What are the 5 Kleshas? The Cause of Suffering

Los Kleshas o aflicciones impiden el desarrollo interior y son la causa del sufrimiento.

Within yoga philosophy there is a fundamental concept that is ignored by most people, the kleshas. As described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, the kleshas are the five main afflictions or impediments that obscure the true nature of our mind and are sources of suffering and unhappiness. These afflictions are the main cause of disharmony and lack of balance in our life and mind.

Learning to recognize the kleshas and overcome them is fundamental in order to progress on the path of yoga and reach states of greater fulfillment and well-being.

We will describe in depth each of these afflictions, as well as the practices or antidotes to overcome them.

The Five Kleshas of Patanjali

Although we may be aware of certain desires, aversions or fears in our daily lives, the deep root of these kleshas is often rooted in the subconscious, which means that they can influence our behavior and perceptions without us realizing it. Hence, it is necessary to have a deep understanding of the various kleshas to discover how they influence our lives and how we can act to eliminate them.

Avydia (Ignorance)

Translated as“ignorance“, Avidya is the lack of knowledge in the conventional sense, but a lack of perception or understanding of our true nature and the reality around us. “A”, meaning “no” or “without“, and “Vidya“, meaning “knowledge” or “truth”. Thus, Avidya is a state of non-truth or non-knowledge.

Patanjali identifies Avydia as the main klesha that obscures our true essence and gives rise to all other afflictions. It is the veil that clouds our vision and prevents us from seeing reality as it is, giving rise to suffering. Ignorance as the source of all suffering can also be found in the first of the Four Noble Truths enunciated by the Buddha.

It is a mistaken interpretation of reality that can manifest itself in various ways:

  • Confusing the eternal with the temporal: Instead of recognizing the eternal nature of our consciousness or soul (Atman), we identify with the body and mind, which are temporary and changeable.
  • Confusing pleasure with happiness: We seek satisfaction in material pleasures, thinking that they are a source of lasting happiness, without realizing that true happiness lies in inner peace.
  • Confusing the impure with the pure: We become attached to fluctuating desires and emotions, thinking that they define our essence, instead of seeking purity and clarity of consciousness.

Not understanding our true essence, we become attached to things that are ephemeral and changeable. This identification and attachment leads us to experience negative emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy and desire, which in turn generate suffering. Forgetfulness or ignorance of the nature of reality leads us to live in a state of alienation and disconnection, both from our own essence and from the world around us.

How can we overcome ignorance?

The solution to Avidya, according to yogic philosophy and other Eastern spiritual currents, is self-knowledge and self-realization. By cultivating a deep understanding and awareness of ourselves through practices such as meditation, we can begin to dispel the layers of ignorance that cloud our vision.

By confronting this and working to overcome it, we embark on a journey of discovery and transformation. As we clarify our perception and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world, true peace, happiness and freedom become accessible.

Asmita (False Sense of Self)

Asmita es uno de los cinco kleshas. Es la identificación excesiva con el ego.

Asmita can be understood as “ego” or “individual self.” The word is derived from “Asmi,” meaning “I am,” and refers to the identification of the self with its physical and mental form, leading to a sense of separation between the individual and the rest of the universe. Instead of perceiving oneself as part of something larger, be it universal consciousness (Brahman), God or life itself, one is limited by the boundaries of one’s body, mind and emotions.

This identification with “I” and “mine” is not only the basis of individuality, but also the source of many human afflictions, such as envy, pride, anger and competitiveness.

This identification with the ego arises from Avidya. Failing to recognize our essence, we misidentify ourselves with what is transitory and mutable such as our body, our possessions, our abilities and accomplishments, our emotions and our thoughts.

This misidentification manifests itself in various patterns of thought and behavior. For example, when someone offends us, we feel that our identity is under attack. When we compare ourselves to others and feel inferior or superior, it is Asmita operating in the background.

The sense of separation that Asmita generates can manifest as loneliness, competitiveness, jealousy and a constant desire for external validation. In addition, identification with the body and mind leads to an intrinsic fear of aging, disease and death.

How to overcome identification with the ego?

The key to overcoming Asmita and ego traps is, as in the case of Avydia, self-knowledge. We are going to describe a series of practices that we can find within the different branches of yoga and that can help us to transcend the identification with our ego:

  • Meditation: meditating allows us to observe our thoughts and emotions without becoming attached to them. By developing this detached observation, we can begin to see how the ego manifests itself and how it distorts our perception. With time and consistent practice, meditation helps us to dissolve the layers of the ego and experience our true nature, which is serene and unified.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-study): This is one of the five Niyamas or personal disciplines of the Yoga Sutras. It entails both the reading of sacred texts and self-reflection. When we reflect on our actions, words and thoughts, we can identify and understand the manifestations of the ego. Sacred texts, on the other hand, offer us wisdom and perspectives that challenge and expand our limited understanding of the self.
  • Satsang (Community): Being in the company of spiritual seekers or enlightened teachers can be helpful. These environments promote conversations and reflections that challenge the ego and encourage us to explore beyond our limited identities.
  • Karma Yoga (Selfless Service): Practicing service without expectation of recognition or reward is an effective way to counteract the ego. By focusing on the well-being of others, we diminish the importance of our own self and cultivate humility.
  • Detachment: Detachment does not mean renouncing the world, but interacting with it without getting caught up in desires, aversions and, above all, the sense of“I” and“mine.” It is an exercise to constantly remind ourselves that our true essence goes beyond any label or possession.

