Uprooting The Tree Of Igorance

by Asoka Selvarajah on January 5, 2015

Avidya - The Tree Of IgnoranceWhy do we fail to do the good that we know we should? Why do we fall below our own standards? Why do we try so hard to make progress in life and yet have little to really show for it?

In Yoga philosophy, the term Avidya is used to describe the condition that causes this tendency within us. It literally means “incorrect comprehension”; better known as ignorance. According to yoga teachings it is deeply rooted in our being through repeated habit.

We know that any behavior, when repeated often enough, becomes almost instinctive. This is true to such an extent that we can even believe such actions to be outside of our conscious control. The misuse of this “anchoring procedure” is the foundation of avidya.

Examples include unjustified angry reactions to other people, chronic dependencies like alcohol or drugs, or self-sabotage just when we are about to make a life-changing breakthrough in some important area. The subtle thing about avidya is that it hides itself. It only ever manifests as something else. Its symptoms are everywhere, but the cause itself remains concealed. We see it as “life”, or the other person’s fault, or some recurring self-destructive habit we can’t control. The source itself remains concealed.

Avidya is like a deeply rooted tree with four thick branches. The first branch is called Asmita, or ego. This is the part of us that seeks its own interests. It considers itself better than others, is bruised when it does not get its own way, and generally causes us to identify with this earthly body and the life it is living. It has no wider perspective than that.

The second branch is called Raga and is best translated as Desire or Attachment. This is the part that constantly wants what it does not have. It desires what it does not really need and seeks to accumulate merely for the sake of it. It makes us unsatisfied and causes us to continually compare ourselves unfavorably with others. If we are wealthy, we are unhappy because somebody else is wealthier still. And so on…

The third branch is called Dvesa or Refusal. This is like the recoil response. Whatever negative experiences we have had in life make us afraid of repeating them again in case the same result occurs. It can make us reject people, situations and possibilities that just might cause us pain again. In one person, it may be the fear of forming relationships with the opposite sex. In another, it may be a fear of public speaking as a result of negative childhood experiences.

The fourth and last branch on the tree of Avidya is called Abhinivesa or Fear. These are specifically fears that are NOT caused by previous experience. For example, we may fear change, or growing old, or that we may lose everything we worked so hard to earn. In other words, things we may never have experienced before.

Avidya, in all its subtle forms, works within us constantly to root us in our habitual ways and make improvement difficult or impossible. The more we indulge Avidya, the stronger it becomes. Eventually, we feel that we are no longer the doer of these things; they simply happen to us.

A person can attract one disastrous relationship after another, or continually experience uncontrollable rage under certain stimuli, and feel that it is nothing directly to do with them. It is just bad luck. The person fails to see that there is only one person responsible for everything that happens! So what can we do? If Avidya obscures and clouds, it clearly must be obscuring something. Yoga philosophy calls this something Purusa.

In the West, we know it as the “Higher Self” or “Silent Observer”; the true divine spirit that lies within each of us. The task therefore, is to bring Purusa out and live from it moment by moment. By doing this, we minimize the effects of the four forms of Avidya. A Spiritual Master is one who has completely uprooted the tree of Avidya forever and sees things as they really are. Thus, one of the names for the Buddha is “The Awakened One”.

How do we increasingly live from Purusa – the highest within us? The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali suggest three methods…

The first is actual practice of Yoga – both the physical postures and the breathing exercises. If this is something you feel comfortable with, it is definitely worth considering. There are many physical and mental benefits to be gained from a regular practice of Yoga, no matter how simple. However, be sure to consult your doctor before even contemplating such a regime, especially if you are over 40 and have never done it before. Yoga should only ever be learned in the beginning from a live teacher. Books are helpful as a supplement but should never replace live tuition. Regular Yoga does progressively diminish the force of Avidya in our lives.

The second method is through self-examination. Regular contemplation of our actions and habitual thought patterns will awaken us to take increasing responsibility for our lives. Meditation is one excellent method that can help. So too can keeping a Journal of our progress. Activities like these can break the habitual stimulus-response cycle , and place that moment of choice back in between the two. In other words, instead of responding automatically as we usually do, we can choose in that moment to act differently. We become increasingly conscious and responsible, instead of remaining creatures of habit.

The third method is to create a certain detachment to the actions of our life, and almost become an external observer. Rather than being an active participant, taking our hopes and dreams terribly seriously, we become more like an actor in a play, playing the part the best we can. This form of spiritual detachment does not mean we under-perform in life in any way. It merely means that we become more detached and objective about the movement of our lives; less elated when things go right and less distraught when disaster occurs. In this way the ego, and indeed all aspects of Avidya, are progressively weakened.

In truth, all three methods work best together. However, one or other approach can prove immensely beneficial. For most of us, Avidya will remain to some extent throughout our lives. However, the more we can live from the true spirit within, the Purusa, the more authentically we live our lives. We relate to others better, make better decisions, and the hold of ignorance upon our lives gradually diminishes. We become the best person we can possibly be and thereby benefit the world. Surely that is the goal of life ?


