The Yoga Sutras is a book written by an ancient yoga scholar, Patanjali, (200 CE) which outlines much of the philosophy of the practice of yoga. A major principle in the Yoga Sutras is the principle of Avidya, or misapprehension. In Sanskrit, the word Vidya means to see clearly. Avidya is the opposite of clear seeing. Unfortunately our human experience is rife with Avidya, this unclear seeing. I believe that one of our major lessons in this earthly existence is to learn to recognize our Avidya and enlighten ourselves by learning to see clearly.
Seeing clearly precedes good judgment. The world exists. Things just are. We all translate what is and color it with judgment: good, bad; right, wrong. Often, our judgment of the world, our misapprehension, prevents us from seeing what is and makes us see only what we believe about what is.
The Perils of Avidya
An old story goes like this: Once, a man was walking through the jungle at night and was very afraid of being eaten by a tiger. He heard something coming toward him and knew that it was a tiger so he pulled out his knife. When the animal stepped out onto the path in front of him, he immediately stabbed it and it fell dead. Only after he killed it did he realize that he had killed his best friend. His Avidya prevented him from seeing what truly was and caused death and suffering.
With the practice of yoga we can learn to place a little space between occurrence and judgment. With this space we reduce our Avidya by practicing seeing things as they are and not how we judge them. The principle of reducing our Avidya is not about being emotionless and dispassionate, but rather learning to stop our judgment for a moment and attempt to see things as they are before making a mindful next step.
A Simple Meditation Technique to See Clearly
A simple but effective way of practicing Vidya, clear seeing, is by doing a simple form of meditation that I learned from my teachers and which I call the “There Is” Practice. You can do this anywhere and while doing anything but one way to do it is by simply sitting comfortably with a cushion on the floor (a chair or couch works nice, too), close your eyes and acknowledge all the things you are currently experiencing with the phrase There Is. “There is the sound of traffic. There is apprehension. There is a 20-pound cat sitting in my lap and licking my big toe.” Anything you sense, feel, think, do, point to it with the phrase, “There Is. . .” Try to erase the personal pronoun “I, Me, or My” from what you perceive. This tends to change our apprehension of what is as something that is only in relationship to ourselves. The There Is practice is about seeing things just how they are without our own personal judgment getting in the way. It allows permission for the world to be the way it is and not just the way I think it should be. I like to set a timer and practice until the timer rings. Start with10 minutes and increase the time as you like.
I invite you to practice Vidya this week by coming to yoga and also practicing the “There Is” Practice. With more accurate perception, we will be less reactive and more mindful in our decisions. With practices like yoga and the There Is practice we reduce our Avidya and begin to see the world and what really is.
Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he's not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his yoga retreats to places like Hawaii and Amalfi Coast , his online Yoga Nidra Course and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program