Have you noticed that you can often have a similar situation to someone else, yet the way you will both respond to the same situation is entirely different? Like when we lose our job and one person sees it as a sign to embrace a bigger and better opportunity while the other stresses about the loss of income. Or when we suddenly find ourselves single and fear that we may never find someone to love again while another person can’t wait to start dating.
The Buddha says life is suffering; both the ancient yogis and the Buddhists point to the kleshas as the causes of our suffering. These “afflictions” distort our mind and our perceptions effecting how we think, act and feel.
The five main kleshas vary in intensity on our psyche, and they not only create suffering, but are said to bind us to the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, and thus preventing us from achieving enlightenment.
Swami Satyananada Saraswati says: ‘Kleshas are a kind of agony that are 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.’
So what are the five causes-of-affliction or ‘kleshas’? They are:
• spiritual ignorance (avidya)
• I-am-ness (asmita)
• attraction (raga)
• aversion (dvesha)
• clinging to life (abhinivesha).
Each of these concepts is part of each and every one of us in varying degrees.
AVIDYA: IGNORANCE – LACK OF AWARENESS
Avidya or ‘ignorance’ is the base of all affliction. Because we don’t truly know the self we get tangled in the ego (asmita), which then attaches itself to pleasures (raga), revolts against dislikes (dvesha) and clings to the life in the physical body (abhinivesha), resulting in dukkha (suffering).
Obtaining knowledge and credentials can sometimes blind us to who we really are. Our value does not depend on that piece of paper that tells us we are a doctor, or that we have a lot of money in our bank account. Our soul has so much more value than either of those things.
ASMITA: THE SENSE OF ‘I’
When one asks ‘Who am I?’ What comes to mind? This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) and internal (I am a bad person) false projections. We become trapped within the projections we have created of our life.
First we point to our body and think: ‘I am Patty. I am a yoga teacher. I am a daughter…a kinesiologist in Bronte…’ But in reality I am none of those. None of us are truly the labels we or others give us.
RAGA & DVESHA: ATTRACTION & AVERSION
Raga (attachment) is the attraction for things that bring us satisfaction. Our desire to only experience pleasure leads us to being attached to that pleasure for when we don’t get what we want, we suffer – we cause ourselves to suffer.
In yoga, we mindfully place ourselves in postures that expand our comfort zone. We (try to) learn to be detached to liking some over others – we want to expand our level of comfort so much, then when incidents that invariably displease us occur, they are simply not important enough to matter so much.
Getting what we want is actually endless. When does enough become enough? It’s human nature to want more, to see beautiful things, to taste beautiful foods, to wear beautiful clothes.. But do these worldly pleasures ever lead to true happiness? Won’t those pleasures only be temporary anyway?
True happiness comes from within, and the opposite of raga is dvesha (aversion). We want to avoid things, people and situations that we don’t like. Practicing yoga is easy when we are in the environment that we have created, that to some extent we can control.
The real test is when we are in an environment with people and situations we don’t like. This is a tricky one, as our ‘satsang’ is our conscious community, the people and the setting that we choose to surround ourselves with in order to elevate our level of consciousness.
ABHINIVESHA: CLINGING TO LIFE
The last of the kleshas is abhinivesha, or ‘clinging to life’. This is the most difficult one to overcome. The sages say that each of us has had a taste of death, which lingers and this imprint is the seed of fear, which we are born with.
We see this in our Western Society quite a lot in the form of our aversion to aging gracefully. We cling to youth as a form of clinging to life.
Several yogic techniques are said to burn away the impurities of the kleshas to purify the mind. By ridding ourselves of our obstacles, we are able to gain a deeper insight into our true nature.
It is said that we have now moved into the Aquarian Age and our awareness has shifted from individual consciousness to group consciousness. The sense of what’s in it for me is reducing significantly now that we are embracing a sense of ‘How Can My Actions Benefit Others As Well’.
Political Activism such as the Occupy Movement is shared globally now that information is so much more readily available, accessible and above all shareable. Our quest for peace, fairness and equality is transcending borders now that we are starting to understand that our actions and awareness, no matter how big or small, can potentially have such an enormous impact across the world. And it always starts with a shift in our own awareness.