Light of the Spirit Blog

Avidya: Primal Ignorance, the Source of Life’s Miseries

AvidyaSutras 4 and 5 of Book Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

4. Avidya is the source of those that are mentioned after it (see What Are the Kleshas?), whether they be in the dormant, attenuated, alternating or expanded condition.

This is why Shankara keeps insisting that jnana alone brings liberation.

5. Avidya is taking the non-eternal [anitya], impure [ashuchi], pain-producing [dukha] and non-Atman [anatman] to be eternal [nitya], pure [shuchi], pleasure-producing [sukha] and Atman respectively.

No comment is really needed for this sutra, just the definitions.

  • Anitya: Impermanent; transient.
  • Ashaucha: Impurity; uncleanness.
  • Dukha: Pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory.
  • Anatman: Not-Self; insentient.
  • Nitya: Eternal; permanent; unchanging; the ultimate Reality; the eternal Absolute.
  • Shaucha: Purity; cleanliness.
  • Sukha: Happiness; ease; joy; happy; pleasant; agreeable.
  • Atman: The individual spirit or Self that is one with Brahman. The true nature or identity (self).

The whole world is caught in this snare. The yogi must free himself from these illusions right away, even though he must struggle hard against the ignorance and conditionings of many past lives as well as those of this life.

Further Reading:

Podcast: The Yoga Life 3: Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha, and the Great Vow

Abbot George BurkeIn today’s podcast Abbot George finishes the consideration of Yama, with its last three elements: asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha, and the sidesteps that people will take to avoid a strict adherence to these important principles. Then he considers the “Great Vow” of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Below is a brief summary of the major topics of this podcast.

What is Asteya (non-stealing)?

asteya brahmacharya andaparigrahaAsteya is abstinence from stealing, which Vyasa defines as: “the improper appropriation to oneself of others’ things.” He then concludes: “Refusal to do it, in freedom from desire, is non-stealing.”

Regarding asteya, Abbot George discusses the mental fudges one sometimes makes in order to justify violating this principle.

What is Brahmacharya (control and continence)?

“Brahmacharya is restraint of the sex organ and other senses,” says Vyasa. From this we see that brahmacharya has a twofold nature: control and continence.

Control: Spirit has two aspects: consciousness and energy. Consciousness is constant, whereas energy is cyclic. It is the movement of energy that produces (and is) our experience of relativity, and it is the development of energy that is the process of evolution. Therefore the conservation and application of energy is the main determinant of success or failure in spiritual endeavor. Diffusion and dissipation of energy always weakens us. Hence brahmacharya is a vital element of Yoga, without which we cannot successfully pursue the greater life of Higher Consciousness.

Basically, brahmacharya is conservation and mastery of all the energy systems and powers of our being. This is especially true in relation to negative emotions, for tremendous energy is expended through lust, anger, greed, envy, hatred, resentment, depression, fear, obsession, and the rest. Further, they are both the causes and the symptoms of losing self-control, a major aspect of brahmacharya.

Research has shown that persons in the grip of these emotions literally breathe out vital elements of the body. For example, the breath of angry people is found to be laden with copper. So negative emotion depletes us physically as well as energetically.

Positive emotions on the other hand actually enhance and raise our energy and physical levels. The cultivation of (true) love, compassion, generosity, cheerfulness, friendliness, and suchlike make us stronger and calmer–essential aspects of brahmacharya. It is noteworthy that the word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word virtus–power–which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word virya, which means both power and strength.

What is Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness)

Vyasa’s definition is most practical: “Seeing the defects in objects involved in acquiring them, and defending them, and losing them, and being attached to them, and depriving others of them, one does not take them to himself, and that is aparigraha.”

Here, as in the other foundations, the true virtue or observance is mostly internal, leading to the correct state of mind for successful yoga practice.

The Great Vow

After listing ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha, Patanjali continues: “These, not conditioned by class, place, time or occasion, and extending to all stages, constitute the Great Vow” (Yoga Sutra 2:31).

