Kleshas Introduction

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce kleshas, known as obstacles or veils.

Objective

Become grounded in the teachings of kleshas, a foundation of yoga philosophy.

Description

Translate the word, “klesha.” Provide a more specific definition for avidya than “ignorance.” Define asmitaragadvesha and abhinivesha. Provide the “initial and pertinent question” that is answered by the philosophy of kleshas. Explain which of the kleshas are intellectual obstacles and which are emotional. Explain why the veils may thicken over our innate wisdom.

Vocabulary

  1. Abhinivesha — Fear of death
  2. Asmita —Egoism
  3. Avidya — Misapprehension
  4. Dvesha —Aversion
  5. Klesha — Obstacle or veil
  6. Raga — Attachment

Translations

Different authors translate these Sanskrit words using different English spellings. We’ve settled on the following spellings while noting other ways you may come across these words.

Kleshas

  • Obstacles
  • Veils
  • Afflictions
  • Troubles

Avidya

  • Ignorance
  • Spiritual Ignorance
  • Misapprehension
  • Lack of Insight

Asmita

  • Separateness
  • Feeling of Individuality
  • Egoism
  • I-Feeling
  • Identification with the Mutable

Raga

  • Attachment
  • Passion

Dvesha (Dvesa, Dwesha)

  • Aversion
  • Disgust
  • Hatred

Abhinivesha (Abhinivesah, Abhinivesa)

  • Fear of Death
  • Will to Live
  • Clinging to Bodily Life
  • Insecurity
  • Deep-Seated Anxiety

Introduction

  • The philosophy of kleshas lays the foundation for The Yoga Sutras, answering the “initial and pertinent” question, “Why should we practice yoga?”
  • Kleshas describe the source of pain.
  • The kleshas, or obstacles to spiritual growth, are “the tendencies we all have that may be so ingrained that we aren’t even aware of them.”
  • B.K.S. Iyengar points out that avidya and asmita (ignorance and pride) are intellectual obstacles. Raga and dvesha (desire and aversion) are emotional veils. And abhinivesha (fear of death) is an instinctive affliction.
  • As we become increasingly vested in the material world and identify with things outside ourselves, the veils (kleshas) thicken over our innate wisdom.

The Foundation of Yoga

The philosophy of kleshas is really the foundation of the system of yoga outlined by Patanjali. It is necessary to understand this philosophy thoroughly because it provides a satisfactory answer to the initial and pertinent question, “Why should we practice yoga?” – I. K. Tainmi

Yoga Psychology

The five kleshas describe yoga psychology in a nutshell. – Michael Stone

The Source Of Our Pain

The best way to get out of trouble is to figure out how we got there in the first place. If water is pouring all over the floor, you can either mop all day or simply turn off the tap… [The kleshas describe] the truth of where our pain comes from. – Geshe Michael Roach

The Problem: Seeking Answers Outside

Everybody seems to feel that yoga is the solution, but what, exactly, is the problem? What is it that makes life so hard?… Early in the Yoga Sutras the problem is defined as the five afflictions, or kleshas: ignorance, pride desire, aversion and fear of death. Under the influence of the five afflictions, we are driven away from our true selves and deeper into disillusion and despair. To put it simply, we seek answers outside ourselves, when in fact the answers lie within. – Rolf Gates

Intellectual, Emotional & Instinctive Afflictions

In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali speaks of avidya and asmita, ignorance and pride, which are intellectual defects, raga and dvesha, desire and aversion, which are emotional defects, and abhinivesha, fear of death, which is an instinctive defect. By culturing the body, the mind and the consciousness, the practitioner conquers the defects of the intellect, brings balance to the emotional seat of the heart, and becomes intuitively strong. Yoga leads to that happiness where one is free from the defects of intelligence, emotions and instincts. – B.K.S. Iyengar

Tendencies We All Have That May Be Deeply Ingrained

The kleshas are outlined in the Yoga Sutras (II.3), where they are described as obstacles to our spiritual growth, or more to the point, afflictions. They are tendencies we all have that may be so ingrained that we aren’t even aware of them. They can be present to different degrees: truly advanced yogis are said to have only remnants of kleshas, while the rest of us seem to bounce from one to the other most of our waking hours. – Stephanie Carter 

From the Point of View of Depth Psychology

Klesha is a kind of agony which is inside our very being. Everyone feels subconscious pain, but our superficial daily activities do not allow us to be aware of it; otherwise we would see pain in all its vividness… The student of yoga should know about depth psychology, which tells us that real happiness is not skin-deep. The inner life may be very different from the outer life, so we cannot judge from the outer life. Thus we see that even a rich and educated person can be extremely unhappy within, whereas a poor person having no wealth may have happiness inside. He may be in bliss. Patanjali’s explanation of the kleshas must be viewed from the point of view of depth psychology. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The Veils Thicken & Knowledge Fades

