Eating even after you feel full, not sleeping when tired or knowingly indulging in substance abuse? Dismissing your better sense and doing things you know you shouldn’t will take its toll. Your health, self-will, and self-regard will gradually decline, encouraging you to make even more bad decisions. Develop an inner calm (sattva) by first accepting that you are acting against your best interests.
Prajnaparadha is a Sanskrit word literally meaning “crimes against wisdom.” It’s a central concept in yoga and ayurveda because it’s understood that doing things we know we shouldn’t is the cause of most diseases and other sufferings.
Certainly, much of the sufferings I have encountered personally and professionally has been the result of not doing what I knew I should or doing what I knew I shouldn’t!
Prajnaparadha In Our Daily Life
Choosing to do something that we know deep down is not good for us — by ignoring or overriding our intuition or simple common sense — inevitably leads to trouble down the line.
Sometimes, it’s only little things like feeling uncomfortable after eating a big meal or tired after going to bed really late, but (alas!) they all add up to future consequences that manifest in a variety of ways.
Apart from the immediate consequences of going against our better judgment, one of the ways prajnaparadha challenges us is in a gradual erosion of health, willpower, and self-esteem.
At first, these things might not seem to be connected, but whenever we make choices that don’t support our well-being or success, we incubate a personal sense of disappointment, annoyance, or even worthlessness.
This can lead to a downward spiral of more bad choices and more bad feelings over time.
Examples Of Prajnaparadha
- Eating when we have already had enough, or eating when we aren’t hungry
- Not going to the toilet when the body needs to eliminate
- Not burping or — yes! — passing gas when necessary
- Suppressing the need to yawn
- Not going to bed when we’re tired (this one starts young, as anyone with kids will attest)
- Indulging in violent entertainment or activities that disturb inner peace
- Watching too much TV or indulging in any other distraction/avoidance technique
- Behaving or speaking dishonestly
- Poor nutrition, smoking, drinking alcohol, consuming harmful drugs — the usual culprits
The list goes on and on.
Each of us does some things some of the time that we know deep down we shouldn’t, and there are other things we might keep doing because we don’t know it’s not good for us — I think of sugar-free sodas here, cleverly marketed as a better alternative to sugary drinks, but in reality they are possibly worse for health.
Triguna: The Three Energetic Qualities
We can understand prajnaparadha best through the concept of triguna, the three energetic qualities (guna) underlying all of this worldly realm, which itself is known as prakriti.
In ayurveda, prakriti is also your fundamental constitution, which is constantly being rebalanced due to the inevitable influence and fluctuations of the gunas, leading to doshic imbalances in the body-mind.
It is especially related to our psychological nature, but as our thoughts strongly influence our physical condition, it also affects bodily health.
To (over-) simplify, one can think of prakriti as the climate and the gunas as the influence of the weather.
It is the energy of action, dispersion, and passion; in the extreme, it can be expressed as anger, irritability, and hyperactivity.
It is the energy of stability and heaviness, but in the extreme, it can be dullness, listlessness, darkness (meaning the full range, from a lack of light to psychological depression and evil), and destruction.
It is a state of harmony and equanimity; sattvic energy is calm and constructive, leading us to good health and peace of mind.
For example, I have a penchant for dark chocolate, which I know doesn’t make me feel good beyond the initial rush of satisfying my craving and the first taste of it in my mouth.
When I ask myself why I want to eat this thing that sometimes makes my head throb and always disturbs my energy, I notice that I’m already agitated (rajasic) when I want the chocolate.
And eating the chocolate leads to even more agitation, feeding into a vicious cycle that eventually spirals down into tamas, aka a sugar crash, in this case!
Equally, the times I “forget” to go to the toilet, all the while sensing that I really must, I’m in a rajasic state of urgent activity and striving.
This leads to further agitation and takes me even further out of balance, leading to a state of tamas, which can ultimately manifest as ill health, until I become aware of the pattern and stop the cycle.
Sattva Is The Aim Of Ayurveda
The ultimate aim of all yogic or ayurvedic teachings and practices is to cultivate sattva — inner peace and equanimity. This can only be attained in the present-moment awareness we bring to what we do, think, and feel.
It can help to take stock of some of the habits and behaviors that ultimately detract from a good and happy life, in a compassionate and sympathetic (sattvic) way — the way we might listen to a good friend.
The recognition that we’re acting against our best interests is part of the cultivation of sattva, and each subsequent step toward that inner calm — which doesn’t exclude being active! — is a step away from prajnaparadha.