Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: The Five Kleshas

In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines “the means to liberation.” Within these key principles, we find the five Kleshas, or the five obstacles: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. Sutra 2.2 introduces the subject very clearly: “The goal of Yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking: it is the realization of an already present reality. The yoga practice aims to remove the obstacles that obstruct the experience of Samadhi, or the state of complete absorption”. Patanjali then explains how each obstacle can be resolved; discussing all five obstacles and offering easy ways to identify, accept, and integrate each into our practice of commitment of self-realization and therefore, liberation. 

1.  Avidya: Ignorance

Our first affliction is our lack of awareness and disconnection from Truth. To cultivate awareness, consider how often you do the following: Mistaking pain for pleasure:How many times do we need to get burned before we know the nature of fire? Next time you have an unpleasant reaction to something, write it down! Shine your awareness on things that don’t serve you anymore. Make a list of them and keep the list at hand! Think also of the good changes or growth these experiences brought into your life. Mistaking the non-self as the Self:To see beauty is to see unity. To perceive unity is to sense the presence of the absolute.Who are you underneath your clothes? Without your job? Your possessions? Attainments? Hobbies? Get in touch with your eternal Self by stripping away all outer identifications. 

2. Asmita: Ego

We often view ourselves and the world through the lens of labeling: labels that our minds tag onto people, occupations, gender, clothing, events, actions, behaviors, and comparative labels (how you compare your labels with those of others). As we recognize the space that labeling holds in our minds, we can practice dropping the habitual tendency that takes up so much of our mental and emotional energy. More often that not, we mistake the labels that we give ourselves for who we really are. Labels that we assign are only fragments of who we truly are. Asmita invites us to step out of the small, limited picture, that we often get stuck in. 

3. Raga: Attachment

The third Klesha is all about desire and possessiveness. Whether it’s a significant other, a friend, a practice, an object, a pet, a job, a goal, or a preferred outcome, we all experience the act of deep attachment or investment of various things in our lives. However, when we hold onto things with a tight grip, we are not staying open and flexible to the inevitable changes that occur in life, people, places, and things. Therefore, our desires can become an affliction when it creates suffering. This Klesha asks us to hold on with open hands and to practice inviting all that we hold in our hearts to have the space to change and grow. 

4. Dvesha – Aversion

This Klesha can be interpreted as an avoidance of something, or the feeling of dislike towards something. For instance, when we are challenged out of our comfort zone by a pose in our practice, we may encounter this sensation of dislike. Uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes a lesson lies in taking that step that takes out to a new ground, out of your comfort zone; it’s a great opportunity for growth. We perceive as good that which brings pleasure; we perceive as bad that which brings pain. To step out of a state of aversion is to step out of your ego’s comfort zone. Being pushed around by the ego that tells us “I want, I don’t want” is a vicious cycle that creates suffering. However, you're in power of breaking the cycle: identify one habit, and change it. You will come to see that your true identity is not defined by your likes and dislikes. Here are two questions that you can explore:  If you usually WANT to challenge yourself, what would it feel like to take a step back? If you usually DON’T WANT to challenge yourself, what would happen if you did? 

5. Abhinivesha: Clinging to life

Abhinivesha is a Sanskrit word meaning “will to live,” referring to the fear of death, even if life is full of misery. It is one of the five Kleshas, or negative mental states that causes suffering. Not only is Abhinivesha the fear of death, it also includes the incorrect identification of the true self with the temporary physical body or world. However, when we practice excepting that our human experiences are finite, we are urged to be present, grateful, and make the most out of the gifts and challenges that make this life rich and beautiful.