The five underpinnings, or classes of ignorance of yoga are dormant, sustained, interrupted, attenuated, and parched. So lets back track a little bit and learn about the Klesas, which are known as the hindrances of the mind. This is not to mean that there is a learning disability, but instead to look at how the mind works, and the “noise” that is going on in the mind. There are three qualities of the mind, which we use to describe the level of activity that is happening, they are known as Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. Rajas is the active mind, the mind that jumps from one thought to the other without hesitation or any real pause to process of the thoughts. Tamas is the inactive mind, which doesn’t really think of anything. The last is Sattva, which is the balanced mind, which has equal thought and activity. This balanced mind is what we each aim for but, the mind can fluctuate from Rajas, Sattva, and Tamas on a pretty regular basis influenced through our outside experiences. As you move through these and find your balance in the Sattva, is when you can achieve “the peace that passeth understanding” Samadhi. However this is not going to talk about Samadhi, but of the hinderences or underpinnings we have in achieving this. See in the western world yoga achieves great feats of strength, balance and flexibility, and not so much feats of the mind. In eastern yoga there is great emphasis on the more spiritual aspects of the practice, which is why you hear stories from time to time of a man who levitated and such. This is the idea of Samadhi.
So aside from the idea that western yogis do not put the same amount of emphasis on the spiritual and mental aspect of yoga all humans run into problems when trying to find a balance in their life. These problems are known as the Klesas, or afflictions of the mind. These are mental constructions associated with the real world., and we have identified 4 of them. Each falls under the category of ignorance, which is called Avidya. First of all I would like to point out that ignorance is not just the fact that you don’t know something, ignorance is not wanting to know, and this is something that I run into with people al the time, when I talk about the differences in not knowing and not wanting to know. The man who simply does not know, will keep an open mind and hear new things, he may or may not agree with them but he will hear them and learn something new. The man who is ignorant will stay close-minded, and hear nothing, thus leading to his inability to learn and ultimately his ignorance. In yoga however the definition varies from this in that Avidya is known as the mistaking of the un-real for real; illusion; confusion; loss; out of touch; lacking awareness or forgetting true self. The only part that remains true in both definitions however is the open minded closed minded aspect. In the first definition the man is either open minded or closed minded to the idea of learning, however in the second definition the man is either open minded to the universe, and allows it to take over or he is closed minded to the externalities and stays true to himself. It is funny to see how the roles flip when semantics comes into play. In yogic philosophy ignorance is a state of existence in which we do not know who we truly are, not only in our bodies, but in our minds as well. Nonetheless, Ignorance is the first step to understanding the rest of the Klesas. “Avidya is the breeding ground for the others whether they be dormant, attenuated, interrupted or active.” Yoga Sutras 2:4.
There are 5 classes of ignorance in the yoga sutras. The first is dormant ignorance, which is the most dominant. This is like original sin. When you are first born, you don’t know any better. You have not yet had the chance to live and experience life around you, however just like with original sin once you have had the opportunity to learn yoga and be introduced to it , then your ignorance becomes your fault, just like once you are introduced to the church you become baptized. There are many people though, even yogis, who are never even introduced to the spiritual aspect of yoga, and so their ignorance becomes a dormant one, because how can you learn something that you don’t even know exists? The second type of ignorance is sustained ignorance. These people are completely content with not knowing. They may have been exposed to yoga, and yogic philosophy, and simply have no interest in learning or trying anything with it. These people are normally wrapped up in the outside world or technology which is what hinders them from being able to open their mind to who they are and what they are capable of doing. The third type is interrupted ignorance. Many yogis, especially in the western culture fall into this category. These are the yogis, who know of the hindrances and have studied yoga, and yet they allow outside life to still take over their life. The next type of ignorance is attenuated ignorance, which is a muted ignorance. What happens in this situation is best related to start wars. When the yogi knows right from wrong and through a series of life experiences, and constantly choosing the wrong choices or opposite virtue, and ends up weakening the kleases long after when they could have over come them. The last class is parched ignorance, which is actually the opposite of ignorance. This yogi has found self-mastery, and is detached.
Egoisms, which is also known as Asmita is the false identity; focus on I (body, thoughts, senses): judgmental; need to be right; the mind thinks it knows everything. I recently recalled and wrote about this story that my mother used to tell me as a child. It goes:
“There was once an young man who sought to know everything, and so he went out searching for an old wise man who (it was said) knew everything. The young man searched for along time; until finally he found the old man and asked him to ‘please teach me everything there is to know’. The old man agreed, but insisted that "First we must have some tea. You have come along way and you need to sit and drink something first.’ The old man took the teapot from the stove and began to pour tea into the young mans cup. He continued to pour even as the cup become full, even as the young man said enough, and even as the cup over flowed onto the table and then to the ground. He continued to pour until the pot was empty. The young man then stood up. He was furious. ‘What is the matter with you? I thought you knew everything, you do not even know how to pour tea!’ The old man did not get offend by this, instead he replied ‘Young man, your mind is like that teacup. You think you know so much, and that it is even close to possible for you to know everything. You must open your mind, empty your cup before you can learn anything and understand that if you try to learn too much, your cup will always over flow.”
