KLESHAS (afflictions of
mind) according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
From the perspective of Yoga
is is important to understand that emotional pain and its varied expressions,
such as depression, stem from the desire, attachment, fear and certain
unconscious universal constructs, existing in all unliberated human minds.
These constructs form a basis on which all other more individualized neuroses
are woven and re-woven through a complex association of desires, attachments,
and experiences. If they can be removed through yoga practices, all of
the individual neuroses which they support will crumble away. Called Kleshas
(or afflictions), these five constructs or crystallized thought-forms are
described by Patanjali at the beginning of Book 2 of the Yoga Sutra
(1, 2, 4).
Once they are seen in a clear
light they will disappear. The intellectual mind is not enough for this.
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Prathyara, Dharana, Dhyana will lead the
mind toward the necessary purification. But every road starts with the
first step. Here the Kleshas are to quench the desire of the intellect.
the primal ignorance which pervades all of the creation. This ignorance
is experiential, not conceptual, in nature. To individuals, avidya means
that while the nondual source of all existence and awareness is pure, all
pervasive, immanent, and transcendent, radiating from the core of our being,
we do not automatically perceive that this is the case. Our individualized
and unpurified sensory mind and the sense organs, because they are relatively
crude instruments compared to the subtlety of pure awareness, are incapable
of directly perceiving it. Our mind's higher nature (buddhi) is
capable of perceiving the radiant and blissful reflection of the Divine
Self, but only when it has been sufficiently purified through persistent
practice. For most of us, such purification requires many years of meditation
practice, as well as the help of our teachers.
individuals, we also have what is called ahamkara or "I-maker" (ego).
It is a single vritti\, or 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. And because we do not easily perceive the existence of
the Self, the ahamkara indentifies with some sort of a limited self-concept,
usually our body-mind complex, our social identity, our individual attributes
of personality or experience, etc. We are born into this world knowing
only one thing: This body is mine. But we don't even know who is the one
who is claiming the body. The result of this ignorance of our true nature
is thus our misidentification with some aspect of limited existence, which
is inherently painful because it is incomplete. Once this misidentification
occurs, our whole perception of reality is altered, so that the entire
universe is divided into "me" versus "not-me" and the objects of our experience
are divided into "mine" and "not-mine". This is asmita, or "I-ness", the
because the identification of ahamkara was false to begin with,
and because what is "me" is relatively small compared to the large surrounding
universe mostly composed on "not me", a sort of existential terror and
insecurity results. We don't want to face the overwhelming feeling of terror,
do we develop various strategies for distracting ourselves from it - for
enlarging "me" and for buttressing and preserving our individual and continually
threatened small existence. This leads to the third klesha, raga,
attraction, which 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.
But because change is the nature of creation, all objects within it are
impermanent, and thus subject to loss at any moment.
In experiencing an object which gives us pleasure, we become attached to
that pleasure, and desire to experience it again. When the experience becomes
unavailable to us, we feel pain. Our spouse or partner whom we loved and
enjoyed leaves us for another. We try to persuade her or him to return,
or we try to find another like her or him. If after repeated efforts we
are not successful, but our attachment remains strong, our pain and anger
turns to depression, helplessness, and finally hatred of ourselves and
the world. This is the fourth klesha, called dvesha, "the hate which
follows after experiencing the pain."
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, making it
even harder for us to perceive or identify with our spiritual nature. Not
only do we fear death because it represents an ending of our ability to
fulfill our desires, but we also emotionally identified with our body-mind
complex and thus (at least subconsciously, if not consciously) dear that
our existence will terminate with the death of our physical body. This
is the fifth klesha, abhinivesha, the clinging to life, which "dominates
even the wise." The kleshas are imprinted on chitta, the individual
consciousness, from time immemorial and create and perpetuate the illusions
that existence is limited to the mind-body complex. Even after death the
retains the kleshas in seed form and they sprout to full fruition in
the next incarnation. As long as the individual thinks that consciousness
is limited to the bodily existence, he is forever in the mercy of forces
beyond his control, snatching a little happiness here and there but always
aware, even if it is on a subconscious level, that sooner or later the
body will die and the vehicle of experience will be no more.
Prepared according to the Yoga Sutras
of Patanjali and article by Sarasvati Buhrman: "Leaving Depression Behind-the
Yogic Way Out", Yoga International, February/March 27, 1998.