2.3 The afflictions include not knowing who I am (avidya), misidentification (asmita), likes (raga), dislikes (dvesha) and fear of death (abhinivesa).
2.4 Ignorance of my nature (avidya) is the field where the other afflictions sprout. The afflictions can be dormant, weak, intermittent or fully active.
Yogic action is focused on removing obstructions, inefficiencies and distractions in body, mind, emotions and interactions. Many of the obstacles that each one of us faces tend to be self-inflicted. As Sri Swami Satchidananda eloquently stated, “You are your own best friend as well as your worst enemy” (Satchidananda). Verse 2.3 echoes the message at the beginning of Chapter One of the Yoga Sutra, that we are either abiding in the ground of our being (1.3), or erroneously misidentifying with the experiences that we have (1.4). In 2.3 Patañjali indicates that the afflictions arise from forgetting or misunderstanding who you really are.
In the Who am I? episode, you explored the difference between who you think you are and who you truly are. From the brief summaries of the yoga sutra and from the previous chapter, you may remember that the whole practice is focused on releasing your attachment to the temporary aspects of your experience so that you can align with the lasting ground of your being, the aspect of you underlying your whole existence. The main obstacle presented in these verses is not knowing who we really are. More precisely, this major obstacle, avidya, is forgetting that everything you can see and experience, including your body, your emotions and thoughts, is life expressing through your organism. As it is characteristic of life, these temporary events are changing continuously: they come and go. In contrast, the awareness animating your body and mind is the spark enabling you to notice. Awareness may be obscured by your constant doings, but it is always there. Awareness is what makes it possible for you to be present. Awareness is the spaciousness that you are. Awareness manifests as calmness, stillness and oneness, and you experience it unconsciously during dreamless deep sleep, semiconsciously in the transitions into and out of sleep, and consciously during meditation. One example that can illuminate this dichotomy is looking at yourself in the mirror. If you observe your reflection in a mirror regularly, you will notice that some of the physical features are changing. This may be more evident by looking at an old photograph of you. The changes can be difficult to ignore. At the same time there is something in the experience of being you that has remained the same. This part cannot be seen, touched or smelled, yet it is there. It has been with you all along. Can that unchanging aspect be the awareness that enables you to notice everything that happens internally and externally?
Being established in true knowledge of who you are, prevents you from misidentifying with the temporary phenomena you perceive (avidya). Identifying with those temporary phenomena you slip into self-centeredness (asmita) and get caught in the constant struggle of trying to bring toward you what you like (raga) and trying to avoid or push away what you dislike (dvesha). Cravings and attachments, combined with aversions and resistance, continue to feed your sense of who you think you are. This influence is so strong that you end up believing that you are the transient experiences you go through. This is an endless cycle in which attachment to the play of likes and dislikes grows into a sense of self-importance that feeds into the strongest instinctual aversion, fear of dying (abhinivesha). This fear is strong, even in the wise. These afflictions relate to the five ways of being (vrttis) presented at the beginning of Chapter One: correct knowledge, misunderstanding, imagination, memory and sleep. Once you veer away from presence, when you forget who you really are and identify with the fleeting sensory stimuli, you pass from knowledge (pramana) to incorrect knowledge (viparyaya), to inhabiting the realm of your imagination (vikalpa), which feeds on memories (smrti) and plays out in your dreams (nidra).
Most people have a combination of afflictions, and they may be manifest and fully active, or they may be in different stages of activity. Just like a seed that may take from a few to several days to germinate and sprout and perhaps months or years to develop fully, afflictions can be latent, barely noticeable, sporadic or undeniably present. In the next verses, you can explore each one of these potential sources of suffering. As you continue, keep in mind that each one can be in any of these four states of expression. If you reflect on how you invest your energy and time every day, can you notice clearly who you think you are? Is who you think you are serving you, or are you serving that identity? What do you try to attract and what do you reject? What aspects of you keep being pulled by your likes and dislikes? How much energy do you invest in pursuing what you desire and rejecting what you dislike? Are your identity, likes and dislikes conducive to your conscious and deliberate participation in your life? Is it possible for you to be at peace with the undeniable fact that one day you are going to die?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of these sutras is by chanting them.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together or you may chant each word in the sutra individually.
For sutra 2.3
2.3 avidyāsmitārāgadveṣābhiniveśaḥ kleśāḥ
अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशः क्लेशाः ॥३॥
For sutra 2.3 each word in the sutra individually:
For sutra 2.4
2.4 avidyā kṣetramuttareṣām prasuptatanuvicchinnodārāṇām
अविद्या क्षेत्रमुत्तरेषाम् प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम् ॥४॥
For sutra 2.4 each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer to listen to the podcast: