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Understanding the 5 Kleshas

Understanding the 5 Kleshas

5 kleshas

Human life is full of experiences. Some are pleasurable while few others are challenging and full of suffering. This suffering is our brainchild, created and nurtured by us, as envisaged by the ancient philosophy of Vedanta. Kleshas are the inborn psychological afflictions that color and cloud our thoughts, intentions, perceptions as well as feelings.

It forces us to react instantly towards various life events. Sufferings are a state of mind. You get caught up in your pain and identify it as a part of yourself.

Any pain is natural and will happen as a part of your existence, but suffering is instinctual and a choice, as it is the interpretation and reaction to that pain.

What Are Kleshas?

In the old Sanskrit scriptures, Kleshas are considered as ‘poison’. It is a state of mind that obscures the clarity of thoughts and understanding and inflicts psychological stress.

By becoming aware of Kleshas, you can be liberated from worldly ties and move towards spiritual enlightenment. These are considered as mind blocks in the path of living a righteous life. Kleshas are mental afflictions with which you are born on earth. It bothers you daily in several ways. These mental afflictions were first identified by Sage Patanjali in his book of wisdom titled “Yoga Sutras”.

12 Key Elements of Kleshas

The key elements of Kleshas are

  1. Kleshas are negative mental states or energies which are toxic and stop you from fully enjoying life.
  2. They are obstacles tangled within your ego and stop you from getting mental freedom.
  3. It stops you from having clarity of thoughts and it colors your emotional responses.
  4. It distorts your perception and effects how you think, feel and act in particular situations.
  5. Kleshas are like barriers that give rise to actions and consequences thereof.
  6. You get tied up in karmic relations that keep you away from knowing your true nature.
  7. You are intertwined in the suffering that prevents you from gaining spiritual awakening and salvation.
  8. Kleshas are negative emotional states of fear, jealousy, lust, regret, unhealthy desires, anger, and hatred. They are called mind poisons.
  9. They are self-inflicted roots of suffering that mystify your awareness of true “self” and the world around you.
  10. You do unwholesome actions that are unjustified.
  11. It blocks your realization of people and situations around you.
  12. The quest for gaining wisdom takes a backseat.
Understanding the 5 Kleshas
Understanding the 5 Kleshas

What Are The 5 Kleshas?

Patanjali Yoga Sutras refer to 5 main Kleshas which cover your true nature of goodness and truth.

  • Avidya – Ignorance or lack of spiritual knowledge.
  • Asmita – Egoism, preoccupied with “I” and “Me”.
  • Raga – Attachment to pleasure and worldly temptations.
  • Dvesa – Aversion or Avoidance of pain or to things you dislike.
  • Abhinivesa – Fear of death and cling to life.

Kleshas #1. Avidya

The Sanskrit word “Avidya” means ignorance, lack of understanding. It also means misconceptions that you have about your “true nature” and the essential goodness of the world around you.

When you are ignorant, you do not have adequate information about “what you are”? “Who you are”? And “How you are”? This unclear understanding of you is the root cause of all emotional pain and suffering.

You start looking at the outer world from a narrow lens, full of negative emotions. You do not see the real world as it is. However, you see what you wish to see. There is a complete distortion of your perception. Avidya leads to “attachment aversion” of worldly yearnings.

Elements of Avidya

  • Your perception of the world is based on your past experiences, unclear thoughts, false beliefs, negative mindset, and uncontrolled emotions.
  • You react to events automatically and do not respond thoughtfully.
  • Thoughts lack transparency and clarity.
  • You have created a virtual world of reality that is different from what it is.
  • Avidya makes you believe your thoughts as true, your perceptions as real.
  • The false thoughts and unreal emotional patterns trap you in fear, sorrow, grief, guilt, hatred, and anger.
  • There is separation from true and pure love. Your beliefs and thoughts lack knowledge of the actual. 
  • Your ties with the materialistic world make you unaware of your inner beauty and selfless nature. 

Kleshas #2. Asmita

The second Kleshas make you suffer because it blurs your true identity with dozens of false beliefs. In Sanskrit, the term “Asmi” means “I-am”, hence it means focusing on “self”.You are overwhelmed with personal issues and that is the cause of your emotional suffering. This klesha shrinks your awareness and you become selfish and self-centered.

Elements of Asmita

  • A feeling of dissociation occurs between “I” and the real world.
  • It stops your true goodness to expand and blossom.
  • The material world attracts you and you feel sad when the pleasurable things go away from your lives.
  • Your main purpose is to satisfy your ego, which means you keep yourself busy in satisfying your emotional needs and physical desires. You never take pains to understand what other fellow humans want from you.
  • This selfish attitude causes emotional pain and suffering which is beyond the process of emotional healing.
  • False projections such as (I am the best), (I am bad) are labels given by you, leading to poor self-image.
  • Asmita can bring in distorted thoughts and false perceptions.
  • You overly identify with “I”, “Me” and “Mine”.

Kleshas #3. Raga

The third klesha refers to your attachment for those things that bring satisfaction and pleasure in your life. When you cannot obtain what you wish, you suffer. Your cravings to achieve more keep you away from enjoying a peaceful life.

It leads to an endless cycle of pleasure and pain. When you achieve your desires, you feel happy and content. When you don’t, you feel pain. But you do not stop. There is a continuous striving to gain more pleasurable things.

