By Amy Bernier
“Ignorance consists of regarding a transient object as everlasting”
– Yoga Sutra 11.5 and a parallel saying from the Bible:
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
It is springtime, the time of Easter, an honest time for reflection, cleansing, clearing, and potential for new growth and renewing of our faith. What better time to dive deep and consider the Kleshas from yoga philosophy? What are you willing to shed to reveal and find comfort in your true self? To quote the Buddha “Pain is certain, suffering is optional” and “The root of suffering is attachment.”
So, what are these Kleshas and how can they help us during this time of change? I always find comfort in the fact that the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali were written over 1,000 years ago to help people deal with suffering and create more ease and peace in their lives. These pearls of wisdom and insight have just as much application to modern-day living, perhaps even more; or maybe that is modern-day ego thinking that our lives are far more complex, with much more suffering than the ancients.
The Kleshas are described as hindrances, afflictions, or obstacles that move us away from our true selves and lead to suffering. I like to describe the Kleshas as veils that obscure our true self and once given voice and recognition, perhaps with some spring cleaning type of work they can become clearer or simply lift and move with the winds of awareness and self-love. This reminds me of a bible verse that has been calling to me, you see wisdom can be found in many places, we limit ourselves and our potential for growth when we only seek new insight from just one source.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:6-8.
I believe that John is comparing wind and spirit, or the development of our spirituality. We begin to remove our obstacles simply by allowing God to move us, to move us closer to him and our true God-given nature. This takes faith because we cannot see God working in us, just as we cannot see the wind but the effects are truly undeniable. What a beautiful analogy the wind cleansing us, removing the obstacles to growth and renewal with Spirit itself.
The First Klesha is Avidya or spiritual ignorance, this ignorance does not imply a lack of intelligence but a lack of awareness of our true nature. When we forget that we are born of the spirit and do not renew our faith daily, we are in a place of avidya. The other hindrances are variations or manifestations of Avidya, and they are Asmita- pride or ego dominance, Raga- attachment, Dvesa- aversion, and Abhinivesa or fear of change including death.
Avidya suggests that we have become disconnected, we have forgotten who we really are. When we look at the definition of yoga, we see a doorway in or a parting of the veil of illusion so to speak. Yoga means uniting body, mind, and spirit. So, through our yoga practice whatever that looks like to you, we become reconnected to our spirit or our true self. Daily practices help us remember who we are, with compassion we meet ourselves with a clearer, brighter lens again and again. Your soul speaks to you ‘hello beautiful, nice to see you again!’
Asmita or ego can swing in two directions, an inflated or a deflated ego. There seems to be a collective not enough feeling out there, this is ego dominance when we repeatedly put our needs before others or we are overly enamored with ourselves and our beliefs. On the other end of the spectrum, some may be suffering from a lack of self-worth or a feeling of lack of control. In either case, increasing our awareness helps us see how we might rebalance. Maybe that looks like putting others’ needs before ours, considering a bigger picture including God within all, or starting a gratitude or affirmation practice.
Raga, attachment, and dvesha, aversion are opposite sides of the same coin. We suffer when we do not get what we want and when we must deal with things we dislike. Let’s face it we like what we like and become disgruntled very easily when our routines are disrupted. Honestly, I think we can live our lives on autopilot, and we have become overidentified with our roles, jobs, possessions, and even our children and pets. Yoga philosophy reminds us, that we suffer when we are not ok with our current reality. Of course, we are human and have likes and dislikes, but we will suffer less if we can be a bit more neutral.
The last of the Kleshas is Abhinivesa or fear of change including death. Change has always been hard for humans; we do not have all the answers and for a society leaning more towards the logical left brain this is a real challenge. So, what are we to do? The answers will look different for each one of us, but I can honestly say if we work on the first Klesa by making peace with our current reality and lean into our yoga tools and our faith the grip of fear will lessen.
Will we ever be free from the grip of these afflictions? I would hazard to say no for most of us, and that is not the goal. The Kleshas point us towards what takes us away from living a life of freedom and aligned with God, filled with abundance, acceptance, and gratitude. Awareness is everything, we sense when we feel off and look to the Kleshas to see how we may self-correct and adjust.
Time on our yoga mats and time in nature is the perfect place to begin and sustain awareness and to tap into the place within us that is untouched by the fluctuations of the body and mind. As we tap into our inner wellspring of peace, we begin to cultivate a more neutral center, less reactive to all we experience internally and externally. We may even begin to recognize the light of spring that we have been longing for lies within.
Part those curtains, open your windows, and breathe. Your breath will point you inward where there are no hindrances. Know that you are bound by nothing, no circumstance; your spirit was meant to shine not just for others but for you to feel close to it, draw near to it, and know you are a beautiful expression of the divine.