Yoga Sutra 8, Chapter 1, What is Wrong Knowledge?

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all articles on Yoga Concepts

“viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa p’ratistham “

Yoga sutra 8 explained:

viparyayah – wrong knowledge,

error in knowing something

mithya – not real, any false entity

jnanam – knowledge of something

atad- not intrinsic or endemic to it rupa- appearance, nature

pratistham- engrained, based on

After elaborating on the sources of right knowledge, Patanjali in this yoga sutra 8, Chapter Samadhipada, is discussing the nature of wrong knowledge, and its implications. Eradication of wrong knowledge or the erroneous perception of something is the central goal towards which all the yoga practices are meant to work.

Wrong knowledge is the way in which the mind generally functions. The Mind is inherently at loss to perceive the real as it is, from distance the mind perceives a mound of sand as silver and a rope lying on the road can be taken as a snake. This, wrong knowledge is also one of the ways, modifications, in which the mind works.

Nature of Wrong Knowledge – Yoga Sutra 8

Our reaction to such illusions is as if they were real. Patanjali doesn’t consider this negative knowledge, but according to him it is more like a different kind of knowledge or Anyata Khyati. This knowledge only exists in the mind and nowhere else; the snake is only in the mind and not on the road.

In other terms wrong knowledge is something that doesn’t corresponds to the reality. Even Samkhya talks about a number of obstacles to gaining right knowledge which if not overcome can lead to wrong knowledge. when we base our plans on the wrongly perceived reality we come face to face with pain.

As per yoga sutra 8 all humans are neurotics, as they keep busy building castles in the air only to see them destroyed in a jiffy, and again start building the same based on the same flimsy base of wrong knowledge.

We continue making this mistake in context to people, places, situations and events all the time. If we wrongly perceive a bad person as good, our mind refuses to follow him/ her till we learn about the real aspect of that person by suffering pain.

What are the implications of Wrong Knowledge?

As per this Yoga sutra wrong knowledge begets emotions. Negative feelings like doubt and uncertainty comes under wrong knowledge. A doubt is like a vacuum, is something there or is not there. A person is able to reject matter for good only if clarity has come to him. if he rejects matter without clarity, under the influence of wrong knowledge, he will again be lured back to matter in no time.

Intelligence, Buddhi, is inherently programmed to lust after reality. The intellect always strives for the right knowledge in spite of being entangled in the web of wrong knowledge. The mind will not stop until it knows the right thing.

Avidya -one of the kleshas- is nothing but wrong knowledge. It is known as klesha because it leads to pain. Avidya is the subconscious tendency of the mind which is the cause for other four kleshas; asmita, raga, dvesha, and abhinivesha. The guna, out of the three gunas or tendencies, which governs these kleshas is Tamas. The name of the guna and Avidya means the same in the old literature; the darkness.

Due to the presence of the modification of wrong knowledge man takes body for the soul, or thinks that the body is the ultimate reality not the soul. The human body is the same as the eight fold evolutes of Prakriti ( matter) as per Samkhya, but these are not the spirit or the soul.

Tamas has the attributes of these eight evolutes of nature not the spirit. Here the wrong knowledge is in the context of the mix-up of the matter and the spirit or the purusha due to the error in perception and inference drawn by us in an effort to know the reality. Eradicating this misleading mix-up is the primary aim of all Yoga teachings. Impure Citta creates wrong knowledge.

As per yoga philosophy an completely arrested mind has umpteen number of miracular possibilities ( Siddhis), the super powers in common parlance. These powers starts showing on their own as the austere practitioner progresses on the path of yoga.

Owing to the miraculous, and super power nature of these attributes which one receives along the path of attaining the ultimate goal of yoga, it is easy for the seeker to get spellbound and infatuated by these powers which is again wrong knowledge. Siddhis are in reality obstacles, distractions for the individual soul in its path to become one with the universal soul.

This yoga sutra of Patanjali also insinuates towards another of the kleshas, the raga or attachment. Humans can get a false satisfaction out of being able to reject the grosser aspects of the material world, but they still can remain attached to its subtler aspects.

This is possible when all the senses, known as Indriyas in Samkhya, are not equally arrested, any one sense remains at large and becomes the reason for the lingering piece of hidden attachment we may not be overtly aware of. Raga, being a klesha will lead to loss of discriminative thinking ultimately resulting in the hurt and pain.

Raga begets hatred, a person who is attached to something will hate anyone who isn’t that attached to the same object. Hatred is known by the term Dvesha in old literature. Hatred is the result of failing at gaining the desired powers by the yogi.

We are so attached to our love for what we want desperately that in the event of we not being able to achieve it leaves traces of bitterness within us. This bitterness is called dvesha or hatred. Thus raga – attachment- and dvesha- hatred- go hand in hand. A mind laced with hatred is under the influence of wrong knowledge.

Abhinivesha is the fifth klesha which stands for the fear of the loss of everything one has acquired. All these kleshas when present in the mind keeps it in a state of unsteadiness.

These are also called as toxic substances – mala- of the mind’s health. Chittamala means impurities of the mind. Mithya jnana, as mentioned in this yoga sutra of Patanjali stands for the errors, mistakes and optical illusions which infest the mind in its conscious states.

Mithya Jnana is different from kleshas in the sense that these errors happen when the conscious mind misinterprets the facts present as something else. Thus in this Yoga Sutra of Patanjali we get to know the nature and implications of viparyayah or the wrong knowledge. Understanding wrong knowledge can help us avoid it in order to keep our pace of growth on the path of yoga.
In a nutshell-

Wrong Knowledge (viparyayah) is establishing(pratistham) the knowing (jnanam) on the fictitious (mithya) entity which lacks its real (atad) form ( rupa).

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