Kleśas (afflictions)

By Andre Haralyi M.A., C-IAYT

Kleśas are commonly translated as “afflictions,” but it is better understood as “the cause-of-afflictions.” These are the basic forces which prompt a person to act, think, and feel; they provide the cognitive and motivational framework that dictates how the ordinary person operates in this world.

Kleśas are fivefold (Yoga-Sūtra II. 3 – 9):

I. Avidyā: Translated as “ignorance, nescience or delusion.” It is considered to be the cause of the other four kleśas. Avidyā is not merely the absence of knowledge, but rather, a positive misconception about reality itself. Avidyā is explained as seeing the Self, which is eternal, pure and joyful, as the non-Self, which is temporary, impure and painful. This term is normally used to refer to our erroneous apprehension about our true Self.

II. Asmitā: Translated as “I-am-ness or the principle of individualization.” It occurs when one misidentifies the Self as the limited ego personality. Patañjali defines this concept as the identification of the power of seeing (mind) with the nature of the seer (Self).

III. Rāga: Translated as “attachment, attraction, passion, desire, or clinging to pleasure.” Rāga is said to stem from pleasant (sukha) experiences (Yoga-Sūtra II.7).

“From attachment arises longing, from longing anger is born, from anger arises delusion, from delusion, loss of memory is caused, from that the discriminative faculty is ruined and he/she perishes.” 

Bhagavad-Gītā II.62 – II.63

IV. Dvesha: Translated as “aversion, repulsion, hatred or dislike.” Dvesha is said to stem from painful (duḥkha) experiences (Yoga-Sūtra II.8).

V. Abhini-vesha: Translated as “will to live, desire for continuity, clinging to life or fear of death.” This concept springs from our erroneous apprehension about our true Self (avidyā)  which give rise to the emergence of our natural survival instinct.

The Five Kleśas are said to exist in four operating modes (Yoga-Sūtra II.4) :

I. Prasupta: Dormant or latent, as subconscious deposits or subliminal activators (samskāras).

II.  Tanu: Attenuated or diminished, by means of Yogic practices.

III. Vicchinna: Intercepted, interrupted or overpowered, as when one kleśas temporary block the emergence of another. They alternate between stages of dormancy and manifestation.

IV. Udāra: Manifested, expanded or aroused, as fully active forces, actually exerting their influence on the mind.

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