Panchaklesha – Afflictions


– Patanjali Yoga Sutra ch 2 verse 3

Imagine if we had a list of variables that cause us suffering wouldn’t it be good to just work on each of these obstacles and get rid of them to make our lives smooth flow?

Patanjali in his yoga sutra gives us a list of such causes that can be worked upon. Once the aspirant gets rid of the causes of suffering he/she starts identifying with the “atman”-The self. This self is pure and infinite, it is love, existence and knowledge in itself. Once the aspirant knows the Self nothing else is desired.

Patanjali says that the origin of these kleshas is the action and thought in past which bears fruits in this life and in lives to come. ( PYS-2-12 ) and the pain caused due to these kleshas is due to false identification of the experiencer with the object of experience. ( PYS-2-17). But once the aspirant knows the Self who is the one who experiences, the experience and the experienced itself he/she does not identify with the unreal nature of the world.

The five kinds of afflictions are: Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga (attraction), Dvesha (aversion) and Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life).

The most fundamental affliction of the above is Avidya (ignorance). This ignorance is in the sense of identifying with the Self. Divinity is equally present in every thing and every being. The ignorance of ones own divinity is “avidya”. Like a dense fog that prevents us from appreciating the beautiful mountains so does the dense fog of avidya doesn’t allow us to experience the true divinity inside. People identify with sensual pleasures that they think (due to ignorance) are real which infact are unreal. This mistake of identifying with the not Self is Avidya. We see many people around us who are so involved in their own things that they never care to ask who they really are, or what they are here for. Such people are way back on the spiritual evolution curve. They are too busy chasing the sensual, monetary and misleading pleasures so much so that they don’t have any clue about the main driver i.e the Self. This confusion causes delusion and this great delusion is Avidya. Such ignorance gets along with it many problems and stressors that everyone is experiencing in today’s fast paced world. Practicing discrimination can annihilate such ignorance. Discrimination can control the mind. Enquiry into your real nature or Atma-Vichara can control the mind.

Asmita or egoism is the identification of one self with the instrument of perception and their functions and experiences. It’s the false identification with our body-mind complex that is non-eternal and subject to constant change. Unless and until we are under the influence of our ego the higher truth will not be accessible. The I needs to be taken out if we wish to come closer to the Self. For eg- We sometimes say “I am angry” , “I am sad” and wallow ourselves in self pity , what we don’t realize is that being angry and sad are just states of mind, it is the mind that becomes angry or sad and not the Self. Self is beyond “I”, it is changeless and complete surrender and faith to the power of Self helps us in controlling our ego. In our daily life we must have continues feed back mechanism that helps us in controlling this “I”. Ramakrishna in his talks says “A man can get rid of his ego after attaining the Knowledge of Truth. On attaining this knowledge he goes into samadhi and the ego disappears” this is similar to what Patanjali says in his sutras. But Ramakrishna warns us that it’s very difficult to obtain such knowledge. This “I” is the wicked “I” and no efforts should be spared to control this “I”. Sheer practice is needed for this control. Through the glasses of “Iness” the world looks pleasurable but this vision is untrue, once these glasses are off the clarity of vision along with discretion and dispassion makes us identify with the true Self.

Raga is attachment or hankering of experiences that one has found pleasurable in the past. For eg- in a group of friends a young boy starts smoking due to peer pressure, slowly this identification of smoking with “coolness’ makes him want to smoke more. He starts identifying smoking with confidence and this influences his self-image. Thus for Him smoking is a act which guards his self esteem, he doesn’t want to get rid of it as he has started identifying smoking with self esteem. Giving up smoking will influence his stand amongst his friends.

Dvesha is the aversion in the attitude towards unpleasant experiences. Such urges of aversion are created by recollection of the suffering experienced before. Take a case of first time smoker who feels nauseated or chokes on his first puff may not want to puff again even if his peers insist. This is because he has dvesha towards the act of smoking on basis of his first bad experience. Both raga and dvesha though opposite are two sides of the same coin so much so that they both generate attachment, which cause stress.

Raga and Dvesha have five states – Udara (fully manifest), Vicchinna (hidden), Tanu (thinned out), Prasupta (dormant) and Dagdha (burnt). In worldly-minded people who are sunk in worldliness, attached to sensual pleasures and monetary cravings Raga and Dvesha assume an Udara Avastha; they are in an expanded state i.e., they have a full and unhampered play. Such people can resort to any method to get their work done the way they want. Vicchinna Avastha is that state in which Raga and Dvesha are hidden. The husband and wife sometimes quarrel; then love is temporarily hidden. Again when the time passes the true love shines and they make up. This is Vicchinna Avastha. Some people do a little bit of Pranayama, Kirtan and Japa. In them Raga and Dvesha become thinned out (Tanu Avastha). Sometimes, on account of unsuitable conditions, they lie dormant (Prasupta Avastha).

Patanjali says that if we wish to counteract hatred or malice we should be friendly and compassionate towards all. We should be happy with the happiness of others and be sympathetic towards those in distress. We should restrain from finding faults in others and think that no matter how bad the other person is there must be some good qualities also. The world will appear to be depressing and negative if our vision is depressing and negative. Such depressing and negative thoughts can be eliminated by practicing indifference (upeksha). This will make the mind calm and peaceful. This doesn’t mean that we become passive viewers of injustice and evils of society. What it means is that before trying to change the world look at your self. The others are not under our control; it would not be possible for us to transform others. On the other hand, there is one person who is under your control and that is your own self. So before wanting to transform others transform your self. Rather then being an obsessed do-gooder change your self first before trying to change the world.

Note- The above context is meant only for people who are on a spiritual path and have a strong yearning to experience God. Those who have not yet developed such kind of yearning should surely try to do good to the world by giving whatever service they deem fit.

The last but a very important affliction is Abhinivesha means clinging to mundane life. This is a fundamental and a very natural tendency of self-preservation that exists among all living beings. To counter the danger on ones life over the years we animals have developed our own unique self defense mechanisms. In our ordinary experiences we find that if we do anything repeatedly time after time it becomes automatic or in other words becomes instinctive. Therefore we can argue that what we accept now as instinctive tendencies like will to live or saving our lives etc have become so through repeated experiences in the past and have been acquired over a period of time. Therefore it can be said that these experiences of life and death in the countless embodiments of the past presents themselves now as instinctive tendencies.

These five afflictions are subtle and deep rooted. Some work in a subtle fashion through the subconscious layers of the mind and some are deep rooted as samskaras or root impressions. It is comparatively easy to recognize and control the gross waves (vrittis) of the mind but not these subtle movements. The way the gross waves can be controlled is linked to washing of dirty piece of cloth with clean water and soap, the soap represents practices of preliminary steps towards Yoga (yama and niyama) and the clean water represents the practice of meditation. Soap and water are both indispensable for the complete washing of the cloth (mind). The one cannot be effectively used without other. To control these subtle vrittis we have to recognize them early in their fine causes and counteract them by objectivization or by bringing opposite tendencies to work on them. While to get rid of the root impressions ( samskaras ) on the Chitta or gross vrittis one has to resolve them into its causal category which is the process of going into samadhi. The samadhi state washes all the root impressions or samskaras. Thus we can see that the total annihilation of vrittis can happen by evolving on the path of yoga through correct use of all the limbs of ashtanga yoga.

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