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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book 2 - The Steps to Union
5. Avidya is the condition of confusing the permanent, pure, blissful and the Self, with that which is impermanent, impure, painful and the not-self.

This condition of ignorance, or the "state of avidya" is characteristic of all those who as yet do not discriminate between the real and unreal, between death and immortality, and between light and darkness. It governs, therefore, life in the three worlds, for the correspondence between [132] avidya on the physical plane as experienced by man in incarnation is to be found on all planes. It is a limitation of Spirit itself and a necessary corollary of form-taking. The spiritual unit is born blind and senseless. It comes into form at the beginning of the ages and cycles of rebirth in a state of total unawareness. It has to become aware of that which is around it; to do this it has first to develop the senses whereby contact and awareness become possible. The method and process through which the human being has evolved five senses or avenues of approach to the not-self are well known and any standard physiological text book can supply the needed information. Three factors must be borne in mind in connection with the spiritual unit:

  1. The senses have to be evolved,
  2. Their recognition and use must follow,
  3. A period succeeds wherein the spiritual man utilizes the senses in the fulfilment of his desire, and in so doing identifies himself with his apparatus of manifestation.

He is doubly blind, for he is not only born blind and senseless but he is mentally blinded also, and does not see himself or things as they are but makes the mistake of regarding himself as the material form, and this he does for many cycles. He has no sense of values or of proportion but looks upon the transient, suffering, unclean, material, lower man (his three sheaths in their totality) as himself, the reality, He cannot dissociate himself from his forms. The senses are part of the forms; they are not the spiritual man, the [133] dweller in the form. They are part of the not-self and the medium of its contact with the planetary not-self.

Through discrimination and dispassion the self, who is permanent, pure, and blissful, can eventually dissociate itself from the not-self which is impermanent, impure, and full of pain. When this is not realized, the man is in a condition of avidya. When it is in process of accomplishment, the man is a follower of vidya or knowledge, a fourfold path. When the soul is known as it is and the not-self is relegated to its rightful place as a sheath, vehicle or implement, then knowledge itself is transcended and the knower stands alone. This is liberation and the goal.

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