Exploration of Indian Yoga Psychology

A blog on the Transpersonal Psychology of Indian Yoga and the Spiritual Genius of India (another blog of the same author – http://integralmusings.aurosociety.org)

The Roots of Bondage-I–M.S. Srinivasan

rajayogaWe  have  discussed  in  our earlier  article  some  of  the  fundamental principles  of the psychology of Raja Yoga.  We have indicated that the central thrust of Rajayogic sadhana is to stop the modification of the mind “Chitta Vritti  Nirodha,” by eliminating the root causes of these modification, Vrittis.  In  the terminology of Rajayoga, the factors which cause the modifications  of the  mind are called as klesas which means “afflictions”.  One of  the  unique features  of Raja yogic psychology is the masterly analysis of these klesas  which keep the mind in bondage.  The Yoga-suthra classifies these klesas into  five categories:  Avidya,  Asmita, Raga, Dvesha and Abhinivesha.  Like  many  other sanskrit terminology used in the Indian Yogic and spiritual literature,  these terms  are difficult to translate into the English language.  But  fortunately in  Yoga-suthra  itself we find a fairly clear, though brief,  definitions  of these  terms.   The  only  problem  is  the  right  interpretation  of   these definition.   But  it  is  necessary to understand  clearly  the  meaning  and significance of this classification of Klesas in Yoga-suthra to penetrate into the heart of Rajayogic sadhana.  For, as we have indicated earlier,  weakening and attenuation of these klesa is one of the aims of sadhana in Rajayoga.  It is only  by  destroying these klesas, the aim of yoga, Chitta Vritti  Nirodha,  is achieved.

Avidya -The Darkness of Ignorance

 The first among the five klesas is Avidya.  This is a well-known term  in Indian   philosophic   and  spiritual  thought,  translated  in   English   as “Ignorance”.  But,  in  Indian  spiritual  thought, Ignorance  means  not  lack  of  mental knowledge  but lack of spiritual knowledge by identity and loss of  knowledge  of our true and highest self.

But  the  yogi,  as  a  practical  psychologist  is  not  interested   in philosophical   explanations  of  Avidya.   He  is  more  interested  in   the psychological   impact  of  Avidya  on  human  consciousness.    Yoga-suthra’s definition of Avidya is based on such a psychological and not a  philosophical approach  to  the  problem of Ignorance.  So Pantanjali defines  Avidya  as  ” (wrong) identification of permanence in the impermanance, purity in the impure, happiness  in  the painful and self in the not-self.”  What  exactly  does  this suthra signify?  It describes the effect of Ignorance on the human  psyche.    Loss of right discrimination in the intelligence because of  which  the  human  mind,  as  if  enchanted  by  magic,  mistakenly sees truth, permanence,  purity  and  happiness in the fleeting and  transient  forms  and appearances  which  float and pass-away at the surface, foams of the  ocean  of energy of Nature, Prakrithi, and forgets the deeper, abiding reality of the Purusha who remains untouched and involved behind the dance of Nature.  This means lack of knowledge of the true nature of things.  The  result of this wrong perception is that human mind  gets  identified with  the  impermanent and fleeting objects, beings, and experiences  of  life offered by Nature and finds a much greater joy in these false appearances than in  the  deeper and eternal truth of the Being Purusha.

 But  this  is  the practical result of Avidya.   This  knowledge  may  be sufficient for a practicing seeker in the path.  But we are not here examining not only the practical aspects of Yoga but also the deeper psychological roots of bondage.  So from this point of view of yogic psychology we must  try to  understand  not  only the practical consequences of Avidya  but  also  the essential  nature of Avidya.  As we have said, according to  Yoga-suthra,  the practical  consequences  of  Avidya is lack of discrimination.   But  what  is exactly  the  content  or  nature of this Avidya  which  cause  this  lack  of discrimination?  In a psychological perspective, the answer to this question is Unconsciousness, of the true  and total nature of our self and the world .  The true and essential nature of the Soul, Purusha, is  pure,  absolute,  self-luminous Consciousness.  The nature of Avidya is the exact opposite of the true  nature of   the  Purusha.   For  consciousness  is  the  source  of  all   knowledge, understanding  and insight.  The soul in its true nature possesses all  these qualities  of consciousness in their absolute measure because it  is  absolute consciousness.   But  somehow  the  soul has forgotten  its  true  nature  and plummetted  down  into state of unconsciousness, Avidya.

From  this  state  of total  unconsciousness, the soul awakens through various stages of  evolution, through  sensation, perception, desire, pain, pleasure, thought etc. to a  ray of self-conscious egoism, sense “I” ness called as Asmita in the  Yoga-suthra.  This  ego-centric awareness is only a small point of light, aware only  of  the superficial  surface  of  its own self and the life around  it;  it  is  still surrounded  on all sides by the vast, dark, heavy and massive  unconsciousness, tamas,  of  Avidya, which forcefully prevents the ego from looking  within  and beyond  itself into its own depth and know the truth of his own self and  that of the life around.  So Avidya is the subconscious or the inconscient  matrix from  which soul awakens to the state of mental self-consciousness which is only  a  tiny ray  of  consciousness  floating  in  the  surface  of  a  vast  sea  of   the unconsciousness  of  Avidya.

But we would like to  distinguish  here between  the unconsciousness  of the Avidya of Yoga-suthra and that of  modern  psychology.   Modern  psychology clubs together all that is beyond, below or behind the  ego or  in  other words everything which the ego is not conscious  into  a  single omnibus  term  “Unconscious”.  But Indian yogic psychology  admits  states  of consciousness  behind  or above the egoic consciousness which are  infinitely  more conscious  and  luminous  and vaster than the  egoic  consciousness;  they  are “unconscious”  only to the ego but not in their intrinsic nature.  But in  the case  of Avidya, unconsciousness is intrinsic to the nature of the Avidya; it is  a state  of  darkness  and  negativity which veils,  clouds,  and  distorts  the perception of the ego and forcefully prevents it from knowing the truth.


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This entry was posted on February 22, 2013 by in Rajayoga.