Just as we must have a proper understanding of the body and its parts take care of our self, a proper understanding of the mind and its colourings is essential to health. The methodology of scientific study is to examine the physical world through weight and measurement. Thus, a scientific study of mind proves to be precarious, yet there is a wealth of literature from psychology to religion which provides enough information that one can read and verify their truth from their own experience. In this article I will discussing a yogic concept of the 5 Kleshas of the mind and how an understanding of them, and a personal exploration into them can provide valuable insight into one’s own nature.
Klesha means “poison” in Sanskrit, and a klesha refers to a negative mental state that clouds the mind causing suffering and the conditions for suffering to arise. Further, within the framework of yoga, the 5 kleshas refer to the obstacles that prevent a person from reaching a state of enlightenment and freedom from samsara (the endless cycle of death and birth)
The five Kleshas:
• Avidya (ignorance)= spiritual forgetting, ignorance, veiling
• Asmita (I-am-ness-egoism) = associated with I-ness
• Raga (attachment)= attraction or drawing to, addiction
• Dvesha (repulsion)= aversion or pushing away, hatred
• Abhinivesha (Will to live) = resistance to loss, fear of death of identity, desire for continuity, clinging to the life of
Cultivating a self-awareness of the 5 Kleshas is one of the most foundational practices of yoga.
Vidya, means knowledge or truth, and avidya refers to ignorance thereof. It is from this mental clouding that all the other kleshas are formed from. Truth refers to seeing things as they are. There was a time when we were all young and we saw the world as it is, without concepts, words, or any other colourings that we later picked up from our culture, parents, and personal experiences. The idea is that if we can learn to set aside all the ways we cloud our vision we can come back to truth. When the mind mistakes the temporary for the eternal, the impure for the pure, the painful for the pleasureful, and the not-self for the Self, the mind is clouded and there is suffering.
It is from Avidya (ignorance) that we come to develop a strong identification of ourselves with our ego. We create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) and internal false projections (I am a bad person). We become trapped within the projections we have created of our life. Through the process of contemplation, meditation, and a desire for truth we can come to see that we are not all the things we say we are, they are just temporary forms and concepts.
Note: I’m not positing this article as fact, I’m speaking so that you can hear these ideas, and meditate deeply on them, and determine your own truth.
Raga is the attraction for things that bring satisfaction to oneself. Our desire for pleasurable experiences creates mindless actions and blind sighted vision. When we cannot obtain what we desire, we suffer. When we do obtain what we desire, our feelings of pleasure soon fade and we begin our search for pleasure again, becoming trapped in an endless cycle. The fine-tuned ability to learn here is non-attachment, or the middle way, wherein we develop a healthy relationship with pleasure without attachment, clinging, or addiction to it. If we are too attached to pleasure it becomes compulsive. The difference is between needing a cup of coffee each morning, and being able to take it one day, and not take it another without desiring it. In the yogic philosophy, it is our desire for pleasure that upon death still remains in the mind, which cause us to be reborn to once again seek these worldly pleasure.
Dvesha is the opposite of raga, it is the aversion towards things that produce unpleasant experiences. If we excessively avoid all things that cause unpleasant experiences or suffering, we create more suffering. Once more I return to the idea of the middle way, the balance between having pleasure without grasping, and being present with pain, without avoidance. If we cannot be with our own pain, how can we know ourselves? How can we be with another person in their pain? How will we learn the deep lessons of life? An essential skill to develop is contentment with the present moment, whether it is calm and neutral, painful, or pleasureful. We do not control the world, it may be sunny, it may be stormy, but we do control our reaction to the world, the process of yoga and meditation is about developing a radical acceptance of the world as it is, seeing beyond the pain and pleasure, and into truth. The pursuit of truth will cause an individual to transcend the polarities of life. Most people can relate to this on some level, when you have an objective, like raising a family, your willing to suffering and do things you would usually not do for someone else, you are effectively transcending your own desire for pleasure and aversion of pain.
Abhinivesha (will to live)
Abhinivesha is the deepest and most universal klesha, remaining with us until our deaths. We know that one day we will indeed die, yet our fear of death is a deeply buried in our unconsciousness. Many people don’t face their existential anxiety till someone they know dies, or they are near death. Don’t wait till the last moments of life to contemplate one of humanities deepest ponderings.
Reducing the colourings of the Kleshas
The first stage of working with the kleshas is to simply acknowledge them. Reflection promotes self-awareness, self-understanding and self-knowledge to uncover and see the kleshas and their roots as well as how they create suffering.
There is a concept in the yogic literature known as colouring. Colouring refers to how ingrained in our mind the kleshas are. For example, when you examine the photo below, you can see that items can be strongly coloured, denoting a deeply ingrained pattern in the mind. Kleshas and their colouring can be active, cut off, attenuated, or dormant. The process of yoga, meditating, and witnessing the mind is to notice our colouring, as we become aware of our kleshas we have the self-awareness to reduce their colouring and decrease their ability to cloud our mind from truth. As we become aware of our conditioned patterns and ingrained habits, we have the power then to change them and free ourselves from their cycle. Freedom is the ability to choose, when we become aware of what patterns we have, we increase our freedom.
Meditation attenuates coloring: This is where meditation can be of tremendous value in getting free from these deep impressions. We sit quietly, focusing the mind, yet intentionally allow the cycling process to play out, right in front of our awareness. Gradually it weakens, so we can experience the deeper silence, where we can come in greater touch with the spiritual aspects of meditation.
Witnessing the mind attenuates coloring:
You are not the mind, you are not the body. You have a mind, you have a body. You can observe the mind, without being involves in it. You can observe the body without being attached to it. You can witness emotions without being swept up in them. This quality of becoming the witness, is your higher self, your ability to see beyond yourself is a meditation that can be your lived experience. When we learn to become the witness in our life we can see our patterns and our path to liberation from them.
Article by Zac Koop