Some thoughts on incorrect perception from The Heart of Yoga by Desikachar, one of the foremost teachers of yoga in the west. Yoga, of course, is the answer to our worries once again.
If we are sure we do not clearly understand a given situation, generally speaking we do not act decisively. But if we are clear in our understanding we will act and it will go well for us. Such an action stems from a deep level of perception. In contrast, avidya (incorrect perception) is distinguished by superficial perception. I think I see something correctly, so I take a particular action and then later have to admit that I was mistaken and that my actions have not proved beneficial. So we have two levels of perception: One is deep within us and free of this film of avidya, the other is superficial and obscured by avidya. The goal of yoga is to reduce the film of avidya in order to act correctly. Clear understanding, decisive action, so much easier in theory than in action. Especially with the bigger choices, in my opinion.
The first branch of avidya is what we often call the ego. It pushes us into thoughts such as “I have to be better than other people,” “I am the greatest,” “I know that I’m right.” This branch is called asmita in the Yoga Sutras. “I deserve more money, time, clothes, food, queso dip…”
The second branch of avidya expresses itself in making demands. This branch is called raga. We want something today because it was pleasant yesterday, not because we really need it today. Yesterday I had a glass of fruit juice (or queso dip or a margarita) that tasted delicious and gave me the energy I needed. Today something in me says: “I want another glass of this sweet juice (or queso dip or a margarita),” even though I do not really need it today and it may not even be good for me. We want things we do not have. What we do have is not enough and we want more of it. We want to keep what we are asked to give away. We need 4 bicycles in our living room, fancy yoga mats at every horizon, and shoes, lots of shoes. This is raga.
Dvesa, the third branch of avidya, is in a certain way the opposite for raga. Dvesa expresses itself by rejecting things. We have a difficult experience and are afraid of repeating it, so we reject the people, the thoughts, and the settings that relate to that experience, assuming they will bring us pain again. Dvesa also causes us to reject those things which we are not familiar, even though we have no history with them, negative or positive. We reject love, jobs, change. These forms of rejection are the expressions of dvesa.
Finally, there is abhinivesa, fear. This is perhaps the most secret aspect of avidya and it’s expression is found on many levels of our everyday life. We feel uncertain. We have doubts about our position in life. We are afraid that people will judge us negatively. We feel uncertain when our lifestyle is upset. We do not want to grow old. All these feelings are expressions of abhinivesa, the fourth branch. Oh, this one is oh so sneaky and peaking around more often than we realize.
These branches, singly or together, cloud our perceptions. As long as the branches are expanding there is great chance that we will make false moves because we do not weigh things carefully and make sound judgments. When we perceive that problems have somehow arisen, we can assume that avidya was instrumental in their making. Yoga decreases the effects of avidya so that true understanding can take place. May we battle our egos, the unnecessary demands we hold on to, rejections, and fear on and off the mat. Sorry this is so long, if you made it this far…