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The Five Kleshas: Sources of Suffering Part 1

The Five Kleshas: Sources of Suffering Part 1

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Maharishi Patanjali has mentioned five types of afflictions (kleshas): avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesha (aversion), and abhinivesha (fear of death). These afflictions cause people to experience sadness and become the cause of their misery, which is why they are referred to as afflictions. People who suffer from this misery become entangled in the cycle of birth and death.
In reality, these five afflictions result from ignorance, false knowledge, and delusion. As a result, individuals become trapped in the vicious cycle of life and death.

According to the book “Decoding the YOGA SUTRAS of Patanjali: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ultimate Truth” by Kaushal Kumar and Jai Singhania, the five types of afflictions mentioned by Maharishi Patanjali are:

Avidya (ignorance)
Asmita (ego)
Raga (attraction/attachment)
Dvesha (aversion)
Abhinivesha (fear of death)
which are also known as the five afflictions or kleśāḥ.

In today’s blog, we will learn about two types of suffering. Next, we will delve into the details of the other three, and in the following blog, we will also learn how to overcome these five types of suffering.

अविद्याऽस्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः पंच क्लेशाः ॥३॥
2.3 avidyā’smitārāgadveṣābhiniveśāḥ pañca kleśāḥ

Avidyā (avidya)- ignorance;
Asmitā (asmita)- ego;
Rāga (raaga)- attraction,
Attachment; dveṣa (dvesha)- aversion;
Abhiniveśāḥ(abhinivesha)-fear of death;
Pañca- five; kleśāḥ (klesha)- affliction
The five types of afflictions are: ignorance, ego, attraction, aversion and fear of death.

Avidyā (avidya)- ignorance

अविद्या क्षेत्रमुत्तरेषां प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम्​​​ ॥४॥
2.4 avidyā kṣetramuttareṣāṃ prasuptatanuvicchinnodārāṇām

avidyā- ignorance; kṣetram- root cause; uttareṣām- post, after; prasupta- dormant; tanu- weak, fragile; vicchinna- broken;udārāṇām (udaara)- active
The Yoga Sutras state that ignorance (avidya) is the root cause of the four other afflictions: ego, attachment, aversion, and fear of death. These afflictions can exist in four different states:


Dormant afflictions are inactive in the mind but can be awakened by certain triggers.
Weak afflictions occur when one practices Kriya Yoga, apar vairagya, and sampragyat samadhi.
Broken afflictions are suppressed but not eliminated and can resurface again.
Active afflictions are present at any given moment and can be triggered by a cause.
There is also a fifth state of affliction mentioned, the “roasted seed state.” This state occurs when one has achieved wisdom, and their seeds of affliction have been burnt. These liberated individuals will not be reborn as their afflictions have been eliminated.
Yoga Sutras suggest that ignorance is the root cause of all afflictions, and one can overcome them through various methods of practice and wisdom.

अनित्याशुचिदुःखानात्मसु नित्यशुचिसुखात्मख्यातिरविद्या​​​ ॥५॥
2.5 anityāśuciduḥkhānātmasu nityaśucisukhātmakhyātiravidyā

अनित्य-अशुचि-दुःख​-अनात्मसु नित्य-शुचि-सुख-आत्म-ख्यातिः-अविद्या​ – anitya-aśuci-duḥkha-anātmasu nitya-śuci-sukha-ātma-khyātiḥ-avidyā

anitya- non-eternal, transient; aśuci (ashuchi)- impure, dirty; duḥkha (dukha)- sorrow; anātmasu (anaatma)- inert, not conscious; nitya- eternal; śuci (shuchi)-pure; sukha- happiness; ātma (aatma)- soul; khyātiḥ- knowledge; avidyā- ignorance

Interpreting transient to be eternal, impure to be pure, sorrow as happiness and inert as conscious is avidya (ignorance).

The verse 2.5 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states that interpreting the transient as eternal, impure as pure, sorrow as happiness, and the inert as the soul is ignorance. This kind of false knowledge is also known as avidya.
The world is temporary, and everything in it, including youth, wealth, family, and relationships, are impermanent. But considering them as permanent is ignorance. Our bodies are impure and dirty, filled with sweat, urine, and feces. Considering them as pure is also ignorance.
Life is full of misery, and the little happiness we experience is temporary. Trying to find happiness in the physical world is ignorance. Everything except the soul is inert and not conscious. Identifying ourselves with material objects and becoming happy or sad based on obtaining or losing them is also ignorance.
Therefore, not seeing things as they are and interpreting them as something else is ignorance or false knowledge.

2. Asmitā (asmita)- ego

दृग्दर्शनशक्त्योरेकात्मतेवास्मिता ॥६॥
2.6 dṛgdarśanaśaktyorekātmatevāsmitā
दृ-दर्शन-शक्‍त्योः-एकात्मता-इव-अस्मिता – dṛk-darśan-śaktyoḥ-ekātmatā-iva-asmitā

dṛk- seer, purush; darśan- instrument of seeing or sensing, chitta; śaktyoḥ (shakti)- energy, power; ekātmatā- same; iv- like; asmitā- ego, misidentification of the self

Identifying the purush (seer) to be the same as the chitta (instrument of seeing or mind) is asmita (ego).

The sutra, “dṛgdarśanaśaktyorekātmatevāsmitā,” means that identifying the seer (purush) with the instrument of seeing or mind (chitta) is asmita or ego. ‘Dṛk’ refers to the observer or consciousness, while ‘darśan’ refers to the power to see or be seen. ‘Shakti’ means power or energy and is common to both dṛk and darśan. When separated, they become dṛk shakti and darśan shakti, meaning the power to see and the power to be seen, respectively. The purush or soul is the dṛk shakti or the one who sees, while the chitta or mind is the darśan shakti or the instrument of seeing.
The purush and chitta are entirely different entities, with the former being conscious and eternal and the latter being inert and transient. However, due to ignorance, the purush may identify itself with the chitta and become absorbed in the chitta vrittis or mental fluctuations, leading to asmita or misidentification of the self. Asmita is a significant cause of suffering and affliction.
Maharishi Patanjali uses the word ‘ekātmatā’ to emphasize that the purush and chitta are not the same but may appear so. Asmita arises when they are assumed to be the same. To overcome asmita, one must become an observer and constantly practice indifference towards everything. With strong practice, one gains the power of wisdom and ultimately achieves kaivalya or isolation, where the purush remains alone, separate from prakriti or nature.


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