Mental afflictions are a byproduct of living. We all carry them from time to time. It is part of life. The challenge in overcoming mental afflictions becomes the training ground for spiritual enlightenment.
Kleshas are described as mental afflictions in the book on yoga philosophy, ‘Yoga Sutras,’ written by the sage Patanjali around 2000 years ago. These afflictions come in five forms: ignorance, which is known as Avidya in Sanskrit language, egotism, known as Asmita, worldly desire, known as Raga, aversion to hurt, known as Dvesa, and Abhinivesa, which is fear of death. The Kleshas cloud our vision of the world causing us to react in ways that ultimately will harm us.
Learning is a lifelong endeavor that will guide us in moving toward the ideal. My students often hear me speak of how yoga is not about what is right or what is wrong, but instead it is more about moving toward the ideal. Learning can come from the science and philosophy of yoga but also from experience. If we do not learn from experience we practice Avidya or ignorance. We will be stuck in the same cycles without the prospect of resolving issues because we are not learning.
When we relish in an inflated sense of ourselves clarity of thinking is skewed. As I mention to students regularly, yoga teaches transcendence of the ego. It is important to be able to transcend the ego in order to empathize and to understand another point of view. Transcendence through an open heart and mind can offer wonderful teachable moments. If the mind is clouded by the practice of Asmita the ego takes over and the stage is set for more Avidya.
Materialism, covetousness, and lustfulness are byproducts of Avidya. When we place too much value on possessions we cloud our mind with Avidya and begin to practice Raga, or worldly desire. If we seek pleasures that we have a deep-seeded fear of losing, then attachments start to become obsessions, and we unconsciously practice Raga. It’s an easy Klesha to fall prey to in our material-oriented society.
Sometimes we avoid painful situations that have been placed on our life’s path in order to learn to overcome Avidya. The fear of confrontation can prevent spiritual growth. If we are constantly turning away from conflict we can become blind to reality and misunderstandings will arise, further complicating relationships. Dvesa, which is a practiced aversion to being hurt, can suppress learning and stifle our lives.
Fear of death seems like a common sense, life-preserving attitude, but if Abhinivesa is practiced obsessively all of life’s decisions are fear based. I’ve mentioned to my students that at home I am affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) referred to as ‘Captain Safety.’ The adherence to safety has certainly endowed my yoga classes with a high standard of care, but I try not to let the ‘Captain Safety’ in me ruin the pure joy of doing yoga. I want my students to explore yoga safely just as I wanted my kids to enjoy life safely. If an obsessive fear of death predominates thinking there is no joy but only constant worry.
The Kleshas can be overcome by practicing Kriya Yoga, which involves three of the Niyamas or ‘observances of integrity.’ Kriya Yoga is comprised of Tapas, which is ‘change for the better,’ Svadhyaya, which is to objectively ‘look at yourself,’and Isvara Pranidhana, which is to ‘have faith.’ I have written blogs on each of the Niyamas over May and June of 2016 if you are looking for more information.
The formula for seeing past our clouded vision due to the Kleshas is to want change for the better, then to observe ourselves from an objective viewpoint, and to do this from the perspective of faith in the greater good. Kriya Yoga will give us true meaning in our life and draw us closer to the ideal enabling us to rise above mental afflictions.