Exploring the 5 Kleshas

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Takeaway: The five kleshas described by Patanjali in the famous Yoga Sutras are ignorance, egoism, desire, aversion and clinging to life. By exploring how each klesha limits us, we are able to find the freedom to live our lives connected to the divine within.
Exploring the 5 Kleshas

In "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," he describes what are called the five kleshas, or afflictions, that all of us naturally have as human beings. The kleshas end up being responsible for the many ways in which we limit ourselves. They prevent us from finding the deep contentment we can all potentially have if we follow the yogic path. (Read about contentment in Forget Happy, 'Be Content' Instead.)

1. Avidya

The first of the kleshas is known as avidya. It translates as ignorance and happens when we forget our true, spiritual nature. One of the most problematic things we’re ignorant about is the impermanence of life. Our ego resists change and when things inevitably do change, we suffer.

2. Asmita

The second klesha is called asmita. Asmita happens when we fully identify with our ego. Our ego is what says, “This is mine and that is mine.” It’s attached to all the labels. “I’m a writer. I’m pretty. I’m [fill in the blank].” As individuals, we can get very attached to these labels. However, when they change, as they inevitably do, the more identified we are with these labels, the more we tend to suffer.

3. Raaga

Then we have the third klesha, called raaga. This is desire. Perhaps you long for a person–to the point where you call them “yours.” But the truth is they don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to them. It’s normal to desire someone, but when this clinging causes you to suffer, you've become too attached and you need to practice a bit of healthy non-attachment. (Learn more on The Wisdom of Non-Attachment.)

4. Dvesha

The fourth klesha is called dvesha, or aversion. Believe it or not, you’re also attached to your aversions. You try to avoid them at all costs. This is also a form of clinging. “I hate this" or "I hate that.” Imagine letting go of all the things you dislike. Imagine they no longer belong to you. Imagine you are free from them.

5. Abhinivesha

The last klesha is called abhinivesha. It’s the ultimate clinging–the clinging to life. We don’t want to die and we don’t even want to change. It’s the sense of clinging to the situations that we’ve created and identify with–our things, our plans, the people in our lives, as well as all the things we’ve kept away because of our aversions. We cling to things that we believe are ours because we’re afraid of losing them. We get deeply attached to pets and people because we’re afraid of losing them, too. It’s a basic clinging that we all have. Spiritually, it limits our freedom and ability to be deeply happy because we will inevitably lose all the things and people we hold dear.

Contemplate So'ham

We can meditate on the mantra, So'ham, which means, “I am that.” It means I am pure spirit. I am not my ego. I am not all the things that I think are mine. I’m not even an “I.” As you do this, consider letting go of all your material items. Think of all the things you own. At one point in your life, you didn’t have these things at all, and some day you won’t have them once again. (Learn more about So'ham. I am That.)

Consider that one day you are going to die. Think about your own death. Typically we don’t want to do that. We want to cling to life. When we forget that we’re part of a universal consciousness, we fear death. When we’re deeply connected with our sacred essence, we live in the wisdom that everything is impermanent–part of a flow. Everything, including our body, has its time.

Now think of all the things you love to do and all the things you dislike doing. Imagine letting go of all these actions. They aren’t who you really are.

Finally, imagine letting go of all your plans and dreams–if only for a second. You can still have them, but can you get free from holding them so tightly? Can you stop clinging to them and let them all go?

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Related Terms

Klesha   Avidya   Asmita   Dvesha   Raaga   Abhinivesha   Patanjali   Yoga Sutras   So'ham   The Eight Limbs of Yoga  

Posted by Aimee Hughes

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Aimee is a yogi and writer who's been practicing yoga daily for nearly two decades. Since a journey to India when she was 20, the practice has been her constant companion. She loves exploring the vast and seemingly endless worlds of yoga. Aimee has also written a book called, "The Sexy Vegan Kitchen: Culinary Adventures in Love & Sex," available on Amazon. Full Bio

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