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14.7: Obstacles to Personal Growth- Patanjali's Five Hindrances

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    12270
  • Patanjali’s five hindrances refer to conditions that block our personal development. The hindrances are identified as: avidya (ignorance), sense of personality, desire, hate, and sense of attachment. It may seem confusing to us that a sense of personality is a hindrance to personal development. Isn’t the goal in life to become aware of and comfortable with our true selves? Unfortunately, from the perspective of Yoga, that belief is the result of the single most challenging hindrance, the one that is the source of all other difficulties: ignorance. The problem, according to Patanjali, is that our sense of personality is a mistaken identification of our mental awareness, a product of our brain (nature), with our true and transcendental self (spirit). Specifically, the fifth Sutra of Book II states that “avidya is the condition of confusing the permanent, pure, blissful and the Self with that which is impermanent, impure, painful and the not-Self” (Bailey, 1927; pg. 115). The latter point refers specifically to the duality between our true self, that temporary manifestation of spirit in nature, with the body/mind of this world that will cease to exist when we die (though death does not really exist in the same sense in the perspective of Yoga).

    It is also something of a problem to use the term attachment in a negative way. In Western psychology attachment is typically used to refer to the bonding between parent and child. Thus, we consider attachment to be a necessary condition of healthy development. In Yoga, however, any form of attachment is a delusion in which we consider elements of the natural world to be of importance. Only the universal spirit is perspective, even the love of a parent for a child is a delusion that keeps us attached to this world, and would therefore be a hindrance to our union with God. Actually, things are not as bleak as that might make them seem at first. Since there is only one universal spirit, we and our children, indeed everyone everywhere, is one and the same universal spirit, both past and present (hence the meaninglessness of death). So it is not wrong to love, it is only a mistake to think that love for a person or love for a thing is the most important thing in life. What is important is to practice Yoga in order to overcome these hindrances, to escape the laws of karma, to quiet the mind and transcend the natural world. Then one will know their union with God and all creation.

    discussion question \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    According to Patanjali, the single greatest obstacle to personal growth is avidya (ignorance). How has your education helped you to grow as a person? Have you taken any courses specifically designed to help you with personal development? What plans, if any, do you have for continuing your education after you finish school?

    Classic Indian Stages of Life

    According to the Vedic teaching of ancient India, each Hindu male should progress through four stages of life: student, householder, hermit or forest-dweller, and finally renunciant. At a young age the child would be sent to live with a guru, so that he might devote himself to spiritual development, studying the Vedas (ancient Indian texts that provide much of the philosophy, practices, rituals and other guides for Hindu life), and mastering Yoga. Then the young man returns home, takes a wife (usually an arranged marriage), runs the family business, and basically takes care of the business of maintaining the Indian society. As the man grows older, and his children become ready to take over as the householders, he becomes a hermit, once again devoting himself to Yoga. Finally, the old man leaves society completely behind and focuses himself entirely on unity with God. For Hindu females all that can be said is that, unfortunately, this philosophy comes from an old and patriarchal society. There are no classic stages of life for women in the Vedic teachings.

    These four stages are an ideal of the traditional Hindu life. As in our own culture, both personal and family values change over time. Many Hindus do not follow these ancient ways. Though this style of life is certainly not necessary for the practice of Yoga, one can see the advantage of beginning and ending one’s life with the sole purpose of practicing and mastering Yoga. Another interesting issue raised by these stages of life is the importance of middle age. In America we often hear about the so-called midlife crisis. There is some debate as to whether the midlife crisis exists, and whether it exists for both men and women, but in traditional Indian culture there is a profound difference: middle age is not the beginning of a decline toward old age and death, but rather a time to focus on the future and one’s enlightenment. Therefore, middle age should be a particularly hopeful and peaceful time.