5 Kleshas - An Introduction


How do you define yourself? Is this definition holding you back from your highest self (your full potential and inner peace)?

The 5 Kleshas

In our culture we use “labels” to help the understand the context and circumstance of our lives. For example, if we are ill they help caregivers to provide the best treatments and help our loved ones nurture us appropriately. They also help us to define our feeling, beliefs and behaviors. Labels serve a great benefit in the framework of our outside world. However, when we internalize these labels or overly identify with them, then we view them as a definition for our soul - they become "us". When this happens our true essence is clouded and we begin to see our inner-self as our external human circumstance. When we let go of the labels (the words) that we believe define us than we can start to look inward at our true being. This is where we begin to find our radiance and inner peace.

You are so much more than the limits of your story or your beliefs about yourself!

The more heart centered teachings of Yoga can help us to release our clinging to these labels and see our inner light. The practice of Yoga is founded in the ancient texts of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These texts are arguably where Yoga, as a philosophy or way of life, began sometime about 2,000 years ago. They describe the Yoga path to enlightenment - a guide to overcoming our “suffering”. I am fascinated at how these ancient texts still hold true today. Although very few modern day yoga practitioners are hoping for enlightenment, there is a something that Yoga can provide. I believe our modern world version on "enlightenment" is joy, happiness and inner peace. Isn't this what we are all seeking?

Within the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the Kleshas as “The Five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness.” They have also been described as “the causes of human suffering.” Inside these 5 simple aphorisms, Patanjali describes the human condition - the mental and emotional shackles that hold us back from inner peace and radiance.

I could write an entire blog post about each Klesha but that’s not necessary in order to show how each holds us back. As you read through this introduction to the Kleshas think about how each may apply to your life and beliefs. How could each Klesha be limiting your potential?


Avidya [ignorance of our Divinity] This Klesha encourages you to look, with deep inner seeing, beneath the surface of your external world - and life, to know your own radiance. Are you able to look deep within and see who you might be without labels?

Avidya is the incubator for all the other Kleshas. It is rooted in the belief that everything is temporary and that we are all interconnected sacred beings but we have forgotten this. Patanjali described it as “mistaking the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self.” 

Asmita [mistaking ego - pride and limiting beliefs - with our true self] is the over- identification of with our ego (pride and limiting beliefs). We create an image of who we are, where we live, what we do and we believe that this is “us” and we become trapped in this identification of who we are. This over-identification keeps us from connecting with our soul.

Raga [over-attachment to pleasurable things] is the attraction to things that bring pleasure. Our addiction to pleasurable things is blinding and leads to mindless action. When we obtain what we desire, the pleasure is temporary and we begin our search for pleasure again. We we can't obtain it again we suffer. 

Dvesha [hate, aversion and repulsion] is the opposite of raga, aversion to pain and suffering. Hate and distain for anything that isn't pleasurable. We believe that is we cannot avoid the things we dislike then we suffer. Sometimes even thinking about unpleasant experiences causes suffering. 

Abhinivesha (fear if dying or clinging to life) is the deepest and most universal Klesha. We know that one day we will die, yet our fear of death is a deeply buried in our unconsciousness and keeps us from finding inner peace. Unburying this fear is the primary “goal” of those who follow yoga philosophy.

The overarching issue with the Kleshas is they take us out of the present. Whether its hoping another compliment (or "like" on social media), a meal we love, hoping for an injury to pass, or avoiding a tough conversation. We are constantly looking behind at what we have lost or looking forward to what we may lose or gain. 

They also discourages us from leaving our comfort zone. We stay content in what we love, avoid what we hate (or think we hate) and cling to the labels we give ourself. Do you have a favourite meal at a restaurant, one that you order every time you go? This desire for your favourite meal may stop you from trying something new that is even better.

After spending time considering how these may be holding you back, you will probably ask “now what?” Apart from following the yogic path towards enlightenment, what do you do with this knowledge? The answer is so straightforward... The key to uncovering these "veils" that fog your inner peace and radiance is to simply reflect on them. 

When we turn our view inward, a grand discovery awaits is. Here we find a sacred place where stillness an peace abide, encouraging our hearts to blossom. ~ Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga

Avidya and Asmita deal with the intellectual aspects of “self”, Raga and Dvesa deal with our emotional “self” and Abhinivesha with instinct. Which of these aspects of your self are you most comfortable with, which do you avoid (Raga / Dvesha;)? This could give you really great information about where to start this self-inquiry. Do you have a relationship with your Divinity (or inner self) or your connection to the rest of the universe? What labels do you use to define yourself (dark and light)? Where do pride and limiting beliefs fit into the context of these labels? What is your view of death and aging?

In the Yoga Sutras the path to enlightenment and suffering are centered around overcoming the human condition. Spending time contemplating these questions will illuminate how they may be holding you back. But in our modern world this process is not about “curing” the human condition. We are all human, with human emotions and a mind. When we become aware of the labels that are holding us back we can begin to let go of our grip on them and our inner light starts to shine more brightly.

What labels are you holing on to? What ones do you wish would disappear? Leave a comment and let me know.

Shine your brightest light,