Nicolai Bachman translates the Sanskrit word “Kleshas” as the mental-emotional afflictions. I love this translation because to me, that’s what it feels like when it’s happening. I feel afflicted, agitated, intense, and this is how I know the Kleshas are at play.
Classically the kleshas are described as “veils that cover the light of the Divine Self”. They are views, beliefs, perceptions and habits that keep us from remembering the truth… The truth being that we are Spirit and that we are connected to all beings at all times. These veils reinforce a sense of separation, and this creates our suffering.
The five Kleshas are:
1. Ignorance (avidya): this is a specific type of “not knowing”, it’s forgetting that we are Spirit’s having a human experience, and not humans trying to be spiritual (huge difference!).
2. Egoism (asmita): this is where we think we are our personality and we put too much trust into our likes and dislikes, and not enough trust in our spirit and purpose.
3. Attachment (raga): here we have cultivated excessive fondness of fleeting pleasures (craving, liking, attachment, desire), and these begin to dominate our thoughts and actions. We become “pleasure junkies”.
4. Aversion (dvesha): this is the opposite side of the attachment coin – here we put excessive energy into avoiding unpleasant experiences (repulsion, disliking, aversion), and this takes up another huge chunk of mental space, dominating our thoughts and actions.
5. Fear of Death (abhiniveshah): when we are in the tug of war of likes and dislikes, often not getting what we want evokes fear – fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of ego death – all of which create an intense clinging. We forget that Spirit is eternal, vast, inclusive, and incapable of failure or death.
The Kleshas lead into each other. Here’s the short form of the story:
When we fall into ignorance, we feel separate from ourselves and each other. This creates a stronger “self” (small s self), which basically boosts the ego, the sense of I. The ego uses desire, fear and drama to maintain this sense of separation, because separation is what strengthens the ego. The ego tells us that we need certain things in order to be happy, and in comes desire. From desire we create the feedback loops of desire and resistance… eventually they become attachment and aversion. If we don’t get what we think we want, we become angry. We become afraid of not getting what we want because then we won’t be happy and our suffering leads to a sense of death, which is separation from the spirit. It’s why the whole thing feels so urgent all the time.
Practice is very important because it creates space, which gives us two things: 1) it allows us to see when we are entangled in the veils and 2) space gives us choice. We can choose to feed the ego or feed the spirit – moment to moment we have this choice. Ultimately, this is what practice is for.
Yoga invites us to notice when we are entangled in the mental-emotional afflictions. When I notice myself in this mess (yep, it’s messy. No way around that really) I stop and take a breath (or ten). I try to figure out where I got entangled – am I forgetting who I really am? Is my ego trying to win or be right? Am I in attachment or aversion? Is this situation actually life threatening? Using self-awareness and self-inquiry (read YOGA) is really helpful here to reduce the intensity of the situation, and to take a step back.
Once I do that, then I can ask myself – What do I really want? Do I want to feed my ego (and be right) or do I want to feed my Spirit and take action in a way that promotes connection, inspiration and love?
The choice is ours to make. What will you choose?