Once upon a time, there were six blind men who lived in a small village. One day one of the villagers mentioned that there was an elephant in the village. They had no idea what an elephant was so they decided that even though they would not be able to see it, they would go and feel it anyway.
All of them went where the elephant was and touched the elephant.
"The elephant is a tree," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick snake," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a spear," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked the six men, "What is the matter?"
They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The man explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is describing it differently is because each one of you touched a different part of it, and actually the elephant has all those characteristics similar to the ones you said."
The 6 men were happy to know they were all right in their own way.
When it comes to the teachings of yoga, the yoga sūtra uses the term Avidyā to describe incorrect comprehension/knowledge, ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, false perception. The story I just shared with you is the best example of avidyā in which all men were seeing from a limited perception.
Avidyā is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognising things as they really are. Avidyā along with with 4 more branches make up the kleshas (afflictions, causes of pain, suffering and dissatisfaction)
The branches of Avidyā are
Asmita - Ego: The "I, me, mine" that can't be satisfied, that has a story or identity that constantly needs defending and protecting.
Raga - Attachment: A wanting or needing of something (or someone) because it gives a sense of pleasure and it creates unhappiness when we can't have it.
Dvesa – Aversion and refusal: This can be a cause of an experience that brought pain so we don't want to repeat it, or it can be something we refuse to experience because it's too unfamiliar, hence scary.
Abhinidvesa – Fear: A feeling of uncertainty or doubt that prevent us from moving forward or finding fulfilment.
Once we recognise any of these afflictions, it is easier to recognise Avidyā and this recognition holds the key for change or transmutation. If there's anything that is making you feel sad, defensive, troubled, discontent, etc, notice if the root of the emotions can be related to any of the kleshas mentioned above. Most, of not all problems arise from one of these afflictions.
Everything we see, we see through a filter, a conditioning that precedes our perception of things, we rarely get to see the whole picture and this causes a great deal of unnecessary stress, arguments, pain and suffering
So how do we remove Avidyā ? How do we shed the veils that prevent us from seeing things clearly as they are?
Some helpful disciplines to eliminate ignorance are meditation and yoga which require and allow a continuous expansion of our sense of awareness. And as our sense of awareness broadens, so does vidyā which means clear perception (the opposite of avidyā.)
To meditate all you need to do in a comfortable seat which can be on a cushion or even a chair, and choose something to place your attention on; it can be the movement of your breath, a part of the body or something in front of you in case you would like to meditate with the eyes close and give yourself a few minutes to sit in stillness with that. At the beginning, it can be a bit uncomfortable and hard but with a bit of practice and regular effort, it becomes easier to be there with whatever there is on your plate. We are not trying to edit, alter or modify what's there, we become the observer/the witness of what is present, and whatever comes, we see it come without getting attached to it or captivated by it, we let it pass by bringing our attention back to our chosen point of concentration.
Thinking is the process of the mind talking and meditation is the process of our awareness listening.
Mindful practices invite us to look inside ourselves and recognise ourselves better, leading us towards our truest essence, we can see ourselves as a body with a soul, a soul with a physical part called body or just as a body with a thinking mind. It is all just a matter of perception.
It is useful to remind ourselves that, we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are and we can always chose to keep certain perceptions as long as they help bring peace, health, contentment, compassion and wisdom, if they cause any pain, affliction or suffering, it might be a good time to alter them =)
When we are attentive to our thought patterns which lead to reactions and actions, we cease to be prisoners to our habits
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" Wayne Dyer