They are the Great Vow because they require the exercise of will and because of their dynamic effect on us. Even more, they are great because, like the elements, they are self-sufficient, depending on nothing else, and because they cannot be mutated into something else. They are always what they are, and for that reason they are always to be observed with no exceptions whatsoever. They cannot be neglected or omitted for any reason–absolutely. Patanjali lists the possible conditions which do affect lesser observances: class, place, time or occasion, and stages. In this podcast Abbot George gives a brief consideration of each of these.

This podcast is 25:20 minutes long.


Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 3: Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha, and the Great Vow if you do not see the player above.

info-symbol-80Note: We just discovered that the link to the podcast in our last email was directed to the wrong podcast episode. This has now been corrected. You can hear it now by clicking here to listen to The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness.

What are the Kleshas? (Hint: They Are Not an Alien Life-Form)

The Kleshas: the great afflictions or causes of all miseries in lifeSutras 2 and 3 of Book Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

2. (Kriya-Yoga) is practiced for attenuating Kleshas and bringing about Samadhi.

“Klesha” means taints or afflictions. A klesha is something that diminishes or distorts our consciousness, bringing misery and pain in some form. It also hinders meditation, preventing us from rising to the state of calm, clear concentration and samadhi.

Tapas, swadhyaya, and ishwarapranidhana weaken the kleshas, literally fading them out, washing them away, for they are accretions that have nothing to do with the eternal nature of our Self.

info-symbol-80Note that diminishing the kleshas is enough to bring about samadhi, which will then itself erase them completely. So we are not facing a herculean task that need daunt us. As Krishna tells Arjuna: “Even a little practice of this yoga will save you from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death [mahato bhayat–great fear]” (Bhagavad Gita 2:40).

3. The lack of awareness of Reality [avidya], the sense of egoism or ‘I-am-ness’ [asmita], attractions [raga] and repulsions [dwesha] towards objects and the strong desire for life [abhinivesha] are the great afflictions or causes of all miseries in life.

The five major kleshas are:

  • Avidya: Ignorance; nescience; unknowing; literally: “to know not.” Also called ajnana.
  • Asmita: I-ness; the sense of “I am;” “I exist;” sense of individuality.
  • Raga: Attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction. Greed; passion.
  • Dwesha: Aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple nonpreference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.
  • Abhinivesha: Will to live; strong desire; false identification of the Self with the body or mind; an instinctive clinging to life and a dread of death.

(All the above are from A Brief Sanskrit Glossary.)

Next: The Source of all the Afflictions in life: Primal Ignorance
Previously: Kriya Yoga According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness

ahimsa and satyaIn this podcast Abbot George begins a practical and detailed analysis of the first of the components of Yama: Ahimsa (harmlessness) and Satya (truth), which it is essential for the aspiring yogi to understand.

Ahimsa is not willfully causing any harm or pain whatsoever to any being whatsoever, in any degree whatsoever. Ahimsa includes strict abstinence from any form of injury in act, speech, or thought. Violence, verbal or physical, causing mental injury or pain, and angry or malicious damage or misuse of physical objects are all violations of ahimsa, unthinkable for the yogi.

“Satya is said to be speech and thought in conformity with what has been seen or inferred or heard on authority. The speech spoken to convey one’s own experience to others should be not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative. It is that uttered for helping all beings. But that uttered to the harm of beings, even if it is what is called truth, when the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth. It would be a wrong.” So says Vyasa.

But these are mere definitions. How is the yogi to apply them in his Yoga Life, in his quest for enlightenment? Listen to the podcast to find out.

This podcast is 24:56 minutes long.


Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness if you do not see the player above.

Related Reading:

Our Origin as Children of Light

Gospel of Thomas for Awakening coverAn excerpt from The Gospel of Thomas for Awakening (now available at Amazon in print and Kindle formats)

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day (I Thessalonians 5:5).

Jesus said, If they say to you, “Where did you come from?” say to them, “We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established itself and became manifest through their image.” If they say to you, “Is it you?,” say, “We are its children, we are the elect of the living father.” If they ask you, “What is the sign of your father in you?,” say to them, “It is movement and repose.” (Gospel of Thomas 50)

If they say to you, “Where did you come from?” say to them, “We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established itself and became manifest through their image.” First let us note what Jesus does not tell us to say. He does not tell us to say that we are creations of God or servants or God–and certainly not sinners.

