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Yoga Sutras
Sutra 2.5

anityāśuci-duḥkhānātmasu nitya-śuci-sukhātma-khyātir avidyā

Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self.

Translated - Swami Satchidananda

This sutra highlights the concept of avidyā, which can be translated as "ignorance." Avidyā is regarded as the root cause of all suffering and the primary obstacle to self-realisation and spiritual growth. It refers to a lack of understanding of the true nature of reality, where an individual sees the world as a collection of separate entities and experiences a sense of separation between themselves and the external world. This ignorance gives rise to various dualities, such as subject-object duality, pleasure-pain duality, and so on. The sutra explains that avidyā manifests in four ways: 1 Anitya (impermanent) is misunderstood as nitya (permanent). 2 Aśuci (impure) is misunderstood as śuci (pure). 3 Duḥkha (painful) is misunderstood as sukha (pleasant). 4 Anātma (non-Self) is misunderstood as ātma (Self). Let's explore each aspect of avidyā in more detail: 1 Avidyā causes individuals to perceive impermanent and transient aspects of life as permanent and unchanging, resulting in suffering when those things inevitably change or fade away. For example, people might identify their happiness with external possessions or relationships, only to experience disappointment and distress when these external factors change or are lost. 2 Avidyā distorts our perception of purity and impurity. The mind becomes deluded, considering impure or harmful actions, thoughts, or emotions as acceptable or even virtuous. This misinterpretation prevents individuals from recognising the true essence of purity and leads to moral confusion and ethical challenges. 3 Avidyā causes individuals to mistake sources of suffering and pain for pleasure and happiness. Pursuing temporary gratifications and sensory pleasures, guided by ignorance, may bring momentary enjoyment but ultimately leads to further dissatisfaction and discontent. 4 Avidyā leads to a false identification of the self with the external world, including the body, mind, and ego. This mistaken self-identification prevents individuals from realising their true nature as pure consciousness (Purusha) and causes them to believe that the transient aspects of the material world are their true selves (Prakriti). Through the practices of yoga, self-inquiry, and meditation, individuals can gradually dispel the darkness of ignorance and gain clarity and insight into their true nature. By discerning the impermanent from the permanent, the impure from the pure, the painful from the pleasant, and the non-Self from the Self, practitioners can cultivate wisdom and liberation from the illusions of avidyā.
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