Not long ago a whole group of kids were playing after school in the neighborhood park. All of sudden, two kids came tearing out of the wooded area at top speed, screaming their heads off.
“A snake! A snake! A SNAKE!”
Predictably, my two boys – Jack and Will – immediately dashed up the hill in the direction of the snake with an eager look in their eyes.
Standing on the playground area it was hard to see exactly what was happening. Both of them bent down. Jack pick up a stick. There was a collective gasp among the kids and parents as he gingerly poked with the stick. Then he tossed the stick aside, reach down, and picked up…
What happened is an example of a avidya. (And in fact, a classic Indian example often told to explain the concept!)
Avidya is sometimes translated as the English word ignorance.
My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ignorance as “lack of knowledge, education, or awareness”. But it wasn’t that a lack of education or unsophistication that caused the first two kids to think they had seen a snake. Of course they know what a snake is and looks like.
However, in order for them to have seen that ‘snake’ in the first place, their minds discarded the possibility that it was a rope. Then their minds filled in the blank so they saw a snake in the rope’s place.
It was a kind of confusion or mistaken identity that caused the problem.
Avidya as not ignorance as Merriam-Webster defines it but more like a false impression.
The correct information or understanding is still there, it just gets obscured by something else. When all of the kids finally saw the rope as a rope, the snake was gone and everyone had a good laugh.
This kind of mistaken identity happens all the time, and not just to elementary school kids. We see situations, experiences, and other people unclearly all the time.
I’d even argue that we rarely see ourselves clearly.
So yoga is giving us the opportunities to figure out if we are seeing clearly or identifying with our misconceptions. It’s only with dedicated practice and a healthy dose of non-attachment that we can cultivate correct “sight” and see the ropes and snakes as they really are.