Our origin reveals our nature. Since we came from the Light, we are ourselves that Light. Quite some years ago a healing group met each week in our monastery. At the beginning of each session we would say some prayers, always ending with: “Christ is the Light; the Light is Christ. I am that Christ; I am that Light.” This is the truth of our real, essential nature. It is not the truth of our temporal, ever-changing nature that is involved in evolution. But it is necessary for us to stop in our evolution dance occasionally and remember who and what we really are.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower–but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

So said Tennyson and so say all the wise. Those who do not say so should be ignored and even avoided. For they tell us lies about ourselves and would have us lie to ourselves in time. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Saint Paul described them as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (II Timothy 3:5).

We entered this relative field of evolution from “the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established itself and became manifest through their image.” That is the point at which the Invisible Light became Visible Light so creation could be projected for our habitation and evolution. That Light manifested as the creation in which we too became manifest. Being images of God, we became revelations of God just as the sun is reflected in many vessels of water. The reflections are many, but the Reflected is One.

If they say to you, “Is it you?,” say, “We are its children, we are the elect of the living father.” We are not God, but we positively are the children of God, “for in him we live, and move, and have our being; for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). The word translated “offspring” is genos, which means “kind” and from which we get the word genus–species. So we are what God is–as Tennyson says above–the difference being in degree. God is infinite and we are finite, he is the ocean and we are the waves. The ocean is the wave, but the wave is not the ocean.

We have been chosen by God, the Living Father, to evolve throughout our incarnations within relative creation, within physical, astral and causal worlds, until we attain to his perfect likeness, participating in his infinity which he shares with us, yet which is always his exclusively. We become godlike but never become God. We will be gods within God.

If they ask you, “What is the sign of your father in you?,” say to them, “It is movement and repose.” Our life is the shared life of God. It is a dynamic, evolutionary life which consists of “movement and repose, ” of “motion and rest” (Patterson and Maeyer’s translation). This means that within us there is both intense evolutionary movement in the form of development and at the same time there is an increasing establishment and expansion in the motionless consciousness that is the essence of our being, that is the Father within us. These two simultaneous poles of our existence are the “sign” of our Father within us.

Here, too, the words of Rumi cited earlier apply. This is the heart-song and the experience of the yogi.



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Introducing the Yoga Life: Laying the Foundations

yoga life faceThis podcast [see below for player] is the beginning of a series on how to lead the Yoga Life. Today Abbot George discusses what is lacking in the yoga practice of many, and why people fail or do not persevere in the path of yoga. Then he outlines the beginning of what the essential steps to success are.

First, what is meant by yoga, and what is the Yoga Life? What are the stages of an individual’s evolution? Then what are the “Foundations of Yoga”: Yama and Niyama?

Yama and Niyama are often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga, but they have nothing to do with the ideas of sin and virtue or good and evil as dictated by some cosmic potentate. Rather they are determined by a thoroughly practical, pragmatic basis: that which strengthens and facilitates our yoga practice should be observed and that which weakens or hinders it should be avoided.

It is not a matter of being good or bad, but of being wise or foolish. Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating foundation of Yoga. Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five.

Here is the complete list of these ten observances as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
  2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty
  3. Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
  4. Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
  6. Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  7. Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  8. Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  9. Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  10. Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

This podcast is 20 minutes long.


Click here to listen to Introducing the Yoga Life: Laying the Foundations if you do not see the player above.

More Podcasts:

Podcast: Why We Meditate and the Obstacles We Overcome

overcoming obstaclesWhy do we meditate? In this podcast Abbot George discusses the real reason to meditate as contrasted with wrong reasons. Then continuing with Patanjali’s instructions from the Yoga Sutras, he explains the obstacles to spiritual life and their effects.

The obstacles Patanjali lists are as follows:

  • Vyadhi: Disease of the body.
  • Styana: Dullness; languor, debility; drooping state.
  • Samshaya: Doubt; suspicion.
  • Pramada: Carelessness; fault; guilt.
  • Alasya: Laziness; idleness; apathy; sloth.
  • Avirati: Hankering after objects; non-dispassion; sensual indulgence; lack of control; non-restraint.
  • Bhranti-darshana: Delusion; erroneous view.
  • Alabdhabhumikatva: Non-achievement of a stage; inability to find a footing.
  • Anavashtitatvani: Unsteadiness; instability of mind; inability to find a footing; mental unsteadiness.

