The Veil Of Ignorance

Yoga Sutra 2.05 defines Ignorance (Avidya) as regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasurable, and the non-Self as Self. 

When we make plans in our lives, our career paths, retirement plans etc, there are many factors which we assume will not change.  Earthquakes and tsunami hit the innocents, as the ground is not permanent.  And when things do not go according to plan, we can be affected badly.  Our physical body is not permanent as it ages everyday.  It is not pure either, with the waste and toxic that the body accumulates.  Is pleasure pleasure?  When we don’t have what we want, we suffer.  When we seek to have what we want, we suffer.  When we get what we want, we suffer with the fear of losing it.  Only the Self (Atma) is permanent, pure and uncovering the veil over it will give the peace and bliss that is out of this world. 

This Self is the Seer of the Scenery.  The Self transcends time and space.  Personally, I relate this abstract concept of Self to the soul that makes the physical body a living, breathing human being with thoughts, conscience and consciousness, rather than a corpse of bones, muscles, flesh, tissues, blood vessels etc.  Everything else other than the Self is the Scenery.  The nature, environment, physical body, our ego etc are all part of the Scenery.  We live our lives attaching ourselves to this Scenery outside the Self.  We associate our physical body as “I”, when the body is just a vehicle that has a limited life span.  The body, like a vehicle, will wear out with time and usage and certain functions may breakdown along the way.  This is all part of the changeable Scenery. 

In Yoga Sutra 2.04, this Ignorance of associating the Self with the Scenery is stated as the source of the Afflictions which disturbs the mind.  The Afflictions are Ignorance, Ego, Attachment, Aversion and Fear of Death (Yoga Sutra 2.03). 

When we practise Yoga, we are learning an ancient process passed down by the wise enlightened beings, a process to lead us to a state of Samadhi (when the mind goes beyond the plane of egoism, i.e. removed the concept of “I”).  In the process of cultivating Samadhi, we minimise the veil of Ignorance by increasing our discrimination between the Seer and the Scenery.  The more we can appreciate this discrimination, the more we can let go of the Afflictions that constantly disturb our peace of mind.

According to Yoga Sutra 2.01, Tapas (penance/austerity), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to divine) constitute the practice of Yoga.  When we practise Kriya and Pranayama to cleanse and balance the body, Asana to stretch and strengthen the muscles, joints and organs, Meditation to calm the mind and when we study yoga texts to improve our knowledge and apply the principles of Yama and Niyama in our daily lives, we are aiming to remove the Obstacles as defined in Yoga Sutra 1.30, namely – disease, mental laziness, doubt, carelessness, lethargy, preoccupation with desire, false perception, not able to achieve the plane of practice and instability in the practice.  The practice should help us to further detach ourselves from the Scenery, to have a greater control over the mind, to look deeper inside and eventually to uncover the veil over the true Self – the higher aim of the practice of Yoga. 

When the mind reaches an unfluctuated state – Yoga Sutra 1.02, the Seer (Self) is established in it’s own nature – Yoga Sutra 1.03.