Avidya and Adhyasa:
Veiling and Projecting
by Swami Jnaneshvara
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,
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.
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)
(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.
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.
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:
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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).
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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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 Abhyasa.
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
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
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).
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
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.
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
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.
separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as elements,
veiling the previous identity as particles.
separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as
compounds, veiling the previous identity as elements.
separate identities are veiled so as to project outward as objects,
veiliing the previous identity as compounds.
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
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.
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