What I love about yoga is that next to the physical practice it offers a complete philosophy on how to live a good life. It also helps you to understand and handle the struggles and difficulties of daily life. So what does yoga say about suffering? Say hi to your kleshas!
Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras (all the following yoga sutra transliterations and translations are from “Words About Now: The Yoga Sutras for the Modern Practitioner. Brown, James.“):
2.1 tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana kriya yogah
Yoga practice requires willfully exposing oneself to the metaphorical element of the fire within one’s practice, serious study, and aligning your actions with the true self.
A little pep talk before we get into the topic, thanks, Pat!
2.2 samadhi bhavanarthah klesha tanukaranarthahca
They result in cognitive absorption and weaken the afflictions that cause suffering.
The five roots of suffering
The kleshas are hidden forces in our lives which influence our actions and thoughts. Sometimes they are also referred to as roots of suffering. There are five kleshas, and they act like colored glasses: they change your perception of reality. The good news is, once you become aware of them you can take off these glasses to see reality undisturbed and more clearly.
2.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha klesha
The afflictions are ignorance of the true self, the resulting contrived self-identity, desire for things that support it, dislike for things that do not support it, and a tenacious adherence to the whole thing.
The kleshas can manifest in different ways: some might be stronger and palpable in your daily life while others may lie dormant. The idea of kleshas signifies why and how humans are tied to the world, their thinking, and feeling and how this breeds the unconsciousness which enables suffering.
This is the strongest klesha in which all other kleshas root. Ignorance and not-knowing are some of the biggest barriers on the spiritual path. You can feel that avidya hits you when a personal judgment clouds your perception of reality. This happens mostly because of our past experiences but also because of our upbringing and education. Because this has been so-and-so in the past, that’s why it will be so-and-so now. While experience can make you help make better decisions, it can also hold you back from living your fullest potential because you are biased by your past.
This klesha describes the excessive identification with your mortal and thinking self. Asmita is the result of mistaking your eternal inner core with the impermanent aspects of yourself like your body, your mind, and your personality. This klesha shows up as vanity, pride, overestimating your abilities but it can also work in the opposite direction and manifest as a lack of self-worth and inferiority. Remember that you are a divine spark, no matter what goes on in your daily life.
Attachment or blind affection is a klesha that is very common in our times, and it basically afflicts everyone pretty hard. Raga is the thought, that acquiring objects or titles or being in a relationship brings you happiness and contentment. Qualities like love, ambition, and determination are by all means important yet it is vital to keep your mindfulness on guard. These qualities can create false hopes and distort reality. Raga relates to the attachments of the material world but also to the various vice (drinking, smoking, overspending, overeating, etc.) of humans. Where’s your strongest raga?
Blind aversion is the fourth klesha. This aversion is in a way the counterpart to being overly attached – the raga klesha. This klesha can relate to objects, persons or situations. Usually, you avoid situations or reject people because you have made some unpleasant experiences in the past instead of having a fresh and open mind. Acting upon dvesha often prevents you from experiencing life in all its facets and limits you in your behavior to act from a more compassionate place. Especially when things get tough and uncomfortable, try to see it with fresh eyes to dig down to the truth. This will be much more rewarding than giving in to your dvesha klesha.
This last klesha is the most widespread. It’s an unsubstantiated fear of the unknown. This klesha, however, limits our potential massively because it reduces our ability to think clearly. The truth is that nothing in this material world can’t impact your soul on a permanent level. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that the divine spark inside all of us is eternal. Nothing ever gets lost in this universe, the energies are only shifting so you might as well practice shifting your energy away from fear towards a more loving outlook.
Your kleshas will show sooner or later by influencing your behavior consciously or unconsciously. They are the result of your samskaras, the patterns you collect throughout life.
2.12. klesha mula karma ashaya drishta adrishta janma vedaniyah
The accumulation of actions rooted in these afflictions will be felt or known in the life that you see now and the life that you don’t yet see.
Yet when you practice dhyana, a quiet, reflective state of mind, you can resolve these afflictions.
2.11 dhyana heyah tat vrittayah
When pain that should be avoided is actively happening, reflect upon it.
Imagine a glass of water with some mud stirred into it, you can’t clear the water by stirring harder. Yet when you leave it be and allow the water to find stillness, the mud will settle and the water will become clear again. Resolving the kleshas is like this metaphor – a simple but not an easy process because it takes all your awareness and patience to notice when your kleshas are striking. So let’s weed out your suffering and get on your meditation cushion!
Thank you for reading!