Self-Realization through Yoga Meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra

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Avidya and Adhyasa:
Veiling and Projecting

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 


Two Processes: Avidya and Adhyasa are two processes in Yoga that are extremely useful to understand. These two work as a pair so as to take us evermore out into the external world. Receding back through these two leads us inward to the direct experience of Samadhi, Turiya, or Self-Realization.

The Fruits of this Study are Worth the Effort: Understanding these two processes and how to deal with them is central to traditional Yoga. However, it takes a good deal of quiet reflection to see how these two processes of Veiling and Projecting work together. The fruits that come from this kind of contemplation truly is well worth the effort. It is not a mere intellectual process of understanding, but reveals an important part of the path of self-exploration that leads to Self-Realization.

Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance): Avidya is the process of veiling that which is being left behind, while awareness moves outward. When the wave forgets that it is the ocean, that forgetting process is Avidya. It allows the wave to then stand alone, thinking that it is independent. That forgetting process is also called Maya or Illusion. It is called Ignorance as well, which does not mean stupid or uneducated. Note that the root of Ignorance is "Ignore" and that is a process of not seeing or observing anything other than what is being observed. By ignoring everything else, one can focus on one thing at a time. For most people the lack of the ability to ignore in this way might lead to psychosis. For the Yogi with a stable mind, this Avidya is transcended so as to experience the highest, inner most reality that is not subject to death, decay or decomposition. (more on Avidya from Yoga Sutras)

Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition): Adhyasa is the process of awareness or consciousness projecting outward, while the innermost is left behind. Adhyasa is the process of awareness moving outward. If it is true that "who we are" at the deepest level is pure Consciousness, Atman, Purusha, Self, Soul, or some other similar term, then how is it that we appear to be individuals who are suffering in this external world? We forgot who we are each time consciousness moves one more step outward.

Avidya and Adhyasa Together: By projecting outward and leaving the inner behind, we move ever further outward through the levels of our being, finally emerging into the external world. Layer after layer, this same process is repeated outward through each of the aspects of our constitution so as to appear to become only a human being that is living only in this external world. We have forgotten who we are.

Moving Outward:

Outward Through the Levels: The "question mark" is used in the graphic above so as to not cloud the process by necessarily giving it a name. You may think of it as Consciousness, Self, Atman, Purusha, Soul, some other name, or no name at all. What is important here is the Veiling and Projecting processes. Also, you might have different opinions about the actual levels (Buddhi, Ahamkara, etc.), but the process is still the same. Here is how that process works:

  • Consciousness (or whatever you want to call it) is veiled, in the same way that a metaphorical wave forgets that it is the ocean. This primal forgetting is called Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance). By virtue of the forgetting, the individual (sometimes called Asmita) can then operate as Intelligence itself, or Buddhi. We all do this in daily life when we are so involved in a moment in one activity or identity that we forget the others.

  • Intelligence (Buddhi) is actually pure knowing, devoid of particular identity as being this or that person. It is a very high order of knowing, sometimes related to Ananda or Bliss. Buddhi is not quite Atman or Self, etc., but is close. It is called Bliss because there are no active attractions or aversions stirring the mind. When Buddhi is "forgotten" by Avida (Veiling, Ignorance) that Intelligence steps further outward so as to start to take on identity as an Ego structure.

  • Ego (Ahamkara) is the "I-maker" in Sanskrit. Ahamkara (Ego) first declares "I am!" and then takes on the many false identities that come from pleasant and painful experiences (attractions and aversions). How does this happen? First, Intelligence takes on this I-am-ness of Ego. However, even that Ego is relatively pure. But then Ego forgets even that level of pseudo-purity through Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance). That forgetting allows the resulting structure of false identity, which has desires to fulfill. It now needs an instrument through which these desires can be fulfilled.

  • Mind (Manas) emerges because the pure aspect of Ego (Ahamkara) has forgotten its relative purity (as well as having forgotten Buddhi and its Source). The attraction and aversion laden Ego now forgets that these desires are only mental constructs, thinking them instead to be "me." Through that Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) comes the Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition) of Mind (Manas) itself.

  • Senses and Actions (Indriyas) emerge out of the field of Mind. The Mind forgets that the sensory experience and actions are actually mental processes that are expressions of false identities and desires. In other words, we forget that "I am using my senses." Instead, we find ourselves simply acting as "me" in the external world. One more time, we have Veiled the subtler and Projected another level outward.