Using A Journal For Personal Development

by Asoka Selvarajah on January 5, 2015

A great man once said that a life worth living is a life worth recording. With this truth in mind, let us examine the time-honored method of keeping a Journal as a powerful tool for self-improvement.Journaling For Personal Development

Firstly, understand that a Journal is not a diary. Although the line is definitely blurred, a diary largely deals with externals. A Journal is about your inner being. It is actively used as a tool for self-improvement, as opposed to passively recording events.

The benefits of keeping a Journal are that through doing so, you monitor your own internal processes. It can be used to integrate psychological parts within yourself that have long remained in conflict. A Journal can help you see the changing cycles within your life – processes that only become evident when rigorous self-examination is used. It helps you to remember your dreams, and begin to understand and gain insight from them. Most importantly, the keeping of a Journal puts you ever closer in touch with the Higher Self – the highest part of you responsible for creativity, wisdom and for orchestrating the events of your life.

In short, keeping a Journal turns your life from a seemingly random succession of events into a well-defined school. You begin to see the lessons in your life and put them into practice.

What is the best procedure? There are many, and it is really a very in-depth subject. In this short discussion, we shall examine a few ideas to get you on the road of at least starting a Journal and thereby experiencing immediate benefits.

The first step is to physically get yourself a suitable Journal. This should ideally be an A4 book with either lined or unlined paper. Don’t get a diary as you will not be doing a “day to a page” or anything like that. However, the book you buy should ideally have section dividers of some sort.

Alternatively, you can buy a file folder, corresponding pad of paper, and a set of dividers. Use the dividers to create different sections in your Journal.

The first section you should keep is the Daily Log. Here, you make brief entries during the day, preferably immediately after the event. In this section, you record any internal events that you deem of importance. Emotions, reactions, thoughts, realizations, interactions with people or situations, and the internal effects they had upon you. If there was an external trigger, you record just enough of it to make sense of the entry. The key here is brevity.

Even though your outer life may be relatively uneventful from one day to the next, you will soon find that your inner life is alive and rich and full of happenings. As you do this over time, more insights will begin to occur. For instance, you will start to perceive the triggers that cause your behavior.

You will become increasingly aware of how you handle yourself and how you could do better. You will become less “automatic” and more conscious of your choices in each and every situation.

Another section you should keep is a dream journal. Here you record any impressions, fragments or complete dreams that you recall. If you do not normally remember dreams, this procedure will help stimulate recall. Keep the Journal by your bed and record anything that you remember. Better still, tell yourself before you sleep that you will remember your dreams. If you still don’t remember anything, consider setting an alarm clock at some point in the night, and write down whatever you recall as soon as you awaken. If the answer is nothing, reset the alarm clock!

Dreams are one place where your intuitive, creative self – which can only speak in images – seeks to establish communication with you. Thus by making this effort, you begin to come into conscious communion with parts of yourself that transcend your normal conscious intelligence.

The next section is where you ask questions that you need answers to. These can relate to any area of your life whatsoever – relationships, spirituality, work, creativity, and so on. Actually, you are asking your Higher Self for the answers.

Write your entry here in the form of a question. Date it and leave it. Then pay attention to your dreams, the events of the day, and your own internal insights and thought processes. The various parts of the Journal fit beautifully together to give you the answers you seek. Expect an answer and it will come.

If nothing happens, simply repeat the process the next day with the same question! Be insistent. The answer will eventually appear.

The final section of the Journal that we will talk about is the Life Cycles section. You review your life and try to describe it in terms of the big cycles that you have experienced. It may have been a relationship cycle, an employment/career cycle, a cycle of religious affiliation. It differs for each person. Ponder your life and recognize the major cycles. For example, it may be your ten-year marriage,
your six year career with XYZ Corp., your troubled teenage years, etc. Within each major cycle, write the main events that made it up as a series of brief entries. If you do this properly, you should also be able to identify minor cycles within the major. Do this also for the current cycle that you are living in right now.

Of course, many different cycles overlap each other in our lives. The point is simply to begin to get a perspective on the major movements within our lives that have brought us to where we are today.

Being able to see the large cycles and sub-cycles helps you to achieve a much expanded consciousness and context for your life. You see how the events of life seem orchestrated – as indeed they are – to lead you to learn many lessons and gain profound realizations. You begin to realize where you failed to learn the lesson, and therefore had to experience it all over again in another time and place until it finally sank in.

In short, you gain perspective. In doing so, you become more empowered to lay out a grander vision for your future.

There is one final and important point. Your Journal is private. Therefore, say what you wish openly and do not censor yourself. This is the one place where you can speak freely so give yourself that blessing. At the same time, keep the Journal in a safe place where it will not be available to prying eyes!

This has been a whirlwind introduction to the benefits of the Journal, although a lot has been covered. Doubtless, other possible sections lend themselves to your imagination, as indeed should be the case. The Journal is YOUR personal tool for self-growth and should thus arise out of your needs and aspirations. If you want to study the subject in greater depth, there are plenty of resources available on the subject.

However, the important thing is just to get started and experience the benefits NOW. You have enough ideas here to create a deeply enriching life tool for yourself.

May it bring you many tender insights and blessings.


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