Pancha Klesha

Definition - What does Pancha Klesha mean?

Pancha Klesha is a key concept from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first known text to codify Yoga. Sanskrit for 'five obstacles,' pancha klesha are afflictions in the mind which form the root causes of all suffering. It is significant that there are five, since this is a sacred number found across many key concepts of Hinduism and yogic philosophy. The pancha klesha are:

  1. Avidya (ignorance)
  2. Asmita (egoism)
  3. Raga (craving)
  4. Dvesha (aversion)
  5. Abhinivesha (clinging to life)

Although the pancha klesha can block spiritual growth, Patanjali prescribes an eight-limbed path of yoga to overcome these obstacles. Engaging in practices, such as asana, pranayama and meditation, can help one to observe how these afflictions manifest in the mind, body, and breath, leading to the understanding required to overcome them.

Yoga helps us to recognise our true nature, that innate sense of love, peace, clarity and calm always to be found within. It is said that if we can overcome ignorance of this truth, the other obstacles will dissolve naturally. This is why Avidya is the first klesha; it provides a foundation from which to surpass all others.

Yogapedia explains Pancha Klesha

Only by overcoming these five obstacles can we truly reach enlightenment or samadhi. When we engage with the pancha klesha, we become trapped in earthly sufferings and unable to progress beyond the physical body. Our truest selves are free from these klesha, and so recognising and understanding these sufferings in the mind can help us to come back to our true nature.

Avidya is arguably the most important of these five obstacles, as ignorance causes an inability to recognise the other afflictions. Ignorance of our true nature produces the most intense kind of suffering, as it creates a sense of separation from all other beings. To overcome avidya is to remember our innate qualities of peace and compassion, and to have a strong awareness of our connection with the universe.

From ignorance, comes a dualistic perspective of self and other. This is asmita or egoism, a ruling sense of me, myself and I. We forget that we are all connected, that what hurts others hurts ourselves and vice versa. Egoism leads to strong attachments, not only to possessions, but to people, places and roles. When we are attached to our desires, we experience strong craving or raga, which leads to suffering when all is not exactly as we will it to be.

Being controlled by craving ultimately causes aversion, that constant need to lean away from the things we find unpleasant. This is dvesha, and it perpetuates a persistent and nagging sense of discontent. When we set attachments, desires and aversions in this way, it's natural that we fear change. This clinging to life is the final obstacle; abhinivesha. Only when we are able to let go of control and embrace impermanence can we truly overcome suffering.

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