What if you could remove discord from your life, and make it harmonious and ever so much simpler?
Yoga philosophy says you can. How? You need to weaken the hold that the kleshas (afflictions or defilements), five powerful psychological drivers, have on your mind.
At first glance, Patanjali’s list of kleshas in the Yoga Sutras (II.2) is an odd one: ignorance, egoism, passion, hatred and the will to live.
Ignorance is, pretty clearly, an affliction, and hatred is one too. But in our day to day understanding, egoism is just an unpleasant character trait, passion is something we hope we will find in our lives, and the will to live is perfectly natural, and in fact, admirable.
It’s only when we look more closely at the terms and what they mean that the power of working with the kleshas reveals itself.
In the Yoga Sutras, ignorance (avidya, literally without sight) is not a lack of knowledge that can be fixed by accumulating facts.
It’s a fog that hides reality, an all-pervading misunderstanding of the nature of things, or as Patanjali defines it: “mistaking the impermanent for the permanent, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure, and that which is not the Self, for the Self.”
Ignorance is the vast forgetting of our true natures that happens to all of us for large chunks of every day, and it’s the field in which all the other kleshas take root and grow.
Once we no longer recognize the Self, it’s a small step to egoism (asmita) – mistaking a particular body and set of memories as the Self.
As soon we take on our false identity, our memories of pleasure lead us into raga, passionate attachment to the people and things we want, need, and must have. Memories of pain create negative attachments, or hatred (dvesha), toward people and things we dislike.
And the will to live (abhinivesha) is, yes, natural and instinctive. It also removes us from the present, the only moment when our Self is available to us, into fear for the future.
At any time in our lives, each of the kleshas can be dormant, weak, interrupted or full on. They drive us into action, and because those actions are rooted in ignorance, they create discord – hence the nickname, “the clash-makers.”
How do you work with something as abstract as the kleshas?
Asana practice is a handy laboratory. Within minutes of starting your practice, you’ll be in touch with the mind that likes and dislikes. It might be the poses, the sequence, the way your body feels on this particular day, or the conditions of your practice space.
As soon as you notice raga (passion) and dvesha (hatred), no matter how mild or strong their presence, you’re also in touch with “I,” who is either pleased or offended. Notice egoism (asmita) and you have stepped into the larger intelligence that can watch “I” thinking, and disengage from it.
Benefits: Immeasurable. Afflictions drive action. Action done under the influence of afflictions creates negative karma, at the same time as it messes up the present.
Sequence: Any time they pop into visibility. Once you know what the kleshas are, and why they’re worth weakening, life offers boundless opportunities for practice.
Sanskrit Corner: Say Clay-shah. Klesha means affliction, or defilement.
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, the half-blood prince