Elements of Raga

  • Raga attachments make you feel attracted to worldly pleasures, which are impermanent. It cannot give you lasting happiness.
  • It is the danger of loving and wanting something too much.
  • You wish good things to happen to you, as always as it makes you happy and satisfied.
  • This klesha makes you rely on an external source of happiness, without which you feel lonely, depressed, inadequate and worthless.
  • You rely on Raga as you do not wish to feel unhappy. Keeping yourself from experiencing sorrow makes you attached to people, expectations, and habits.
  • You cling on to illusory things. There is a continuous fear of losing it.

Kleshas #4. Dvesha

This klesha is the opposite of “Raga”. It is the aversion to the worldly desires that you developed from “Raga”. Here, your desires become unhealthy addictions.

If your desires are not fulfilled, you feel the pain that you do not want; as such you try to avoid it. Dvesha is dislike or avoiding things, people and situations that are painful and threaten your existence.

Elements of Dvesha

  • You get tied in this klesha because you never wish to come out of your comfort zone.
  • Whenever you feel that your sense of security is at stake and you are going through painful experiences, you start avoiding situations.
  • You feel threatened by your imperfections, sorrow, guilt, anger, negative outlook towards life and thus try to avoid them.
  • It causes a lot of stress and emotional pain, as you do not know how to deal with troubling issues with patience.
  • Dvesha is avoiding people and things you do not like. Anything that poses a threat to your sense of security is pushed away as far as possible.
  • It is the root cause of your negativity, anxiety, and anger.

Kleshas #5. Abhinivesa

The last klesha symbolizes your fear of death and will to live. You cling to life with a strong desire to be with people and things around you. You perceive death as unknown and scary. Everyone has this klesha because it determines the ultimate truth of human existence.

Elements of Abhinivesa

  • You fail to realize the truth that life is impermanent and death is the ultimate truth.
  • There is a strong desire to cling with worldly desires as you think they are “yours “forever.
  • This Klesha makes you realize that everything is impermanent in this world. Nothing belongs to you. Even your physical body holding your spirits will leave you after death.
  • Your near and dear ones shall leave you one day after they have settled their purpose in life.
  • You do not want to die and let go of any change in your present life status.

Negative Effects of Kleshas

What will happen if you get trapped in your Kleshas? The obvious answer is you suffer. Let’s see how?

  1. Kleshas are mind afflictions that cloud your thoughts. You get a hazy and unclear picture of the people and things around you.
  2. You experience negative emotions like guilt, sorrow, anger, disappointments, lust, and cravings.
  3. It can never give you mental peace and spiritual awakening.
  4. You always feel to be lacking and dissatisfied from within.
  5. Kleshas kill your awareness and introspective powers. You become unaware of your true nature which is embodied with love, happiness and soul satisfaction.
  6. You suffer from several mental complications that imbalance your ability to resolve life problems.
  7. The five Kleshas are the source of your karmic cycle.
  8. Life goals such as attaining peace of mind, love, and compassion are distorted.
  9. There is no liberation from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge.
  10. It stops you from seeing and accepting the ultimate truth that our life is impermanent.
  11. Kleshas are imprinted on your “Chitta”. It means the stuff of the mind. Even after death, it remains in your soul journey, as a seed till you move onto your next cycle of incarnation on this planet.
  12. Kleshas are an evil trait that becomes a barrier towards a purposeful life.

The below-mentioned video tells you about the five kleshas and its negative impact on your overall well being.

How to Undo Your Kleshas?

The ancient wisdom of yoga teacher training emphasizes that “Kriya Yoga” is the best way to undo the impact of Kleshas in our lives. Let’s see how this yoga practice is relevant in modern times.

Sage Patanjali, a great yoga teacher, refers to “Kriya Yoga” as an action that frees your soul from physical and mental toxins and impurities. It helps to experience calm and pure thoughts that nurture your spirits. 

It is an ancient meditation exercise full of energy and breathing control or pranayama. This technique removes your cloudy thoughts and false perceptions. The goal of yoga is to remove your negative emotional states and bring in clarity of thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The 3 components of Kriya Yoga are-

1. Tapas

It means the intense practice of yoga that helps you to assess your physical capability and intellectual ability. You can remove your ignorance klesha by the following tapas. Tapas means “heat” that brings self-discipline and self-awareness.

You become aware of your clear thoughts, transparent perceptions, and controlled emotions. You can remove your emotional afflictions and fill yourself with inner solitude and peace.

2. Svadhyaya

This practice connects you to your higher self. A “self” that is free from negative emotional states. By this yoga practice, you can remove “Asmita” and “Dvesha” Kleshas. It neutralizes the cause and effect relations, rooted in ignorance.

You emphasize a spiritual mantra “Om” and need to practice deep breathing. The motto of this is – if you know the cause of suffering, you can easily resolve it.

3. Ishwara Pranidhana

You learn to dedicate and surrender yourself to the ultimate path of truth and spirituality. This is a path of devotion that leads to enlightenment. You become aware of your “true self” by removing ignorance, desires, attractions, and repulsions.

Closing Thoughts

The discussion makes it clear that Kleshas are obstacles or barriers in the path of wisdom, happiness and a fulfilled life. We can consider yoga as the ultimate healing process that can remove our mind poisons. It is a path of self-realization and self-discipline that aims to transform the way we think, feel and act.