The importance of the Ego

It is very important to note that although we often talk about “overcoming” or “transcending” the ego, which could give the impression that the ego is intrinsically bad or something we must eliminate completely, we need to realize that the real challenge is not to eliminate the ego, but to learn not to identify completely with it.

From an evolutionary and psychological perspective, the ego has a clear purpose. It acts as a kind of organizing center for our personal experience, helping us to navigate the world. It allows us to define boundaries, protect ourselves and understand our position in relation to others. From this perspective, the ego is essential to our survival and daily functioning. The dilemma arises when we identify so closely with our ego that we cannot see beyond it. This leads to a view of the world and ourselves that is dominated by our own needs, desires and fears. It is this attachment and over-identification that spiritual systems often urge us to overcome.

Recognizing the value of the ego as we seek the expansion of consciousness is very important. Rather than trying to “kill” the ego, we can work to have a healthier relationship with it. This entails seeing it as a part of us, but not the totality of our identity. As we develop this balanced view, we can respond to the world from a place of greater clarity and compassion, rather than automatically reacting from our egoic patterns.

Instead of rejecting the ego (which is counterproductive), we need to learn to appreciate its importance. It helps us function in the world, achieve our goals and build relationships. In addition, it can act as a teacher, showing us areas where we need to evolve or heal.

Raga (Attachment)

Raga is the desire or attachment to pleasurable experiences and aversion to unpleasant ones that is deeply rooted in our biology and psychology, driving us to seek what makes us feel good and avoid what makes us feel bad. This pursuit of pleasure and rejection of pain are natural responses, serving to protect us and help us thrive. But, what may seem logical is actually a hindrance, because excessive attachment to pleasure can lead to unhealthy behavior patterns and a distorted view of reality.

Beyond the big philosophical ideas, Raga affects our daily lives in tangible but often completely unnoticed ways. It can manifest as an obsession with success, a dependence on external validation, an addiction to substances or behaviors, or even a constant search for pleasurable stimuli through food, entertainment or relationships. These desires, when they become inordinate, can lead to suffering as we inevitably face loss, rejection and change in life.

How to practice detachment?

To overcome attachment it is necessary to cultivate its opposite, detachment. It seems logical, doesn’t it? But the truth is that there are certain very important nuances that often go completely unnoticed. Many people make the mistake of practicing detachment by distancing themselves from the people, objects or circumstances to which they feel attached. But this type of practices that seem to be common sense do not usually give good results.

It is necessary to understand that attachment is a mental bondage and to get rid of it it is necessary to go deep into our attachments and understand them. As a result of this understanding, detachment arises. But this practice, although simple, is not at all easy, it requires courage, as it often involves facing aspects of ourselves that we would prefer to ignore. Remember that very human tendency we mentioned earlier? Seeking pleasure and running away from what we find painful. Well, it is exactly running away from the pain of our own thoughts that hinders our personal growth as it prevents us from healing inwardly.

Is desire bad?

Desires are neither intrinsically good nor bad. In fact, they are a vital force in the human being that drives growth, innovation and expansion. From desire comes passion, creativity, and the impetus to pursue our dreams and goals. Without desire, humans would not have strived for great achievements or sought to improve our living conditions.

The problem arises when we become overly attached to these desires or identify completely with them. Attachment to the desire can turn it into an obsession, making us believe that our happiness and well-being depend exclusively on its fulfillment. When we identify completely with our desires, we define ourselves by them and, as a result, our self-esteem and self-worth can fluctuate depending on whether or not we succeed in satisfying these desires.

The problem is not the desire itself, but our relationship to it. If we allow desire to flow naturally, recognizing that it is a part of the human experience but not the totality of our identity, then we can benefit from its energy without falling into traps of dissatisfaction or suffering. It is attachment and identification, rather than the desire itself, that can lead to mental and emotional disturbance.

The key is to cultivate a balanced relationship with our desires. This means being aware of them, allowing ourselves to feel and pursue them, but also letting go of them when necessary, recognizing that we do not define our worth or essence by them. In doing so, we can harness the power of desires to enrich our lives, while maintaining our inner peace and balance.

