top of page

Identity Is the Problem - Ignorance Is the Issue

By: Michael Ketterhagen

“Avidya [translated as ignorance] 

refers to our unwillingness 

to let go of false understanding. 


At the practical level, 

avidya is a strong attachment 

to our preconceived notions and 

our unwillingness to even consider 

the possibility of an alternative 

to what we believe is true.”

-Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Whenever we form an opinion beforehand without having adequate evidence, we have developed a “preconceived notion.” This is, as Yoga says, “a false understanding.” Coupled with our desire to hang onto that belief or opinion, without “consider[ing] the possibility of an alternative to what we believe is true” is what Yoga calls “ignorance,” or “avidya” in Sanskrit.

We humans are steeped in “avidya” because each of us has made judgments or have come to conclusions without knowing all the facts or finding the evidence necessary to believe that opinion. I have found myself quite often thinking that another person is selfish or unkind and carried that belief for quite a while before finding out all the good things that he or she has done. Until recently, I held the opinion that some people are evil and some are good.

I don’t hold that opinion anymore. I now hold the belief that all people are good, even some of the “Jeffery Dahmers” or the “Hitlers” or the “heinous politicians” of the world. I now believe that all of us are created good and somewhere along our journey in life, some of us have, because of fear, or the desire for power, or greed or pride, not understood that we are loved by the Source of our Life.  

It is part of being a human being to separate ourselves from the spiritual dimension of life. We separate ourselves from ourselves, others and a divine being that most of us call God. Learning to survive in the physical world essentially means oftentimes, unless we have been taught differently from day one, that all of reality is dualistic (divided), not non-dualistic (unified) as Sankhya Yoga teaches.

According to Sankhya Yoga, all reality (physical and spiritual) is one. Even Quantum Physics postulates that and has physical evidence to prove it. Yoga teaches that true knowledge and understanding comes from direct experience and/or the truths found in sacred spiritual books, like the Bible, Torah, I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, and the sharing of sacred teachers, like saints, sages, mystics.

I used to have a “preconceived notion” about who I was. I thought of myself as a body with a mind and spirit, but the spirit was more of a chemical, emotional reality. I thought that the only reality was the physical world and our logical deductions about that world. I focused on understanding life as a journey to God and getting separate from this “sinful” physical world so that I could go to heaven. After much research, though, and some personal, direct experience, I am now aware that my thinking and beliefs (and I clung to them quite passionately) were false and an example of “avidya.”

All the sacred books I read in my doctoral work mentioned (in my words) that we are spiritual beings with minds and bodies, not bodies with a mind and a spirit. They would always mention that we never die. We never die! The real Self, the real us goes someplace else—either to heaven, or to hell, or (if you are Catholic) to purgatory, or we get reincarnated. Gradually, through my practice of meditation, I began to know my inner self. I began to know that I was a spiritual being.

Now life is very different for me, as I have set aside my “preconceived notion” of who I am. I am beginning to see that much of my life and, I noticed, that many other people, live in a world of “preconceived notions.” Yoga’s understanding of “avidya” as our greatest obstacle to knowing the truth permeates our culture.  

I wonder if that is the reason that there is so much pain and confusion in our world today. If so, it is great to know that the Yoga Tradition and many other spiritual traditions have an answer to that confusion. It is called meditation and studying of the sacred texts. 

Happy Quinceanera to our Latinex neighbors!

Happy Pascha (Easter) to Orthodox Christians!

I bow to the divinity within you!

25 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page