Patanjali lists these effects from the obstacles above:

  • Dukha is pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory.
  • Daurmanasya is despair, depression etc., caused by mental sickness; feeling of wretchedness and miserableness.
  • Angamejayatva is shaking of the body; lack of control over the body.
  • Shvasa-prashvasa is hard breathing; inspiration and expiration.

These are the symptoms of a mental state that is outward-turned and impelled toward–and absorbed in–externalities.

What is the means of removing these obstacles and their effects? Patanjali says in Sutra 32:

For removing these obstacles [there should be] the constant practice of the one principle [the japa and meditation of Om].

Listen to a full and practical explanation of these obstacles and overcoming them below (episode length 22:48):


Click here to listen to Why We Meditate and the Obstacles We Overcome if you do not see the player above.

Read more on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The Spiritual Value of Vegetarianism

vegetables and the value of vegetarianismThe major thing to keep in mind when considering the subject of vegetarianism is its relevancy in relation to our explorations of consciousness. We need only ask: Does it facilitate my spiritual growth–the development and expansion of my consciousness?

The answer is Yes.

“One acts according to one’s prakriti. Even the jnani does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish?” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33).

Many supposedly moral or spiritual problems are only matters of energy behavior. If the energies are purified and re-centered where they belong, instantly the problem vanishes. But such a purification and repositioning is not possible with energies other than those absorbed from sunlight, air, and plant life.

Conscious evolution

Practices for conscious evolution consist of two processes:

  1. purification, refinement, and repolarization of energies and
  2. placement of energies in higher levels. This means that our energies must be responsive, malleable and moveable.

Appollonius of Tyana, a great Master who lived in Greece shortly before the time of Jesus, was asked how he was able to work miracles. His simple answer was: “I have never eaten the flesh of animals.” Of course he did not mean that abstinence from meat alone made him a miracle-worker–otherwise all vegetarian animals and humans would work miracles naturally. What he meant was that the condition of his mind and body, resulting from being a strict vegetarian, had enabled him to successfully engage in the inner disciplines required for spiritual enlightenment–disciplines he had learned from the yogis of India.

Best of All

The best part about all this is that you can discover the truth for yourself by simply trying a vegetarian diet. Of course it must be a sensible one with those things that will nourish the body correctly. But you need only go on a vegetarian diet, eat correctly, and watch for the benefit. It will come.

This is an excerpt from The Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

For more information regarding the value of vegetarianism for all levels of our being, read the above, as well as the following:

Podcast: How to Effectively Meditate on Om

Yellow Marblish OmIn this important podcast, Abbot George continues the subject of Ishwara, with emphasis on the Sound Form (Vachaka) of Ishwara which brings the yogi to enlightenment: Om.

He also gives hints on how to apply this Supreme Mantra effectively.


Click here to listen to How to Effectively Meditate on Om if you do not see the player above.

Discover more about how to meditate on Om by reading Om Yoga Meditation.

To see all of our podcasts, visit our podcast page.

Yoga, God, and Gurus: an Important Perspective

podcast microphoneThe last podcast about God was philosophical, so in this podcast Abbot George will go into the practical side.

It is the goal of every sentient being to evolve and attain union with God. Evolution takes place naturally as we move up the ladder from birth to birth until the level in reached in which we take charge and engage in the much more rapid process of self-evolution.

Yoga is the means of self-evolution that culminates in conscious and perfect union with God. So we need to consider God in that perspective.

The Yoga Darshan or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the prime authority on yoga. Patanjali was a Nath Yogi in the spiritual lineage of Gorakhnath, the greatest yogi in Indian history. Abbot George discusses Patanjali’s words on God and yoga found in the first section, the Samadhi Pada of the Yoga Sutras.

Most importantly, Abbot George talks about the proper understanding of what a guru is and is not.


Click here to listen to Yoga, God, and Gurus: an Important Perspective if you do not see the player above.

To see all of our podcasts, visit our podcast page.