The Moksha Gita
by Swami Sivananda
Commentary by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 4: The Nature of Avidya

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1. The Guru said: Avidya is Malina-Sattwa. It is the Upadhi or limiting adjunct of Jiva. It is the Karana Sarira of the individual soul. Avidya is Anandamaya Kosha.

Avidya is the same as Maya, but only in relation to the individual. Avidya is Malina-Sattwa or Sattwa polluted by Rajas and Tamas. There is a preponderance of distractive activity and stupor in Avidya. The individual is controlled by Avidya whereas Ishwara is not controlled by Maya. The force of Avidya limits the consciousness to such an extent that the individual is falsely made to believe that its body is the entire truth. Not only the body but even the objects and persons fictitiously connected with the interests of the body are also superimposed on the self and their loss or pain is considered as a real loss to the self itself. There is a terrible degeneration of consciousness in the case of the individual earthly being. It first forgets the Reality; secondly it centres its consciousness in a localised body; thirdly it drags other external bodies also to its self and regards such of the few as are beneficial to its egoistic pleasures as its own self and consequently begins to hate those entities or individuals which are not connected with its interests or which are set in opposition to it. The grosser the form of consciousness, the greater the extent of superimposition, the greater the bondage, the lesser the light and purity, the intenser the passions, the thicker the nescience and the denser the delusion.

The seat of Avidya is the Karana Sarira or the causal body of the soul. There is a dense clouding of Self-awareness due to the agitative vibrations of the intense desire for self-materialisation. The power of the longing to externalise the Self-existence is an unthinkable monstrous agent that at once disturbs the peace of the Self and thrusts out its poisonous fangs of sense-functioning. This is the story of self-imprisonment and acute suffering created by the self-manifestation of egocentric consciousness. The storehouse of the power of illusion and torment is the Anandamaya Kosha or the bliss-sheath of the soul which keeps in stock all the seeds of Samskaras and the psychic effects of all mental actions done by the individual. This stock of impressions maintains the future embodiments of ignorance and agony as an individual in terrestrial life. Avidya is therefore the mother of misery and the cause of the prison-life of the egoistic personality as a distinct individual of the vast universe.

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2. Avidya is a false perception by which the ignorant Jiva takes the body and intellect as pure, permanent and a source of pleasure.

"Avidya" is "that which does not exist." In fact, it is a conceit based on the belief that the objects perceived through externalisation and the organs of such perception are all absolutely real in their forms. The creations through intensified thought by the Self which does not actually create anything other than itself because of the non-existence of an entity second to the One Self, are imagined to be actually existing by themselves. A shadow is taken to be the substance, a phantom is mistaken for the reality, the mirage is believed to be a tank. The mountains appear to dance and the trees move when the mind is affected by madness or intoxication. The dreadful fever of life is the agitation of the One Consciousness which dreams itself to be many. The universe is the dream of the subjective Self, the object of the reverie of Self-hypnotisation. The world exists in the cosmic acceptance of what is really an illusory presentation.

The body, the mind the intellect and all the modifications of imagination are taken for granted as pure and perfect and a source of permanent happiness for the self. The self is the blissful eternal being and it wishes to find bliss in what it has merely imagined and what really does not exist. This delusion is reinforced by continuous activity and struggle to maintain the state of the self-imposed individuality and the energy necessary for the keeping up of the illusion is supplied from the fund of the source of ignorance, the Anandamaya Kosha. Even in the death of the body, this centre of ignorance is not destroyed. It is carried to all bodies which are manifested by the self. This cycle of Samsara never comes to an end since the sheath of nescience adds to the old stock of Samskaras, the impressions of psychic actions performed in the daily life of the individual. Liberation from this cycle comes only through a snapping of the thread of thought through spiritual meditation.

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3. Just as a king acts the part of a beggar, out of his own free will on the stage in a drama, so also the Sat-Chid-Ananda Brahman acts the part of a Jiva in this drama of the world out of his own free-will for sport.

The question why the drama of the world appears has not satisfactorily been answered. It can be understood as a self-imposition on absoluteness, a limitation of infinity, a disconnecting of the Unified Consciousness, a sport of manifoldness in undividedness. It is explained that even as a king in a drama puts on the garb of a beggar out of his own free will, so also the One appears as the many.

