Avidya is the mother of all of the other kleshas. It is the field where any other obstacles are born. It is not seeing clearly, not having correct knowledge and misunderstanding what really matters. It is not only about understanding a basic concept or being confused, but deep spiritual unclear and ignorance. It is confusion between real and unreal, between what is everlasting and what is impermanent. The big knowledge and enlightenment is inside of you, which is everlasting and will not fade away. Other than that, everything else changes and decays.
Asmita is ego or “I-am-ness”. It’s very challenging to deal with for almost each one of us. We do need to have ego to be able to do things to survive, to make a living, such as getting a job, making money, supporting the family. When you find yourself in a pattern of wanting or clinging, that is Asmita.
Example for Avidya and Asmita
I have a very funny example. It is a really small thing in life, but I really feel it is related to Avidya and Asmita. I got my right foot caught in the door one week before this training, and it got swollen right away. It hurt so much to move my right toes for a week, I couldn’t tuck my toes under, couldn’t press the top of my foot to the floor, and it felt numb and I couldn’t move my right pinky toe for a few weeks after that happened. I was so excited and so ready for the training, until I hurt my foot and could not do poses like plank, side plan and UMS, etc. I was very proud of my funny toes spreading wide, but my right pinky toes just didn’t move in these weeks. There was a thought raised up during the training, “what if I can’t move my right pinky toes forever? I can’t even control my right foot; how can I control my mind? Can I be a yogi?” It sounds hilarious when I say it out loud, but that was really what I thought. And my second thought was, “I can still teach, and injury may even turn out to be an incentive to be mindful not only in yoga practice but also off my mat. However, because the “me” I have always felt is tied to my physical body, my appearance, this incident left me disoriented. I know I am not just my body, but know that didn’t seem to cure my feelings of self-doubt and fear in that moment.
The “who am I” or the “I-am-ness” part was the ego. It is clear that I’m not just my physical body (and my flexible toes is not me as well), but most of the time I understand that and aware of that, but I can’t stop thinking and worrying about that. And the misunderstanding what really matters part is Avidya.
By understanding what Avidya is, it makes it easier for us to set things aside, which we cling to. The things that we cling to won’t bring happiness to us, and they are not real and not present. Avidya is the moment of understanding that helps us find peace with whatever is going on. And it is a constant work for everyone in their whole lives, including me.
That chitta vritti keeps going. Just pause, sit down, take a breath. See what is true in this moment and over time. And see if you can let some of the ego go.
Raga is attachment to pleasure and wanting to repeat things that feel good.
A great practice on my mat is a really good example. When I had an amazing practice and really dropped in, and the moment I felt “wow, it feels so good”, it was lost. Whenever I’m wanting to repeat, I get stuck in the past. And I’m not able to fully experience what it is right now. The wanting and need to repeat something pleasurable is one of the very root causes of suffering.
Yogis pause and consider what is root of wanting to repeat that again; they ask themselves what would it be like if that wonderful experience never happens again. Be in the moment, enjoy whatever is pleasurable, and let go. And be open to whatever happens next. True contentment is being open to what’s happening in this moment and fully accept it. When one can let go of wanting to repeat pleasurable activities, he or she understands this moment is what really matters.
Dvesha is aversion, not wanting to repeat difficult things, not wanting to have unpleasant feelings or experiences.
It’s the idea that if we have had something unpleasant, we don’t want that happen again. For example, I went skating very often with my first boyfriend, and we had great time together. When we broke up after seven years of dating, I never wanted to go skating again with anyone else, because whenever I skate, it reminds me of him and that heartbreaking break-up. That’s what Dvesha is, the fear that it is going to hurt again.
The point is not whether I go skating or not, it’s more about whether I can look at what makes me want to shut off my experience related to that moment. Dvesha will keep us in our past, thinking of the moment when we had pains or when we got hurt. And it keeps us from living fully in the present moment. And only in the present moment, we can experience everything.
Abhinivesha is clinging to life, which is part of our instinct. And we are not really able to get rid of that. That sense of longing for life and deep grief when your family members or friends pass away itself is really challenging to anyone. I couldn’t help crying when I heard a real story about a woman losing her daughter when she was little. Suddenly, a sense of deep grief raised up and it felt like something got stuck in my throat, and I couldn’t even breathe when I heard the story. The fear of losing my son came up, even though it was not real and it had nothing to do with me.
The root of clinging to life is based on whether or not one trusts the concept of there is a Devine part in you and all beings in the world that will never die. When we understand that is the truth, the idea of our bodies or our beloved ones’ bodies will die becomes a bit easier to accept and to be with.