It makes sense that ignorance is an obstacle to enlightenment. But how do we know what we don’t know? In sutra 2.5, Patanjali sheds light on this issue. Specifically, the sutra describes four obstacles to enlightenment. Once we understand how we are ignorant, we can use yogic wisdom to pull back the veil of darkness.
Ignorance is taking the non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure, evil for good and non-self as self. – sutra 2.5
Nothing lasts forever. It’s often hard to accept this, but yogic wisdom shows us we must if we want to remove the hold suffering has in our lives. We also need to recognize purity, goodness, and who we truly are.
It’s difficult to live in light if we’re not able to let go of attachments. That includes our attachment to who we are not—our “small self.”
Using Yogic Wisdom to Move Beyond Ignorance
If we want to be free of suffering, we need to understand our true nature. Self-knowledge can be a moving target though. We often find ourselves shifting between confusion and insight as we seek to know who we are.
Most of us realize at some point that something we thought we needed to be happy was an obstacle to joyful living instead. It’s natural to want to cling to our lives, our relationships, and our possessions. They often do make us happy, at least for a time. We can appreciate what brings us joy but at the same time know that most things we strive for are temporary.
When we release our grasp and stay present to what is, we can adapt to change. There’s a reason we practice letting go in yoga.
Finding What is Pure and Unchanging
Only truth is pure. Yogis call this state of purity purusha. It is pure consciousness or the universal higher Self—the only thing that never changes. Our goal is to connect with that truth—again, a moving target. As soon as we think we’ve “got it,” it moves a bit farther away. That’s why we say the joy is in the journey, not the destination. We are always evolving.
Patanjali also warns us to be careful about who or what we worship. His warning is like the Bible’s caution against worshipping false gods or idols. So, another way to think about unchanging truth is to say that only God is pure. There are many false gods and idols in our lives.
Often, we desire something that isn’t good for us. It’s worth considering why we develop these attachments. Unhealthy relationships, overeating, drinking, working too much, and superficial social connections are a few examples of attachments that keep us stuck in the dark.
We also remain in darkness through avoidance—of others, productive work, or healthy lifestyle habits, for example.
Yogic Wisdom is Inner Knowing
While it’s difficult to know when something healthy (friendship, rest, quiet time alone, career goals, etc.) becomes unhealthy, we need to be aware so we can change our mindset or behavior when something no longer contributes to our quest to live in light.
Yogic wisdom is an inner knowing that keeps us present so we can intuitively adapt our thoughts and actions to align with truth.
Finally, we use yogic wisdom to understand how the ego itself—our individual identity—is an illusion that keeps us in the dark. Enlightenment, Patanjali warns repeatedly, comes only when we see ourselves as part of something greater.
Once we understand how ignorance is an obstacle to enlightenment, we can recognize how it shows up in our lives. We can use yogic wisdom to focus our practice on living in union with God.