The Divine within is self-effulgent. With the donning of a physical body at birth, certain mental and emotional beliefs materialize as veils. At first these veils are translucent, and the radiant light still shines through. When we look into the eyes of a newborn baby, they reflect the clarity of the resplendent light. As we become increasingly invested in the material world, the seeds of infinite possibilities for wonderful or unkind actions encased in the mind and emotions germinate. The veils thicken and the knowledge that we are Divine Beings fades. – Nischala Joy Devi

Yoga Weakens Kleshas

  • Yoga is designed to systematically address the five afflictions, or kleshas.
  • Sutra 2.10 warns against assuming that a temporary state of clarity is permanent.

Yoga Systematically Addresses the Five Afflictions

We look out into the material world and identify ourselves with it. Identified with a material world that is completely beyond our control, we are consumed with fear. The good news is that yoga systematically deconstructs this fear, and with it, the five afflictions. Our true nature is not material but spiritual, and we suffer from mistaken identity. Yoga is a path to our true nature. This truth can be readily tested at the conclusion of any [yoga] practice. The problem is estrangement from self. Check in with yourself at the end of your yoga practice and see if you haven’t experienced a miracle of healing. See if you do not feel more at home in your body, more at home in you life, more at home in your spirit. This sense of coming home is real. You have come closer to the truth about yourself, and that is why you feel peace. – Rolf Gates

Disturbances to Peace of Mind Create Pain

Patanjali enumerates five causes of chitta vrtti creating pain (klesha)… These causes of pain remain submerged in the mind of the sadhaka (the aspirant or seeker). They are like icebergs barely showing their heads in the polar seas. So long as they are not studiously controlled and eradicated, there can be no peace… The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it. The yogi stills his mind by constant study and by freeing himself from desire. The eight stages of yoga teach him the way. – B.K.S. Iyengar

There are Many Means to Free Ourselves

When there is evidence that obstacles are reappearing, immediately, [Sutra 2.11:] “Advance toward a state of reflection to reduce their impact and prevent them from taking over.” Any means that will help us free ourselves from the consequences of these obstacles is acceptable. It could be a prayer, a discussion with a teacher, or a diversion. Patanjali has suggested a number of means in the first chapter (1.23, 1.30-39) and more to follow. – T.K.V. Desikachar

Sutra Translations

Teachings about kleshas stem from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Book Two.

  • In Sutra 2.2, Kriya Yoga is said to minimize kleshas
  • Sutras 2.3 through 2.9 describe each of the kleshas (avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha, abhinivesha). 
  • Sutras 2.10 and 2.11 describe additional ways in which kleshas can be reduced, depending upon whether they are in subtle form (latent or potential) or actively manifesting. Sutra 2.3: Causes of pain

AVIDYASMITA RAGA DVESABHINIVESAH KLESHA

  • Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles. – Sri Swami Satchidananda
  • The obstacles are misapprehensions, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity. – T.K.V. Desikachar
  • Ignorance, I-feeling, liking, disliking and fear of death are the pains. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  • Dissolving the five Kleshas, or veils, brings forth the radiance of the Divine Self. – Nischala Joy Devi
  • The obstacles along the spiritual path (klesha) are as follows: a lack of insight (avidya); identification with the mutable (asmita); the belief that happiness (raga) or unhappiness (dvesha) result from outer circumstances; deep seated anxiety (abhinivesha). – AshtangaYoga.info
  • The forces of corruption are ignorance, egoism. passion, hatred, and the will to live. – Barbara Miller (YogaSutraStudy.info)

Sutra 2.4: Avidya is the root cause

AVIDYA KSETRAM UTTARESAM PRASUPTA TANU VICCHINNODARANAM

  • Ignorance is the field for the others mentioned after it, whether they be dormant, feeble, intercepted, or sustained. – Sri Swami Satchidananda
  • Misapprehension is the source of all the other obstacles. They need not appear simultaneously and their impact varies. Sometimes they are obscure and barely visible; at other times they are exposed and dominant. – T.K.V. Desikachar
  • Avidya is the field of the following ones (kleshas) in the states of dormant, thin, scattered or expanded. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  • Innocence of our Divine nature (Avidya) creates a fertile field where the dormant seeds of the other four veils take root.” – Nischala Joy Devi
  • A lack of insight (avidya) is the source of most kleshas (obstacles) and can be latent, incipient, full-fledged or overwhelming. – AshtangaYoga.info
  • Ignorance is the field where the other forces of corruption develop, whether dormant, attenuated, intermittent, or active. – Barbara Miller (YogaSutraStudy.info)