Buddhists believe life is suffering. According to Hindu philosophy, that suffering is caused by five kleshas, or obstacles to awareness. Sometimes called poisons or afflictions, the kleshas result in feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, and depression, among others.
Contemporary yogis understand the kleshas in terms of ego, ignorance, attachment, repulsion, and dread of death. Practitioners can benefit from understanding the kleshas and working to combat them. Doing so requires an examination of the origin of thoughts and how they dictate emotions and actions. It is said that such exploration is the path to freedom.
The Five Kleshas
Avidya is ignorance in the form of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and untruths. It creates a false sense of reality—one in which the temporary is seen as eternal and the impure is thought to be pure. This is the root klesha, which causes the others.
Asmita is identification of ourselves with our ego—an internal and external self-image. It is the error of assuming the immediately experienced self is the true self, which can cause us to forget our limitations.
Raga is attachment to things that give us pleasure. When we fail to find what we seek, we suffer. When we succeed, we want more. This desire for pleasure leads to mindless action and blind vision.
Dvesha is aversion to unpleasant experiences. If we cannot avoid what we dislike, we suffer.
Abhinivesha is the will to live or fear of death. It includes the belief that our true self is synonymous with the temporary physical body. This is the most universal klesha, and it remains with us until our deaths.
Why They Matter
Because they are derived from ignorance, the kleshas are obstacles to enlightenment. They bind us to the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. They are the root of suffering and need to be eradicated. By ridding ourselves of them, we can see our own true nature as well as the world’s truths.
How to Combat Them
The first step is to acknowledge them and to reflect on how they affect our thoughts and behaviors. Reflection is key to self-understanding and awareness. Yogic techniques for combating the kleshas include meditation, tapas, and wisdom seeking.
Practicing deep meditation awakens our innate intelligence and true self.
Tapas challenge the body and mind by exercising willpower in order to temporarily or permanently deny ourselves pleasure, and are said to burn away impurities.
Seeking wisdom—the fundamental truths of life—gives us authentic purpose and can still the mind.
To understand the kleshas, and to take action against them, is another step on the path to self-realization and the end of suffering. Now is a time to begin.
The Next Step
We all want to avoid suffering and bring more happiness into our lives. Although our programs are described as a Yoga Teacher Training, they offer so much more than that. We are providing people with the opportunity to truly live their dreams, and discover a new perspective on life, we call this the Alchemy of Transformation. By recognizing the things that no longer serve us, setting new intentions, and developing new practices for mindfulness, we can manifest great change in ourselves, and in turn, the world around us.