II.24 तस्य हेतुरविद्या

tasya heturavidyā
tasya hetuḥ avidyā

“The cause of that is not-knowing.”

Sūtra II.23 spoke of the cause (hetuḥ) of the drive to possess; today’s sūtra says that the cause of that cause is the field where psychological suffering begins–avidyā, not-knowing, ignorance. Thus II.24 loops back to the start of the chapter, to II.4-5.

What is avidyā–for Patañjali? Though the word literally means not-knowing, Patañjali has not defined it as an absence of knowledge, per se. Avidyā is not blank nor empty. Rather, it is willful,  a kind of denial. It leads to reactivity and defensiveness. It is rigidity of thought. Patañjali’s avidyā is mis-identification of what is (see II.5).

In his discussion of possession and being possessed, Rohit Mehta points out that we create an image to stand in for the living entity. We identify with that. We hold on to that image fiercely to establish a fixed idea, to maintain a psychological experience of continuity. Likewise, Vimala Thakar states that we tend to identify with a part of ourselves, with something smaller than our actual self. We compartmentalize our self. We do not know our own wholeness.

The three words of II.24 form a lovely landing place, a reminder: coming into is-ness, coming to the ground of our being, is a simple business.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good…. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for. –Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “We Were Made For These Times”


“This urge to possess and be possessed is motivated by avidyā or ignorance. … Right relationship can arise only when the shell of avidyā is broken. It has to be remembered that the relationship of usage has its source in the desire for continuity. The question of usage arises for one’s own continuity. It is this which gives birth to rāga and dveṣa.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.24

Avidyā is ignorance about one’s own nature, ignorance about one’s existential essence, about one’s own being. Not ignorance about chemistry, physics etc.–that is not the meaning or the connotation of the term avidyā. Here in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or in Ishavasya Upanishad, the word avidyā refers to ignorance about one’s own nature, one’s own essence. If there is ignorance about the essence of one’s being, then one would identify and equate one’s wholeness with things that are smaller, that are compartmental, that are fragmentary. If I do not understand what Life is, what the Is-ness of Life is, what the Suchness of Life is, then I identify with things that are smaller.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 41-42

• Do you tend to overestimate or underestimate your role?
• Do you have confidence in yourself as one who takes action?
• How much do you rely on titles, possessions, or relationships to give you a sense of self? Is there some other way that you experience self?
• Does detachment, the practice of letting go, support you in taking action–participating in the world around you, finding right relationship? What does that look like? Feel like?


masculine pronoun, 6th case singular, “of”

that, it


masculine noun, 1st case singular

cause (from hi, “to incite”)


feminine noun, 1st case singular

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

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