It is understandable that as long as the king is conscious of his kingship even in the state of his counterfeit beggarliness, he is in sport and enjoys the fun! But if the king is to forget his pristine nature in his pretended state of the beggar, then the sport is no more a sport but an imprisonment in the consciousness of what he is not. Protracted belief in and imagination of one's being something makes one as such, because the original imagining Self is all-powerful. The Satchidananda-Essence has put on the forms of the world as a play – we have to call it a play, for we cannot give any other reason for the appearance of the world – but the centres of subsequent imagination which were originally evolved out of the absolute mentation begin to play the part of the fool and due to continuous affirmation they become fools themselves, the individuals tied to earthliness.

The individual or the Jiva does not know that it is playing a sport, but thinks that it is actually what it appears to be in the imagined garb. Here lies the bondage of the individual in contradiction to the Essence of Satchidananda which consciously appears to itself as the manifold universe. The aspirants have to learn a lesson from this against feigning themselves to be something which is undesirable, even for the sake of mere fun. Fun later on turns into reality and the fun-maker is eventually bound by his own creation. Whatever one thinks, that he becomes, for the source of imagination is the omnipotent Self. One who believes that he is Brahman becomes Brahman Itself. There is a story that a thief had by force of circumstances to pretend to be a saint and he later on actually became a saint. Even a Sattwika type of person, well established in religion and virtue, would turn to be Tamasic and brutal in course of time if he begins to act constantly the part of a demon in a drama. The emotions that are roused when acting have got a lasting effect and they affect the individual permanently. This theory is applied in the Bhramara-Kita-Nyaya of Vedantic Meditation where the meditator affirms his being Brahman and thus becomes Brahman actually.

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4. Just as men with a defective vision behold a white thing as yellow, so does one perceive the Self as the body on account of Avidya or ignorance.

The man with a defective vision has got a perverted perception of things. The Consciousness with its vision infected by the urge for materialisation, objectification, diversification and self-multiplication conceives of the body as the Self and the Self as the body. The five sheaths are superimposed on the Atma and the Atma in turn is superimposed on the five sheaths which constitute the body. When the construction of the eyeballs is changed into that of another variety, the whole world will be seen of a different form. There are lenses which can make a square table appear oval and a round all full of corrugations. If one looks at his face in a broken mirror the face also will look broken. A straight rod appears bent like a bow when dipped in water. The born-blind man thinks that all are walking in darkness, and the disturbance on the surface of the water makes the sun in the sky appear shaky. The subjective defect makes the object also appear defective and thus the Eternal Brahman is seen to appear like the manifold cosmos sheerly on account of the clouding of consciousness and distraction of subjective awareness.

The ignorance of the Jiva is colossal. It has wrong notions about itself and its connection with the world and other individuals, because it disconnects itself from others and believes that its life as such is eternal. The faith pinned on untruth transforms untruth to appear like truth and Jiva is thus deceived by its own thought-constructions.

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5. When one gets knowledge of the Self, this Avidya vanishes. It is the destruction of Avidya that is the Brahmic-seat.

Avidya no more appears when one acquires the wisdom of the Truth. It exists only until the melting away of egoism. When love for life is broken, when the will to live, the Abhinivesha or the clinging to personal endurance is frustrated by Vicharana and contemplation, when the powers of the mind are turned inward and utilised in building the counter-construction of the imagination of the reverse order, the vexation of existence in limited bodies comes to an end.

The realization of the Self is the destruction of Avidya. The two acts are simultaneous. The act of realization is not a positive achieving but a negative destroying. It is not getting something but removing something. It is not an invention but a discovery. The Reality is flooding the very core of the being of all at all times without even a sense of breakage anywhere or in any condition. But the free flow of the flood of Brahman is blocked by the Jiva's psychic apparatus and the destruction of this protrusion of the force of the inner psychological organ is the process of Self-realisation. The unceasing overflow of Brahman is termed in various ways as the different powers and efforts of nature. That is why the Upanishads take recourse to negative processes of world-denial and Brahman-realization.

