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Pancha-Kleshas – The 5 Root Causes of Suffering


In Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.3, we come across a verse which describes the Five Kleshas (or Afflictions) which prevent one from self-realisation and keeps us in suffering. They distort our mind and perceptions affecting how we feel and behave.  It goes like – 

अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः क्लेशाः॥३॥
(avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha kleshaah)

These five Kleshas are – Avidya (Ignorance), Asmita (I-ness, Ego), Raga (Attachment), Dvesha (Aversion) and Abhinivesha (Fear of death, clinging to life). Klesha also means pain, distress or poison. Being aware of these Kleshas is the first step towards mitigating our problems and suffering in life, so that we can take necessary steps to overcome them. Let us look at thes Kleshas in detail.

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1. Avidya

Avidya means the lack of knowledge of the self and reality. It is mistaking the unreal for the real and the impermanent for the permanent. It specifically refers to spiritual ignorance. This is the primary Klesha which gives rise to the other 4 Kleshas.

2. Asmita

Asmita is the false ego – the misidentification of oneself with our self-image. It involves creating labels for ourselves and living in our own mental projections. It is somewhat akin to putting ourselves on a pedestal, and valuing material possessions more than anything else. It is being full of “I-ness”and “Me-ness”, always craving for external validation. It is born out of ‘Avidya’ being unconnected with ourselves and everything and everyone around us.

3. Raga

Raga refers to the attachment to worldly desires and relationships, basing our happiness on external objects, people and situations. It is in the realm of the mind which makes us crave and hanker for those things which bring us pleasure. Having moderation and balance; and cultivating detachment is the way to overcome Raga, knowing the true nature of the self. It is finding true happiness within ourselves, and not the temporary happiness in the objects of the mind.

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4. Dwesha

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It is the opposite of Raga, which means having aversions for unpleasant objects, people and situations. It is born out of the lack of knowledge and equanimity towards unpleasant objects and experiences. Dwesha’s are the whole list of strong “I don’t like…s” which we want to avoid and run away from. Strong desires inevitably lead to strong aversions. Ragas and Dweshas are the two sides of the same coin.

5. Abhinivesha

Excessive  fear of death and clinging to life is another Klesha which causes a lot of suffering. The fear is of losing this material body and our possessions. It is again born out of lack of true knowledge of the eternal nature of the self and reality. It is based on the misidentification of oneself with this temporary physical body. When one is in true knowledge, the fear of death and the attachment towards this life diminishes. One stops trying to control that which is beyond our control.

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Acknowledging the cultivating an inner awareness of the dance of the mind in relation to these Kleshas is the way to overcome them. Gradually through the practice of Yoga and meditation, one is able to develop this wisdom to see things as they are and move away from the temporary conception of life.