The Five Kleshas and the Transmutation of Suffering

The Five Kleshas and the Transmutation of Suffering




Patanjali understood that there are things that will block your progress on the path to Samadhi or oneness with the infinite. The Kleshas are part of the Yoga Sutras and are described as blocks that are considered inborn psychological afflictions. From Sanskrit, the word simply means poison and these poisons are the very things that can cause suffering through life. Overcoming these Kleshas means the end of suffering and the birthplace of liberation to experience Yoga, unity or oneness. This blog focuses mainly on the definition of the Kleshas but with some insight.


We are, more than ever, overwhelmed with challenges in our busy lives. Overcoming challenges in daily life is something that can promote strength and confidence within us. However, even in the best of circumstances, there can still be suffering. Yoga to the rescue. Studying Yoga philosophies and the ways to shape your life through it (not just your body and asana) opens doors to a happier, more joyous and healthier well-rounded self. Suffering for many of us is something like a small splinter that nags at us during the day…but there are many of us who have experienced times of great suffering where the splinter becomes a wooden stake that we can’t remove or shake off, not even for a moment interrupting our lives in a myriad of ways.






In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras There are five Kleshas:



Avidya | Ignorance: The Root Cause of all of the Kleshas
It is no accident that Avidya comes first in the Kleshas. Avidya means literally a lack of understanding or disconnection from the truth. This lack of spiritual knowledge or lack of understanding is said to be the root cause of the next four Kleshas. It is the root of the others.
Patanjali - “Ignorance of our real nature is the source of the other four, whether they be dormant, weak, suspended, or fully active.”

Here is a tool to put in your Avidya toolbox: In our busy lives, we often do not put emphasis on the things that do not serve us. They (people, places, things) simply stay in our wheelhouse and nag at us like the splinter. Make time to write down these things in a journal that does not serve you and transcend them. Find new ways to resolve old stuck energies and you may truly find growth in this experience. A great meditation practice starts with only a few minutes a day. 


Asmita | Egoism: Misidentifying the Instrument of experience as the Ultimate Self.
There have been many civilizations and many philosophies surrounding the ego. The ego, however, is quite simple…it identifies the “I” or “ME” and puts that part of us first. This suffering comes from the tendency to identify with the ego and is one of those things that keeps you from connecting with your higher self. Asmita offers to us the recognition of the ego and the ability to remove ourselves from the extremely limited story of “I”, “Me” identifiers that we often get stuck in. (I am this …I am that…) Through meditation and Asana remove yourself from cultural conditioning! The more you are out of your own I, myself, the more you will understand your true nature. 


Raga | Attachment: Attached to that which only gives us pleasure.
As humans, we all experience being deeply attached or invested in a variety of things (People, Places, Objects) in our lives. When we hold on to anything, we find that openness and flexibility become rigid and the myriad of everchanging and inevitable changes in our lives becomes difficult and can cause suffering. In rigidity, you are in a place where you cannot evolve. In daily practice invite in and accept all that is…move forward from “where you are” and cultivate that beautiful understanding of “ride the waves.”





Dvesha | Aversion: Aversion to Pain 
In terms of aversion, I can truly identify this Klesha with Yoga Asana Practice. I am constantly being challenged by Yoga postures even the ones I know well. There is always a sense of “not wanting to do this” or “I don’t like this” when the comfort zone is pushed. We associate good and bad with pleasure and pain. No one wants to experience pain. The fact is that stepping outside of any comfort zone promotes growth! I love stepping into the unknown and experiencing things that challenge my routines. I change things up quite often. 
I was in the grocery store today and I heard a person behind the counter tell her co-worker that her 90-year-old Grandmother is celebrating her birthday by jumping out of a plane. (This is likely why this 90-year-old grandmother is doing well enough to jump from a plane) I could infer that she is a person who rises above and moves away from her comfort zone. It keeps you moving forward. 



Abhinivesha | Clinging to Life: Survival instinct resulting from the fear of death.
The fear of death or a clinging to life muddies our focus and puts a hold on our ability to experience spiritual freedom that is the true goal of yoga. In holding on to life in a lighter fashion we may be more open to new experiences, decide to be adventurous (like the 90-year-old Grandmom). With less fear of death imagine the things you may accomplish? In the fear of death, the future is present instead of living right now.  Right now is where to be!



These are the Kleshas. Once there is a recognition of them there can be change. Start your Yoga and Mediation practice right where you 


Embrace the ever-unfolding of life!




To your good health!


If anyone has experience with the Kleshas we would love to hear from you! 


By Mary C. Rhodomoyer

Sat Nam ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ


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