Dvesha

As the opposite of Raga we find Dvesha, the aversion or repulsion to the painful or unpleasant. Together they form the fundamental duality that often defines our emotional reactions and decisions. As we have already mentioned, avoidance of what we find unpleasant or potentially harmful is a completely natural response that has served human beings to ensure their survival. But when this aversion intensifies and becomes an automatic reaction to more subtle and complex aspects of life, the result is suffering.

In our daily lives Dvesha manifests itself in less obvious and often destructive ways:

  • Prejudice and discrimination: Rigid attachments to beliefs or identities can lead us to automatically reject those who are different from us, creating divisions and conflicts.
  • Avoidance of painful experiences: We may develop an aversion to situations or people that remind us of past traumatic experiences, limiting our growth and ability to cope with and heal those wounds.
  • Resistance to change: Aversion to the unknown can cause us to resist change, even if it is beneficial or inevitable.

The main problem with Dvesha is not the aversion itself, but identifying with it. When we allow our aversions to define our reality, we lock ourselves into a repetitive cycle of reaction rather than conscious action. This identification with our aversions robs us of the freedom to choose and to live fully.

How can we overcome aversion?

For us to overcome or moderate the impact that Dvesha has on our lives requires a combination of awareness, understanding and practice. As with any mental pattern, the first step is to recognize it. Through practices such as meditation, we can develop the ability to observe our aversions without automatically acting on them.

When we understand that aversion is a natural response, but that it does not have to dominate our experience, we can begin to consciously choose how we want to respond. Remaining mindful in our day-to-day lives and practicing meditation helps us cultivate equanimity, acceptance and a deeper connection to our essence that goes beyond the oscillations of the mind.

Abhinivesha

El miedo a la muerte es uno de los cinco Kleshas descritos en los Yoga Sutras.

The last of the five kleshas is Abhinivesha, the fear of death or attachment to life, and although it may be less obvious in our daily lives than other afflictions such as craving or aversion, it has a very profound impact

Fear of death is intrinsically human. It manifests itself in our daily decisions, in the way we relate to others, and in the structures and beliefs we create to make sense of the world. It is a fear that does not discriminate by age, health, status or wisdom; even the wise and learned, says Patanjali, are not exempt from this innate fear.

Although fear of death is the most obvious manifestation of Abhinivesha, this klesha presents itself in many other forms:

  • Attachment to identity: We cling to our identities-our work, roles, accomplishments, and even our beliefs-as a way of giving continuity and permanence to our existence.
  • Resistance to change: In an effort to maintain a sense of continuity and predictability, we may resist change, seeing any disruption to our routine or expectations as a threat.
  • Quest for immortality: From the search for mystical elixirs in antiquity to the contemporary obsession with youth, beauty and health, our culture is imbued with efforts to overcome or at least delay the inevitability of death.

Fear of death becomes paralyzing. It can cause us to avoid risks, limit our experiences and cling to security at the expense of authenticity and growth. On a spiritual level, this fear can obscure our ability to connect with deeper aspects of our existence, keeping us trapped in earthly and temporal concerns.

Overcoming the fear of death

Understanding and accepting impermanence is the quintessential tool for dealing with Abhinivesha. Teachings revolving around the transitory nature of existence are at the core of Eastern philosophical and spiritual traditions. Awareness of this reality, on a deep level, not just intellectually, helps to deal with the anxiety that stems from the fear of death.

Let’s take a look at the world: seasons change, flowers bloom and then wither, rivers flow and change their course over time, and the stars, though seemingly eternal, have a life cycle. This constant cycle of creation, preservation and destruction is evidence that change is a fundamental and immutable law of the universe. Similarly, our body goes through stages: from birth to old age, experiencing growth, change and finally, decline. Our emotions, thoughts and experiences are equally ephemeral. Once we understand and accept that everything we experience is temporary, we can begin to let go of the attachment to permanence.

Facing this inevitable reality and staring it in the face can be frightening. Why should we dwell on something so painful? It seems logical to shy away from such thoughts, but the truth is that when we face the truth of impermanence, understand and accept it, we experience a great inner freedom that is indescribable. Some of the consequences that derive from the understanding of impermanence are:

  • Reduced attachment: By understanding that everything is transitory, we lessen our attachment to possessions, relationships and experiences. This does not mean that we do not value these things, but that we enjoy them without the anxiety of losing them.
  • Living in the present: By recognizing that the now is all we really have, we can begin to live more fully in the present, appreciating each moment rather than fearing the future.
  • Transforming fear into appreciation: When we understand that life is brief and precious, we transform fear of death into a deep appreciation for each moment of life.
  • Preparing for the inevitable: Acceptance of impermanence also prepares us to face death with serenity and grace, whether it is our own death or that of a loved one.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top