Yoga Philosophy – The Tree of Avidya

For those of us who come to yoga for as a spiritual practice, or as part of our spiritual practice, come to this point of confronting ignorance. Our willingness to be curious about this word, to explore this idea, can be challenging. It is okay!

In our recent book club, we discussed the idea of suffering, which is caused by ignorance and the discomfort that conversation can bring. One thing that was brought up, is that feeling of discomfort. Is it fear? When we are ready, taking a look at these origins of even the beginnings of our exploration can be so important to the process.

In yoga, this idea of Ignorance is often described as a tree with Avidya or ignorance being the trunk, and the tree being composed of four branches. We will get into the branches in the coming months, today we wanted to introduce the concept and explore our own willingness to dive into the topic.

Have you ever noticed a teacher in a yoga class say that we are allowing ourselves the space to “see all that we are.” The theory of avidya says that it is ignorance of all that we are that causes us distress, and that causes us to be unclear. When we are able to remove the barrier, or see through/past the ignorance all becomes clear.

Though when we talk about ignorance and “simply” removing the barriers, it can seem too simple, like some meditations that say, simply stop paying attention to the thoughts! We understand that being aware of our own avidya is a lifelong process, having the knowledge that we have the capability to see beyond the day to day struggles can be powerful and helpful.

The branches of the Tree of Avidya that will be explored in the future: which will hopefully fill out our picture, and give us some concrete steps going forward are:

  • Avidya: Ignorance – the trunk of the tree
  • Asmita: Ego
  • Raga: Wants/Desires
  • Dvesa: Rejection/Aversion
  • Abhinivesa: Fear

“Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.”

— Pema Chödrön