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The Kleshas (afflictions of the mind)

9 May 2016

The Kleshas

These 5 Kleshas (afflictions) affect (or color) each of the Koshas (sheaths). Kosha a Sanskrit word usually translated as “sheath”, of which there are also five, each one representing a covering of the Atman (“Self”, according to Vedantic philosophy). They range from gross to subtle and are often visualized like the layers of an onion. These Koshas, lie one within the other as a set of five sheaths.

This series of articles will address how each Kosha is affected (or colored) by these Kleshas. But first, for those who are unfamiliar with these 5 Kleshas, here’s a recap.

From the perspective of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras it is important to understand that emotional pain and all its varied expressions, such as depression, stem from the desire, attachment, fear and certain unconscious universal constructs (Kleshas) that exist in all un-liberated human minds. These constructs (referred to as “colorings”) form a basis on which all other more individualized neuroses are woven and re-woven through a complex association of desires, attachments, fears and other human experiences. Thus these Kleshas are basic motivational forces which underpin our ability to act, think, and feel. It is these Kleshas which are responsible for the fluctuations (modifications or agitations) of consciousness and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are primarily concerned with the elimination or stilling of these fluctuations.

If and when the Kleshas are removed through yoga practices, all of the individual neuroses which they support will crumble and fall away. These Kleshas (afflictions or colorings) are comprised of five basic constructs or crystallized thought-forms and are described by Patanjali at the beginning of Book 2 of the Yoga Sutras (1, 2, 3 & 4).

Once the Kleshas are seen in a clear light and recognized for what they are, they will disappear. The intellectual mind is not enough to bring about this recognition. Patanjali, insists the “8 limbs of yoga” are necessary to lead the mind toward the required purification and these are:

  • Yama (Sanskrit for "moral discipline")
  • Niyama (Sanskrit for "moral observance")
  • Asana (Sanskrit for "body posture")
  • Pranayama (Sanskrit for "breath control")
  • Prathyara (Sanskrit for "withdrawal of the senses")
  • Dharana (Sanskrit for "concentration")
  • Dhyana (Sanskrit for "meditation")

We all have heard that every journey starts with the first step. So it stands to reason that recognizing the Kleshas is a good way to quench the desire of the intellect. Here is a list of the 5 Kleshas and a brief summary of their attributes:

  • Avidya (Ignorance): This is the primal ignorance which pervades all of creation. This ignorance is experiential, not conceptual, in nature. This affliction results in our lack of awareness and disconnection from Truth.
  • Asmita (Ego): As individuals, we also have what is called ahamkara or "I-maker" (ego). It is a single vritti, (thought form), the idea of individualized existence. This single thought of a limited self is enormously convincing because it pervades the entire body-mind complex. It is the nature of this individual "I-am" sense, or ego, to identify with something and become attached to it.
  • Raga (Attachment): This klesha is all about desire. All of us have experienced this and we are all attached to something. Whether it’s a partner, a friend, a practice, an object, a pet, a food, even an iPhone; it’s okay to need or want things, but you know your desire has become an affliction when it creates suffering.  Raga creates in us a pattern of acquisition: we began to pursue human relationships, knowledge, wealth, status, power-anything which might be capable of enlarging and protecting our fragile individualized existence.
  • Dvesha (Aversion): Patanjali defines aversion as: “Identification with what we don’t like.” Attachments (Raga) arise from our previous experiences of pleasure and happiness. Aversions emerge from previous experiences of pain and suffering. This is the fourth Klesha, "the hate, fear or extreme dislike which follows after experiencing pain."
  • Abhinivesha (Clinging to Life): Because of raga and dvesha, a tremendous, continual, and habitual outflowing of our energy and attention through our senses to the objects of external world has been created. This outflow of all our attention and energy can only increase our identification with our physical existence, resulting in a fear of death and making it even harder for us to perceive or identify with our spiritual nature.

Stay tuned, next: Further exploration of each Klesha and how it colors each Kosha (Sheath), beginning with Annamaya kosha.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

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