Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Avidya


Avidya is the Sanskrit word for the delusion of separateness. The purpose of life is to overcome it. It is used repletely through Hindu texts and also forms the basis of Buddhist Sutras and teachings. Adi Shankara says in his Introduction to his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, "Owing to an absence of discrimination, there continues a natural human behaviour in the form of 'I am this' or 'This is mine'; this is avidya. It is a superimposition of the attributes of one thing on another. The ascertainment of the nature of the real entity by separating the superimposed thing from it is avidya (knowledge, illumination)". In Shankara's philosophy avidya cannot be categorized either as 'absolutely existent' or as 'absolutely non-existent'. Once we commit to overcoming avidya, the realization of the true Self begins. This search finds expression in the universal metaphor of the snake and the rope. Avidya, our delusional attachment to the material perception, leads us to see a snake where a sage, one who has overcome Avidya, will see a rope. This metaphor appears in the Qur’an when Mohammed speaks of prophets, “are the rope of Allah which should be held fast. (3:104).” Signs and wonders connect us to the Divine, but we reject them because they do not make sense. They run counter to our Avidya. The serpent, the snake, lives on in Judeo-Christianity as Satan’s chosen form in the Garden of Eden. Avidya knowledge damns us to suffering. Freedom from avidya is communion with God.
We must face our own realities, though, before we can see the Reality of Creation. To do this, we each move through our individual darkness. People who deal with their ghosts in weekly therapy appointments are already doing this. Once it has been traversed, it allows us to see the “flipside” of reality, the material world in its spiritual manifestation. When we have traversed what Everett Fox translates as “waste and wild,” we attain the Buddhist state of the Brahmin, “one who having banished his evil, a contemplative for living in consonance, [is] one gone forth for having forsaken his own impurities (Dhammapada, 26).”

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