As mentioned above, this process of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) and Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition) takes a good deal of reflection for its underlying simplicity to emerge. With that understanding, the sadhana (practices) of traditional Yoga meditation, contemplation of Vedanta, and the energy work of Tantra can be done at increasingly greater depths.

Receding Inward:

Yoga is Reversing the Process: Once the basic principles of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) are understood, as well has how they progressively move awareness outward through Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition), it is easier to see the way in which these two are systematically reversed so as to attain the highest goals of traditional Yoga.

In general, each level, stage, or layer encountered on the inward journey is a reversal of the outward process. The pair of processes of Veiling and Projecting are encountered at each step along the way. There may be a great deal of activity at each of those levels, as well as various practices for each. For example, there are many ways to work with the Senses, Body, Breath, and Mind. However, there is an underlying simplicity in that each of those practices involve the same process of ceasing the outward Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition) and allowing the Veiling (Avidya, Ignorance) to recede into the next subtler level. Seen this way, it is evident that there really are not so many stages to the goal of Self-Realization.

  • World: The first thing one does in establishing a good meditation practice is arranging external life in a healthy, harmonious way. In Yoga, this includes the codes of self-regulation or Yamas (more on Yamas), which are non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness. By having a smooth relationship with other people and the world, it is easier to recede from the Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition) into the internal. It does not mean not being fully present in daily life. Rather, at meditation time it is easier to be still and quiet. Thus, one can also recede inward through the outermost layer of the external world.

  • Senses (Indriyas): Through the self-training practices of the Niyamas (more on Niyamas), there is a further cessation of Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition), as well as receding of awareness inward through the Veiling (Avidya, Ignorance). By cultivating a good meditation posture, the external world starts to fall away. Attention moves inward to the Senses themselves (more on Indriyas). Gradually, the Senses are found to be Projections themselves (Adhyasa, Superimposition), and with Non-Attachment are transcended (more on Non-Attachment). In other words, awareness moves inward through the Veil (Avidya, Ignorance) of the Senses (Indriyas).

  • Mind (Manas): As the Senses are left behind, the Breath is often used as a focal point. In this way, there is a cessation of Projection into the Senses and Actions (Indriyas). There comes a point where Breath is so smooth that there is a feeling of not breathing. The Projection into the Breath also starts to cease, which has been called fourth Pranayama, subtler than the gross Breath (more on pranayama). Gradually, all levels of Breath are transcended, as awareness recedes through even that Veil of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance). This leaves awareness squarely in the midst of the Mind field, interior to the World, the Senses, and the Breath. The Superimpositions (Adhyasa, Projections) have receded from those levels, and their Veils (Avidya, Ignorance) have been pierced on the way inward. Mind (Manas) is the next stage or level to be encountered and transcended.

  • Ego (Ahamkara): This is a stage that is rather difficult to understand, in that we customarily talk of Ego as totally entangled with all of the activities of the Mind (Manas). When we speak that way, it is because Manas has not actually receded. Awareness is still quite Projected outward through Mind and Senses, and actively engaged, if not entangled with the people and objects of the world. Nonetheless, there comes a point where the Projections (Adhyasa, Superimposition) of those outer layers have receded, and their Veils (Avidya, Ignorance) transcended. Now the I-am-ness of Ego stands alone. This is a significant stage of meditation. Some mistakenly think that this experience is that of Self-Realization because the Ego is temporarily standing alone, separate from Mind, Body, and Senses which are not (in the moment) being Projected (Adhyasa, Superimposition).

  • Intelligence (Buddhi): Buddhi is a still subtler level that is even more difficult to explain when we are trying to explain how it stands alone. However, this stage of deep meditation does come gradually. Here, all of the external Projections (Adhyasa, Superimposition) have receded, and their Veils (Avidya, Ignorance) crossed. When Buddhi stands alone, this is a very profound level of attainment. Yet, the process has been simple (simple, not necessarily easy). Finally, even Intelligence (Buddhi) is seen to be a Projection, and that also is surrendered and transcended. Here is the end of the processes of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) and Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition). (more on transcending Buddhi)

The process of Self-Realization has two parts: 1) Allowing awareness to withdraw from the outward Projections (Adhyasa, Superimposition) it has made, and 2) allowing awareness to recede inward through the Veils (Avidya, Ignorance). The pair of processes systematically moves inward one stage at a time, until the point is reached where there is no longer any Projection or Veiling whatsoever, where there is no further subdivision out of which any level has emerged. This is the end of the journey, by whatever name you call it.