The spiritual aspirant, therefore, should remove the negative propensities hidden in the recesses of his consciousness and lead a life cut off from the bustle and din of the world. He should not engage himself in the work of carrying out the scheme of Pravritti-Marga or the way of worldly life. A person who has understood properly the mystery of this world illusion cannot live in the negative plane of earthly consciousness even for a second. Desire, anger, greed are the harbingers of the prison-life of Samsara and the ferocious life of the mind is kept up by giving food to it through the negative qualities of sensuality. The aspirant should therefore restrain his mental functions. Then only the glorious Truth of the Self will be revealed. The Self is not to be caught from outside, it is the innermost being of man. Those who run away from their Self are led astray by the force of Avidya into the pit of births and deaths.

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6. Just as the mirror is dimmed by dirt, so Brahman is veiled by Avidya. Therefore human beings are deluded by this Avidya.

Brahman is veiled by the force of Avidya just as a clean mirror is soiled by the blow of the air that man exhales. Avidya is the origin of selfish endeavour and narrow interests which try to make the ego live long. When the requirements of the ego are supplied life on earth is prolonged and the stream of Samsara never comes to an end. The Sadhaka therefore is required to root out selfishness by denying the individual interests through self-abnegation and refusal to abide by personal cravings. The lower appetites of the animal self drag the Jiva through the senses in all directions and it becomes hard for the afflicted soul to rest in peace. The covetous nature originated from the desire to live long on earth is strengthened by the activity directed towards the fulfilment of that end. A complete sacrifice of the self for the purpose of others' interests renders the Jiva fit to be alive to the higher knowledge. This is the method of Karma-Yoga which abstains from personal enjoyment of life and gives happiness to others.

Human beings are deluded by Avidya and they can be freed from its snares only through Sadhana for Perfection. Every way of spiritual effort is centred in the breaking open of the ego which is the root of the passion for living. Avidya is the progenitress of the succeeding afflictions of Asmita, Raga, Dwesha and Abhinivesha. These afflictions can be eradicated through a turning to the Source of Eternal Life through regulation of conduct and meditation on the spiritual Ideal. Whatever be the conviction of the worldly man regarding the reality of his life in the descension to error and perpetration, he cannot help seeing discord everywhere in the life of even small creatures. Yet, man runs after the possession of material gains and exerts to acquire a high name and wide fame. He does not realise the defects of phenomenal life and persists to pull himself on somehow or other in his present wretched state. This wide-spread deluded business of life is the effect of Avidya and man is saved only when he takes refuge in the Permanent Self, which is his own being and stops from all further new under-takings in his life.

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7. Mind, senses, egoism, intellect and body are the effects of Avidya. If the cause is destroyed, the effects are destroyed by themselves.

The Hathayogins start from the outside body to the inward truth by disciplining the physical sheath at first, but the Vedantins directly start from the innermost intelligence and break down the whole super-structure of the world-phenomenon. The cause of the disease of life is in the inner sheaths of the self and mere external applications without heeding to the root of the infection will not bring lasting benefit. Though the actual cause of Samsara is the Anandamaya Kosha, spiritual Sadhana cannot be practised merely by resting in this sheath. When the Jiva rests in this sheath of ignorance it falls asleep being completely unconscious of itself as well as the external universe. It knows neither the inward nor the outward nature. Such a state of total inertia is unsuited for the activity of spiritual exertion, for exertion requires consciousness. Hence, in deep sleep, even if the Jiva is nearest to the Reality being unaffected by distraction, it cannot progress in its spiritual evolution since the state of darkness is static and admits no entrance of conscious exertion.

The Vedantic Meditator, therefore, starts with the Vijnanamaya Kosha, though it is affected by Rajasic dynamics; because the Supreme intelligence is reflected in this Kosha, he is able to continue his work of self-transcendence with the help of the intellectual faculty. When with the power of Viveka or discrimination the Absolute Self is asserted by the Vedantin, the mind is held standstill, the senses turn back to their psychic source, the ego is not allowed to make further arrogations and the Chitta or the store of Samskaras is held in check.

Thus the Vedantic Meditation which seeks to destroy the cause of Avidya, automatically overcomes the effects thereof, and burns the seeds of past impressions which are lodged in the heart. The knots of ignorance are rent asunder and the individual becomes the Supreme.

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