Upon first reading this definition, this story immediately popped into my head. Asmita, is basically your ego. It revolves around you and that you are the center of the universe. As we just saw though ignorance is not being in tune with yourself and not putting enough attention to knowing who you are, so are we supposed to put ourselves first or last? Through out life, in all aspects we learn how to balance, and yoga is no different. There is a difference between saying: “You suck.” “I suck.” and “We should try again.” First example is someone who puts the blame on someone else, or simply dose not acknowledge themselves in the situation. After years of doing this, the person can become negative because they only allow outside experiences to run their lives, and when you forget your self, then you can become lonely, angry, or depressed. The second sentence is the opposite. You are excluding the other person. This statement could have been any I statement such as I’m the best, or I win. The last example is inclusive of both people and shows that you are willing to try again, or learn more. The idea is not to be self-centered to the point where you don’t see the world around you but be able to stay true to your own self as you travel through life.
Raga is next, which the attachment. Attachment happens when we tie outside experiences to our inner self. It is the loss of self. “Ice cream makes me happy.” “Rain makes me sad.” These are both examples. Raga manifests itself in people who have OCD, drug or alcohol addiction, shopping addictions, eating disorders, video game addiction, and any other type of disease or disorder in which the body relies on an external in order to evoke an emotion or feeling. However these are not the only types of people who experience Raga. As in the example “rain makes me sad”, it is not the rain itself that makes you sad. You will hear this a lot around yogis when they say I love this pose. Or I hate that pose. Well it’s not the pose or the weather that you hate or love, now is it? The next time you experience this, the first step in stopping raga is recognizing when, where, and for what you say these things. The second step is then to ask yourself, “why?” What about the pose do you love? Raga is seen everywhere is our lives today, because everyone is attached to the outside world. How many people feel “lost” or “naked” without their cell phones? Why? The answer to this problem is working then on our attachment or Raga with outside things.
Dvesa, or aversion is avoiding pain and discomfort, which actually backfires and causes resentments, and hatred. In some cases this is referred to as clinging to suffering. Dvesa is experienced when one either finds only hate for something, like chores or homework, or overlooks the frustration as seen with kids when they don’t understand the homework and instead of getting mad they just fill in any old answer just to get it over with. Not enjoying something is ok, but it is important to acknowledge it and confront it. I don’t like traffic, because I feel as though it holds me up, but in knowing this I plan ahead, I make sure that no matter the amount of traffic, I will arrive on time, and this allows me to enjoy the traffic as a time to practice a proper sitting position, and deep breathing. I have also found that If the traffic is stressing and I did not plan out enough time that it is a good time for me to practice acceptance. I accept that I did not plan adequately. I accept that I cannot make the cars in front of me go faster. I accept this little gift from God of a few minutes of alone or quiet time to think, meditate, or pray. “Every cloud has a silver lining” but everyone’s cloud is different and the silver lining is too. It is up to you to find the things that bother you and find ways to apply new meanings to them. However this will not happen without the acknowledgement that something is bothering or troubling you. If you have held on to something for a long time as a trouble and never acknowledged it, it may be difficult for you to do it alone, in which case I would seek outside help if you think that is necessary, but it is of vital importance that you face your troubles. If you don’t these things can eat you alive, even in your subconscious and without your knowing. I recently did an evaluation on my life and found out that I had suppressed some memories so far down that until I really dug deep into some fears and concerns of mine I do not think I ever would have remembered them. It was hard and I had a few meltdowns, but just going over my faults and fears and admitting them has helped tremendously. I pray and meditate pretty regularly in order to find some insight as to how to overcome not only past obstacles but current ones and the ones that may come in the future.
Abhinivesa, is the fear of loss. Fear in itself is a big obstacle: False Evidence Appearing Real; For Everything A Reason; Forget Everything And Run; Face Everything And Rise; False Expectations Appearing Real; Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality. All of these describe fear perfectly because fear is different for everyone; some people are afraid of the future while some are afraid of the past. Some people fear attention while others fear going unnoticed. Abhinivesa refers to the fear of loss of life, identity, or change. This deals mainly with a fear of the future, which hold change, and death. Fear of death is a common fear because everyone knows it is going to happen but we do not know when, why, or how. We also don’t have a solid idea as to what happens after we die, or if it may hurt. It is ok not to understand death, but what is not ok is to live your life in fear that you may die. Fearing change is also something that is common to most. Changes in income, or housing situations, changes in martial statuses or that amount of children you have are all changes that concern many people, but they are also things that you can not plan for. Sure you can take precautions, and have a savings or a second job in order to help with a change in income, but what happens if a hurricane happens and you lose your house? You can not always be completely prepared, and it is important to understand that. Lastly the unavoidable change is the changes that your body will experience from hair loss, or graying, to decreased muscle mass, and an overall inability to do the things that you could when younger. These changes will happen, and it is important not to dwell on them now. You will see that although they seem big and daunting now that when the time comes, these will seem completely normal and easy to handle when they actually appear in your life. The important thing is that when you do grow older that you are happy with yourself, that you are not filled with hate or fear for or of yourself, and that you can enjoy memories of the past as you continue to make new ones. Fear in itself can become an attachment, because you can attach yourself to the idea of having a wrinkled complexion that you now associate wrinkles as a bad thing, and you over indulge with facial cleansers and products that can potentially do more harm than good.