Avidya: The Absence of Right Knowledge
Yoga Journal|July - August 2021
I was recently watching a TV sitcom where a character had been deeply offended by her friend. After a full day of nursing her resentment, the character realized the rude event never happened—she had only dreamed that it had
By Rina Deshpande

It reminds me of the parable of the man walking outside during twilight. He shrieks at the sight of a coiled snake and runs, tripping on a stone and breaking his leg. A neighbor overhears his cries and comes out with a lantern. Holding the light up, it reveals not a serpent, but a pile of coiled rope.

The reactions of the resentful woman and the fearful man are both examples of avidya. The term is often translated into English as “ignorance.” More accurately, however, avidya means the “absence of correct knowledge.” In Sanskrit, “a-” means “absence of,” and “vidya” means “right knowledge.” In Buddhist teachings, this concept is called “wrong perception.” Our yoga teachings would have us explore this concept as the human tendency to believe a wrong perception.

Recognizing Avidya

A Western translation of ignorance implies knowing nothing at all. Avidya, however, suggests that we do know something, but that we have interpreted or understood it incorrectly. In the Yoga Sutra, Swami Satchidananda translates Sri Patanjali’s teachings on avidya as “when we are convinced the impermanent is permanent, the impure is pure, the painful is pleasant, and the non-Self is Self.”

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