The Yoga System
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: Depth Psychology

Avidya represents a condition in which one forgets reality and is unconscious of its existence. We have somehow forgotten the real nature of our selves, viz. the universality of our true being. This is the primary function of ignorance. But it has more serious consequences. For it also makes one mistake the non-eternal (anitya) for the eternal (nitya), the impure (asuchi) for the pure (suchi), pain (duhkha) for pleasure (sukha) and the not-Self (anatman) for the Self (atman). It is obvious that the world with its contents is transient, and yet it is hugged as a real entity. Even the so-called solidity or substantiality of things is challenged today by the discoveries of modern science. The Theory of Relativity has put an end to such a thing as stable matter or body and even a stable law or rule to work upon. Still the world is loved as reality. This is one of the functions of avidya. So, also, the impure body which stinks when deprived of life or unattended to daily is loved and caressed as a pure substance. The itching of the nerves is regarded as an incentive to pleasure and to scratch them for an imaginary satisfaction seems to be the aim of all sense-contacts in life, whatever be their nature. The increase of desire (parinama) after every sensory indulgence, the anxiety (tapa) consequent upon every attempt at fulfilment of a desire, the undesirable effect in the form of psychic impressions (samskara-duhkha) that follow in the wake of all sense-enjoyments and the obstructing activity of the modes of the relativity of things (the 3 gunas) called sattva, rajas and tamas, which revolve like a wheel without rest (guna-vritti-virodha) point to the fact that worldly pleasure is a name given to pain, by the ignorant. Also, objects are loved as one's Self, while in fact they are not. All these are the characteristics of avidya or ajnana, due to which there is a total distortion of reality into an appearance called this universe of space, time and objects.

Another result which spontaneously follows from avidya is asmita or the sense of being. This sense is the consciousness of one's individuality and personality, the ego, ahamkara, or self-affirmation. Forgetfulness of universality ends in an assertion of individuality. The wrong notion that the individual is organically separated from the universe and the consequent self-assertion (asmita), the bifurcating attitude of likes and dislikes in regard to things (raga-dvesha) and a longing to preserve one's body by all means (abhinivesa) are the graduated effects of avidya, which follow from it in a logical sequence. We do not know Universal Being. We know only the particular and the individual. We love and hate objects. We cling to life and fear death. The first mistake is to think, 'I am not the Universal'; the second to affirm, 'I am the particular'; the third to like certain things and to dislike others; the fourth to strive for perpetuating individuality by the instinct for self-preservation and self-reproduction. The error of forgetfulness of universality has produced affirmation of individuality, which has caused love and hate, or like and dislike, all which finally has led to desire for life and horror of death. This is our present state. We have now to wake up from this muddled thinking and go back to the truth of thinking universally. The union of the individual with the Universal is yoga.