the 5 kleshas

The 5 Kleshas – Obstacles to Yoga

The 5 Kleshas

It’s good to know well our enemy. Or, put another way, along the spiritual path it’s extremely helpful to have some understanding of the kind of challenges the terrain presents. Along these lines, in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we find an invaluable description of the five Kleshas or poisons.

These kleshas are avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa and abhinivesha .

What is particularly helpful here is actually the order in which they’re laid out; Avidya, our ultimate ignorance is the slippery slope whereby we descend into being motivated by our emotions, finally clinging, terrified, to the life we are all too aware, sooner rather than later, we will have to lose.

Ignorance is the source from which all our miseries spring

1. Avidya (delusion)

The first klesha is avidya, ignorance then is the root cause, from which all other problems arise. What exactly is it of which we are ignorant? Patanjali puts it accordingly; believing the impure, the impermanent and the lacking in essence, to be pure, permanent and essential’. In other words, the fundamental belief in our material life as real. Moreover, as an adequate representation of ourselves.

It is from this primary error, basically, looking away from ourselves and not towards ourselves to gain knowledge of the experience in which we find ourselves, we are led to conceive of ourselves as a separate self in the world. Indeed, one who then judges themselves better or worse depending on material circumstances to which they feel attached.

2. Asmita (egoism)

This is the basis of Samkhya philosophy, the attempt to map out what is actually the ‘Self’, as opposed to what is the false ‘self’ in the world as constructed in a separate sense around the particular (separate) experience it thinks its having. This is Asmita; the formation of a sense of distinctness fundamentally framed around judgement, essentially differentiating oneself from another.

Ego is structured around like and dislike.

3. Raga (attachment)

The result of not recognising the difference between the changing material world and the permanent, Avidya, finds its conclusion in Asmita, one that is constantly reaffirmed and asserted though Raga/Dvesa. For, the actions we take as separate selves are not for the sake of desire or aversion themselves (as we assume), rather, we use our apparent preferences to build up a picture of ourselves in the material world.

4. Dvesa (repulsion)

One that is then stabilised around our constant prioritisation of one experience, object or person over another. Gradually, as one experience is stacked upon another, the individual is woven as an infinite tapestry of likes and dislikes giving the consistent picture, rather like a flick-book of pictures, of an enduring and permanent sense of self. Indeed, this concern over an enduring sense of self is why we use desire (and even require aversion).

The fear of not knowing ourselves in a separate way.

Having been thrust into the world most unexpectedly, as we mentioned at the beginning, we attempt to know ourselves by looking out and into the world. Our fundamental mistake, yet one that is quite natural due to the way our senses are situated; pointing outwards and into the world.

Then, from here it is a small step to realising our individual point of consciousness and taking the differentiation of this from the world as knowledge. Indeed, knowledge of this false self is possible. For, otherwise, we could say very little about the experience we are having.

However, from the outset, our particular experience has been prioritised. Assuming, of course, that we are separate from the object of our experience in the first place. For this reason, assuming this need to know, we become utterly terrified of the loss of this possibility in the loss of our individual life.

The problem is knowledge

5. Abhinivesha (repulsion)

This results in Abhinivesha, a fear and clinging to life that underpins and renders unhappy essentially all our experience in the inherent fear of losing all this lurking just beneath. Indeed, it’s another house of cards, built on one error and compiling then one mistake upon another.

The problem is how we relate to knowledge; an over-definitive use of knowledge as separation, from the rational mind based on deconstructionism as opposed to the true experience of being that, is beyond words and the rational mind.

Knowing the kleshas you can work with them rather than have them work against you.

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