Familiar Symbols of Avidya and Adhyasa:

Avidya and Adhyasa are like Swimming: Notice that with swimming there are two aspects. One is the effort to pull yourself forward with one hand (by pulling the water toward you), and the other is to push yourself forward (by pushing the water away behind you). The journey outward into the world involves these two processes, somewhat like swimming. The journey inward to your Source also involves these two processes, which is somewhat like swimming in the opposite direction.

Manifesting Outward into the external world, you project yourself outward by Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition), which is like pulling yourself outward with one hand when swimming. You also veil the subtler aspects of your being by Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance), which is like pushing the water away behind you. These two processes work together. The effect is that you think that "who you are" is this body and personality. Interestingly, the root of "personality" is "persona" which means "mask." The true nature of who you really are is forgotten through the two-part process of Avidya and Adhyasa.

Going Outward Into the World
Two Hands. Two Processes.

Receding Inward into the internal world, you allow your awareness to recede by the cessation of the effort to go outward, surrendering that outer Projection or Adhyasa (Projection, Superimposition). This effort to surrender does take effort, which is Sankalpa Shakti or Virya, cultivating the determination or will power to follow this inner process of receding. You also become willing to encounter, merge into, and transcend all of the levels of false identity, which is like engaging and moving through the water, letting it go behind you. This is the willingness to encounter that which was previously veiled through Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance). It seems like a process whereby "I" am going somewhere called "inside" though it is actually a two part process of systematically ceasing Adhyasa and Avidya.

Receding Inward Into the Source
Two Hands. Two Processes.

Three Choices of Swimming: Which direction to swim is the choice of each person. We can choose to swim only into the external world, forgetting our Source (or whatever you'd like to call it), or we can choose to swim inward, so as to remember our true Source. Or, best of all we can do both, which is, as the ancient sages have said, to live like the lotus flower, which is both living IN the world, while not being OF the world. By being mindful of this two-way life (of being "in" and "not in" the world) and the simplicity of the two-part process (Avidya and Adhyasa), we can gently, lovingly (to ourselves) move both into and out of the world each day of our life in this world.

Live like the Lotus Flower

The Realized Yogi lives like a lotus flower. The lotus is both "in" the world, yet not "of" the world. It grows in the soil and water of the world, yet rises above it at the same time. It goes outward (Adhyasa), but is not blinded by Avidya or Ignorance of its true nature.

The Source Pulls Like a Magnet

By surrendering the process of Adhyasa to go outward (Projecting, Superimposition), and by being willing to encounter the various levels or layers of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) the natural draw to come inward to the Source has its effect, much like a magnet. This inner pull is beyond the effort of the many levels of mind. It is called by some Grace, Guru, Shakti, or God. By understanding the processes of Avidya and Adhyasa, and by allowing our awareness to recede inward, reversing their effects, we come to rest in our true nature.

Beauty of Creation and the Universe: These twin sisters of Avidya and Adhyasa, Veiling and Projection, are the grand beauty of the manifestation of the universe and ourselves. Something comes out of something, and that same something later merges back into the something out of which it arose. From the small emerges the large, and from the large it recedes into the small. Actually, it is from the vast that there is contraction of Veiling and Projecting into the small, which only appears to be large. Then, with what appears to be concentration, there is an expansion back into the original vastness which was there all along, but only Veiled (Avidya, Ignorance) during the period of the Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition).

Projecting and receding: This, in a simple way, is the entire process, both of the physical and the spiritual. Veil and Project. Then surrender the Projection and recede back through the Veil. Many spiritual teachers have said, in one way or another, that man is made in the image of God, that we humans are either created or become manifest through virtually the same kind of blueprint as is the whole of the universe. This is not meant to be a religious statement, as the religionists have their own individual ways of explaining this process and their God. Rather, it is a universal process, however one may explain it or account for it. The processes of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) and Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition) are central to the process of meditation in traditional Yoga.

