will transform. The harms that were done unto me--I will heal, they will become a memory. My connection to the energy of the universe uplifts me in times of trial. I am present with my pain and I am the comfort I need now. I am the alchemist, transforming my experiences into wisdom.
May this practice serve for the awakening of all.
I borrowed the title image from lonerwolf. This post is also a good read about spiritual bypassing.
Vishnu dreaming the universes is from Krishnastore.com
Toxic Positivity vs. Healthy Positivity by @holistic.therapy.with.jen on Instagram
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda
How to Know God: The Aphorisms of Patanjali - Prabhavananda, Isherwood
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