The kleshas are the tendencies of individual consciousness that, when left unchecked, form serious obstacles to our evolving awareness. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali has encapsulated the basic patterns of mind that cause the most trouble for us in our embodied existence. The Yoga Sutra is very clear that all of these issues arise from the primary problem of lack of correct knowledge, lack of spiritual understanding of who and what we actually are. The Yoga Sutra is crystal clear that our main problem is “mistaking the Seer for the seen.” In this context, the Seer is the permanent and unchanging field of Awareness, and the seen is everything that exists in the field of form. Awareness and form are bound together to form all that exists in nature. This includes the personal ego, and all aspects of mind and body. We make a big mistake when we allow our individual ego-mind to take on the role of the ultimate perceiver.
“If it is important to distinguish that which changes, the ‘seen,’ from that which doesn’t change, the ‘Seer,’ it is even more important, following the analysis to its end, to understand that this ‘Seer’ is the ultimate Reality. For it is not the analysis of the ‘seen,’ of the many different objects appearing in our field of inquiry, that can give us the wisdom we are aspiring for. The Gita teaches us that the only true knowledge consists in knowing both the ‘seen’ and the ‘Seer’ at the same time.” Swami Siddheswarananda (1897-1957), a monk of the Ramakrishna Order
1. Avidya is spiritual ignorance – wrong knowledge – ignorance of the nature of life; the mistaken belief that the transient and the material is all there is; lack of knowledge and experience of the vast underpinnings of life. Avidya causes us to mistake the personal ego for the ultimate perceiver. Avidya creates a life view that is driven by our individual, self-centered, egoic mind.
“…the ego is the source of all conflict. By claiming an absolute reality for itself, the ego appropriates the activity of the consciousness to itself. The power of ignorance (avidya) is such that it makes us believe that the ego is different from the objects known, that it is not an entity belonging to the ‘seen.’ This same ignorance causes us to transfer the properties of the ‘Seer’ to the ‘seen’ and vice versa, so that the ‘Seer’ who is eternal, is identified with the ego, and is believed to be perishable, while the qualities proper to the ‘Seer,’ such as permanence, are accorded to the object.” Swami Siddheswarananda
2. Asmita is ego centered consciousness that derives directly from the misunderstanding created by avidya. Asmita places the individual ego-mind at the center of all perceiving, mistaking ego – the individual self – to be the actual perceiver, when ego is really nothing more or less than an aspect of manifest human form. Ego loves to usurp the power of the Seer and claim for itself tremendous self-importance. The ego is misplaced at the center of personal consciousness and only causes trouble by assuming this role. Yoga is largely about coming to understand this problem in perception and learning to put the ego into its proper place in individual perception.
Our profound attachment to our own small self-importance causes us to miss completely the underlying truth of Awareness itself. Asmita blocks us from experiencing the more subtle and compelling layers of life and ascribes to the superstition of materialism, taking life to be just what you see, ending at individual death. It is a fragmentary vision of reality that breeds discomfort and suffering. Asmita locks us into a strong pattern of perceiving the parts of life, without any recognition of the context of the whole.
3. Raga is attachment. Again, attachment is an effect of lack of understanding and direct experience of the full picture of life. Attachment in the field of form always leads to suffering. We are always wanting something more, or worrying about losing something.
Attachment should not be confused with involvement and commitment to life. The invitation to eliminate raga is not to divorce yourself from your life and loves. Rather, it is to put the enjoyments of life into their proper context, as transient, definitely bound to change, and yet part of the manifestation of life that is vast enough to hold everything. When we free ourselves from unhealthy and destructive attachment, we actually open ourselves to love and commitment in our relationships and our lives.
4. Dvesha is aversion. It is an intense dislike directed toward something, someone, a thought, a philosophy, anything. Dvesha includes disgust, revulsion, repulsion, and so on. When we are driven by dvesha we do not have a choice about our perceptions. We are simply caught in a powerful inner resistance that takes up a lot of our subtle life force.
Often the roots of dvesha are very deep within our personal psyche. We take our feelings to be simply “true” without any serious inquiry into why they are so powerful. We unknowingly allow them to drive our self-perceptions and how we view the world.
Dvesha is the opposite end of the continuum with raga. Threading out raga and dvesha in our personal lives does not include getting rid of our opinions and preferences. Opinions and preferences are simply products of our individual personalities. They make us who we are and motivate us to act and relate in the world. Opinions and preferences are completely different from attachment and aversion. Attachment and aversion are rooted very deeply within and are products of our perceived separation from the whole. Raga and dvesha drive us mostly unconsciously and are two of the serious limits to our freedom.
5. Abhinivesha is clinging to life and fear of death. The Yoga Sutra says even the wise suffer from abhinivesha. Why do we fear such a natural process? Fear of death is based on the feeling that something very important will be lost. We fear the extinction of the tiny little egoic form that we are.
If we could actually perceive our individual selves in a more complete light, we would lose the fear of death. In fact, the resolution of the personal ego, back into the sea of Awareness from which it came, could feel like a comfortable and inviting returning home after a long and arduous journey. The only cure for abhinivesha is vidya – recognition of the spiritual context in which we live.