Balance in a star: Stars have a similar balance and is a useful metaphor for understanding this process in meditation. One aspect of the star is the gravity pulling it inward to a "point." The other aspect of the star is the energy expanding outward from nuclear fusion. When these two are in balance the star exists as a relatively stable entity in space.

Two aspects of the human: We are also in such a balance. One aspect is the pull inward to the core of our being. It is the natural "gravity" to come inward to a "point" whereby we come to know the center of consciousness, atman, purusha, or shakti that is one with shiva. The other aspect is the natural tendency to come outward and have experiences in the external world. Those create attractions and aversions that are the seeds of ever going outward.

When the desire side of this equation is too strong, we can get lost in the objects of the external world. With meditation we can temporarily set these aside to some degree, so as to systematically experience the subtleties of our being. Eventually this leads us to a "point" which is called "bindu" (See the article on Bindu). During daily life we are balanced, being both active in the external activities while remaining mindful of the ever tranquil center.

Beauty of Avidya and Adhyasa in Chemistry: The two process of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) and Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition) are ever present in our external world. This is not said to necessarily link Yoga and modern science, although that might be a fair and intriguing inquiry. Rather, it helps our understanding of the inner journey to notice that we are surrounded by this two-part process (Avidya and Adhyasa) in our daily lives and the world around us. It is useful to notice what we all already understand and accept, and use that insight for our inner journey of Yoga.

Combining and Recombining: We know there are three subatomic particles of protons, electrons, and neutrons (quark and string theory is not the subject here). We all know that these three objects (for lack of a better word) combine and recombine so as to form the elements on the Periodic Table. Those, in turn, combine to form compounds.

For example, Na and Cl combine to form NaCl, which we know as table salt. Notice how we "Veil" (Avidya, Ignorance) the Sodium and the Chloride, and "Project" (Adhyasa, Superimposition) onto that chemical our personal experience of the compound as being "table salt," so that we experience in its Projected taste quality. Two H's and an O combine to form H2O, which is water. We drink a refreshing glass of water, but never think of drinking a glass of hydrogen and oxygen. Those identities have been Veiled (Avidya, Ignorance), while we Project (Adhyasa, Superimposition) onto that compound our personal experience that it is a glass of pure, cool, refreshing water.

  • Particles as separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as elements, veiling the previous identity as particles.

  • Elements as separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as compounds, veiling the previous identity as elements.

  • Compounds as separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as objects, veiliing the previous identity as compounds.

  • Objects as separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as interdependent or more complex objects, veiling the previous identity as independent objects. Those objects in turn become parts of still other objects (parts of our body, parts of a computer, etc.).

Yet, as we see the ever more external object, we forget the subtler constructs, out of which the grosser emerged. This is the process of Veiling (Avidya) and Projecting (Adhyasa).

Practical Use of These Examples and Principles: Mentioning the process of physical objects here is not intended as an intellectual argument trying to synthesize spiritual and physical sciences. The reason for making these comparisons as metaphors is solely to help understand that the processes of Projecting outward (Adhyasa) and Veiling (Avidya) are already familiar to us all, although we may not have noticed them in this way. By reflecting on what we already know, it is far easier to do the subtle practices of meditation and contemplation that are central to traditional Yoga. Mindfulness of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) and Adhyasa (Projection, Superimposition) are extremely useful, if not essential in the path of Self-Realization.



Purifying and Realizing through Yoga: When we look at all of the detailed practices of Yoga, such as the many in the Yoga Sutras (more on Yoga Sutras), it can seem overwhelming. There are many subtleties to our makeup of false identities, and each of them has come as a result of this two-part process of Veiling (Avidya, Ignorance) and Projection (Adhyasa, Superimposition). By understanding that, the numerous individual practices are not so intimidating. It is seen for what it is--a basically simple practice (two parts) that is repeatedly applied to the more and more subtle aspects of our being. It is a process that goes from gross to subtle, to subtler, and subtle most.

At each step of the way on the inner journey we encounter new surprises, but then, by being aware of how they were created in the first place (through Veiling and Projection, Avidya and Adhyasa), it is a bit easier to move inward through those obstacles. Gradually, that which was there prior to all of the Veiling and Projection (Avidya and Adhyasa) starts to come shining through. Then one can enjoy the best of the world, while being ever mindful of the Eternal, by whatever name you call it.





This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.