II.4 अवविद्या क्षेत्रमुत्तरेषां प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम्

avidyā kṣetram uttareṣām prasupta-tanu-vicchinnodārāṇām
avidyā kṣetram uttareṣām prasupta-tanu-vicchinna-udārāṇām

“Not-knowing is the field of the others–sleeping, weakened, interrupted, or in full fury.”

The first of the kleśasavidyā (not-knowing, from a-, “not,” + vid, “to know”)—is also the field of the other kleśas; it is the field they grow from, the field they operate in. This word kṣetram is rich and full of allusion in yoga philosophy. The Bhagavad Gītā begins, “dharma-kṣetre–on the field of dharma.” And the entire poem, a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, can be considered to be a struggle that takes place in the field of Arjuna’s awareness. He must decide whether to join an awful battle in which either he will die or he will be responsible for killing members of his families, respected elders, loved teachers.

Dharma is right action, and the struggle to find right action takes place in citta. There is no good translation for citta. It comes from cit, “to perceive,” and it could be considered to include all that we perceive with, all the senses of the body, the neurotransmitters of the brain, the intuition of the heart, the learning of the mind. My Sanskrit teacher, Vyaas Houston, described citta as having tremendous potential, fertility, as being always in movement, infinitely adaptable; he would refer to citta as a field.

I most often translate citta as consciousness, but this perhaps does not express Patañjali’s idea, nor how citta can be cultivated, how it shifts with the seasons, how it moves from one condition to another, how it responds to care.

In some sense, we are the field. Yoga practice works on us. It affects our sense of who we are and how we perceive the world around us. Yoga asks us to question. It leads us to look directly, to feel fully, to test our presumptions, and to open to our intuitive and fullest knowingness.

Knowing that we don’t know may be the first step on the yoga path.

We will be exploring more about avidyā in the next sūtra. Patañjali prepares us here, in an introductory way, to consider the different forms of the afflictions within us. They can be quiet, dormant, almost undetectable. They can be in a thinned and weakened state. They can be interrupted, perhaps by happy circumstance, simply no occasion that might trigger them. And they can be in full force—can sweep through and ravage the field.

It interests me that Patañjali  describes “thinning” the kleśas (II.2), not “uprooting” them. If we are not weeding the kleśas when we do yoga, we are not really ridding ourselves of them. We continue to live with them, as part of our field. Is this terrible or is this wonderful?

idaṁ śarīram kaunteya
kṣetram ityabhidhīyate
etadyo vetti taṁ prāhuḥ
kṣetrrajña iti tad-vidaḥ

The body is called a field, Arjuna; the one who knows
it is called the Knower of the field. This
is the knowledge of those who know.
Bhagavad Gīta, XIII.1

(translation by Eknath Easwaran)


“Ignorance, by definition, remains hidden; however it elicits four other causes of suffering that are always present in varying degrees of intensity: In the latent or slumbering state, the causes of suffering don’t condition the individual, but they can spring to life again. If feeble, they don’t disturb the individual to any grave extent. In the intermittent state, they may alternate with each other, or show themselves temporarily. In an intense state, they strongly color behavior.” — Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.4

“Like a piece of land is the substratum for bushes, creepers, grass, plants, etc., says Śaṅkara, so ignorance supports the other kleśas; when ignorance is dispelled, the other kleśas disappear. Adopting what one might nowadays consider a psychoanalytical tone, Patañjali also differentiates among four different states in which the five kleśas manifest. [In] the dormant state, prasuptakleśas reside in the mind in potential form as seeds. … These dormant seeds eventually germinate when a person encounters particular situations or contexts that serve as triggers. They then develop into the fully activated, udara kleśas….When the kleśas are continually interrupted–appearing and then fading away–they are described as intermittent, vicchinna. …When, according to Vyāsa, one consciously cultivates a state of mind that is the opposite of the kleśas, they become weak, tanu.”  –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.4

•Where do you locate your mind or consciousness? That is, in what part of your body would you say your awareness resides?
•Is there an affliction that you experience that you would consider weak? You know it is there but it does not disturb you?
•Does any form of suffering come and go for you? Sometimes intense. At other times, seems gone. Have you come to accept this or do you struggle with it?
•Is there a way in which the arousal of an affliction is an opportunity? In your experience, has an experience of psychological suffering led to transformation?


feminine noun, 1st case singular

not-knowing (from a-, “not,” + vid, “to know, perceive”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

field, plot of land (from kṣi, “to dwell”)


masculine pronoun, 6th case plural

of the others


adjective in compound

sleeping (from pra-, prefix that here adds emphais, + svap, “to sleep”)


adjective in compound

weakened, thinned (from tan, “to thin, stretch”)


adjective in compound

interrupted (from vi-, “away,” + chid, “to cut”)


masculine adjective, 6th case plural
active, energetic (from ud-, “up,” + , “to move)

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