avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vichchhinn odaranam ||4||
अविद्या क्षेत्रमुत्तरेषाम् प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम् ॥४॥
avidyā kṣetram-uttareṣām prasupta-tanu-vicchinn-odārāṇām ||4||
A lack of insight (avidya) is the source of most kleshas (obstacles) and can be latent, incipient, full fledged or overwhelming. ||4||
avidyā = (nom. sg. f.) ignorance; confusion; lack of insight
kṣetram = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n. from kṣetra) field; pasture; source
uttareṣām = (g. pl. m./g. pl. n. from uttara) the succeeding or next ones
prasupta = (iic.) dormant; latent
tanu = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n.) weak; young; incipient
vicchinnā = (nom. sg. f) full fledged; full grown; robust
udāra = (g. pl. m./g. pl. n./g. pl. f.) powerful; overwhelming; massive
āṇām = from all these
In his Yoga Sūtrāni, Patañjali describes the five obstacles (kle“sa) that render the path of the spiritual aspirant difficult. Of these five obstacles, avidyā is mentioned first because it forms the basis for the other four.
No matter how long you practice yoga, you will always need to deal with avidyā. It can manifest itself in various ways and settings, and in the best case scenario is in a latent state that can become active and dominant even in experienced yogis. Hence in some cases wise men are controlled by avidyā in some areas of their lives.
This reminds me of something that happened with my esteemed and beloved teacher B.N.S. Iyengar, who while giving a talk on yoga philosophy entitled “The role of women in society” expressed the view that “women are property.”
My fellow student, a young female yoga teacher from the USA, was of course incensed and launched into an angry discussion with Iyengar. Although he admitted that many women are more intelligent than men and are perfectly capable of thinking for themselves, he was simply unable to get past the idea that women are merely property. He put it this way:
“Look, first you are a child, then you are the property of your father. When you get married, you become the property of your husband. If you get widowed, you become the property of your sons.”
This discussion went on for several hours, during which time it became obvious that as an elderly man Iyengar was simply unable to think of women’s role in any other way. On the other hand, my fellow student couldn’t understand why a man who had studied yoga philosophy for so many years was unable to let go of this outmoded view of women. Both Iyengar and my fellow student were manifesting avidyā, i.e. a lack of understanding that afflicted these otherwise insightful human beings in this particular sphere. Neither of them were able to understand on account of cultural differences.
As a yogi, you always try to be aware of the fact that avidyā can occur at any time. If you aren’t sufficiently vigilant about yourself, even a latent lack of insight can be activated and totally dominate you.