Blog Piece

Avidya – Understanding the Kleshas

February 13, 2019

Priya was a manager in a multi-national firm. She loved her job. She was the life of the parties she attended and would often regale a captive audience with stories of how she overcame the odds to become as successful as she had. However, a year later, her company’s fortunes spiralled downwards. Many employees lost their jobs. She was one of them. Her perfect world fell apart at the seams.

Priya was left without the things that she had based her identity on – her job and her success. She felt like a complete failure. Her sense of self worth was in tatters. The fractured sense of self and the crisis of identity filled her with self doubt. What Priya was suffering from is a fundamental misunderstanding of her real self – a Klesha known as Avidya.

Often described as the obstacle of the mind, Avidya is the sanskrit word for the absence of knowledge and wisdom. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe  Avidya as the act of mistaking the  impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self. This deep rooted misperception of our real nature, keeps us disconnected from the sacred source and stuck in a state of self-inflicted suffering.

Within all human beings lies the core spiritual essence known as the Atman. When we identify with the Atman, we experience deep contentment that is unshakeable. Human experience buries this sacred source under a dense fog of conditioning leading us towards ignorance and the false identification with the ego.

I am Priya. I am a Tamilian. I am a manager. I am succesful. I am pretty. I am a failure. I am ugly. People dislike me. I hate myself… I am everything but divine.

Avidya is the basic failure to recognise that you are the Atman and are connected with every atom that exists; and the identification of the self with the ego and all things temporal is a root of why you are unable to identify with the divinity within.

Avidya is a fundamental blindness about our true nature. It is the inability to experience a deep connection with others and to our true self. We see this deep seated ignorance play out in every aspect of our life – in our though processes, our prejudices, our fears, our needs, our insecurities and our desires.

That probably explains why we seek reassurance and approval from others to amplify our self worth; and why transitory things like wealth, looks, luxury and success gives us joy and a sense of worth. Making your self esteem contingent upon others is like digging a pit that you cannot crawl out of.

Even though you are aware that you alone are responsible for your inner state, knowing the truth on the level of intellect doesn’t translate in to a shift in feelings and behavior. For there to be a relevant shift, the understanding needs to percolate down to a visceral level. Only then will avidya transform into vidya or true knowledge.

When we’re stuck in ignorance, we identify ourselves with our physical bodies, or with our fleeting thoughts – forgetting the sacred essence of who we really are –and that essence is buried deeper and deeper under multiple veils.

Our ignorance multiplies when get wrapped in our worldly desires. We become attached to not only our desires but also our aversions. Both are obstacles on the path of enlightenment because they bind us the our ego. The goal of yoga is freedom from these things.


Avidya is a deep rooted condition strengthened by life-times of false identification but it’s a condition that can change with intent and practice. Hence, dismantling it is a multi layered process. Yoga prescribes a multi-pronged approach for dismantling its different aspects – Devotion for connecting to the higher self, Selfless action for detachment from outcomes and meditation for stilling the mind.

Another key to dealing with and dismantling deeply ingrained habits and emotions is to view yourself from the perspective of an observer as opposed to a doer. Through practice and intent, you will notice a shift in your consciousness that will, given time, change your patterns of thought and perception.

Any moment that causes us to question our pre-conceived and pre-conditioned notions about reality has the potential to lift our veil. When the source of your happiness shifts from material things, validation from others and other external triggers to the inner you being the source of happiness, the fog of avidya will start to lift, slowly but surely, plugging you in to the super consciousness – that is eternal and true.


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