The Five Kleshas: Finding ImmortalitySep 30, 2021 06:36PM ● By Nicole Zornitzer
In yogic philosophy, the kleshas identify the obstructions or obstacles that present themselves in our lives that prevent humans from leading a healthy lifestyle. In both yoga and Ayurveda, a body that is out of balance is viewed as experiencing dis-ease; there is potentially a physical, spiritual or emotional imbalance due to a downward cycle of false notions known as the kleshas. The term “yoga” translates to “yoke” or “union”, therefore when kleshas (obstacles) are in our path, they prevent us from finding this sense of balance and connection with self and others.
The Five Kleshas
Avidya – Ignorance
Ignorance creates separation from present time, from others and, most importantly, from ourselves and our dharma. We must ask ourselves what creates this ignorance? Have we forgotten that we are part of a much larger cosmos and connected to all living beings? The natural effect of feeling disconnected from source and others is that we in turn rely upon our ego self. We compare ourselves with others, we may compete or judge others to feel our self-worth.
Asmita – Ego Reliance
As we dive deeper into this sense of ego reliance, it is interesting to discover that those who exude such reliance often feel quite the opposite—lonely, vulnerable and insecure. This, in turn, creates a snowball effect on feeding the ego because the ego causes us to go into protection mode. This is not to say that the ego should be disposed of completely, the ego is what often is the “drive” in our spirits, the do-er that takes on a task and completes such, so finding a healthy balance of ego usage is essential in living a healthy lifestyle.
Raga – Attachment
When the ego is in an unhealthy state of being, this leads one to rely upon external sources to find peace, tranquility and happiness. This idea creates an unhealthy attachment to objects, people, and situations. Detaching is difficult but when mastered we allow the ego to enter a state of respite. The ego mind believes “if this; then that” thereby creating the individual to be completely reliant upon external sources or “things” to find happiness.
Dvesha – Aversion
In response to unhealthy attachment, the ego begins to reject things that do not support a sense of power and the mind then creates aversion. This rejection of situations or true internal peace becomes a losing battle. It requires a patient mind, an open heart, and a strong will to battle the external demons or toxins in modern day that want to pull us back on a downward spiral of disconnection with self. This is where the work truly begins in a yoga and Ayurveda practice. We must become the inquisitive person, the seeker of why, the stable body that is willing to persevere even when challenged to make change.
Abhinevesha – Fear of Death
Lastly, we explore fear of death. This is probably the toughest one for many. The idea of life ending, of spirit dying, of loss of loved ones—how do we come to terms with this topic when we are so connected to what is here and now (or at least what some believe is here and now)? This is where the ego enters again, the ego-reliant individual believes that nothing exists beyond this physical world, that if the body dies so does the spirit. Yoga invites us to explore this deeper, to go beyond the here and now and to embrace what could be or what was with appreciation.
Life is a journey, a laboratory, as I frequently discuss. What would happen if we all decided to become that explorer, that scientist of sorts and arose each morning and just witnessed without judgment? A dedicated yoga practice brings one back to awareness so that we can fully experience this life and shine this illumination on the confusion or kleshas that enter daily. Yoga provides an avenue of sincere truth, an opportunity to see what connects us all.
Here is a prayer or mantra that I often recite internally that speaks to the kleshas. It is a prayer for self-knowledge and most importantly clarity for what is:
Om, asato maa sat gamaya (Lead me from unreal to real)
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya (Lead me from darkness to light)
Mrtyor maa amritam gamaya (Lead me from fear of death to knowledge of immortality)
Nicole Zornitzer, ERYT 1000, yoga therapist, founder of Niyama Yoga & Wellness Shala, located in Randolph, New Jersey; Upper Lake Mohawk in Sparta, New Jersey; Roseland, New Jersey; and Delray Beach in Florida. NiyamaYogaShala.com.