My favourite concepts in Yoga are usually those that challenge me every day, concepts that coax me to be aware every moment and find the extraordinary in the mundane. The physical aspects, especially Āsana, have never really been the main thing that draws me to Yoga; it has almost always been other bits.
What is Klēsha?
Have you come across this term in your Yoga studies? If yes, pause and think about your understanding of the term before you read further. If this is the first time you have ever heard this word, read on. Understanding this concept can answer a lot of foundational questions about our Yoga practice, physical or otherwise. If you are a Buddhist or are familiar with Buddhist literature, this term may be familiar to you as one of Buddha’s teachings.
Although mainly a Sanskrit word, it has found its way into a lot of Indian languages and dialects over time and is quite a familiar word for many who know or speak an Indian language. In most cases, the meaning seems to have been retained close to the original Sanskrit terminology and that means less confusion.
- Pain, anguish, affliction
- Great suffering, grief, rage, distress
(Many of the word meanings I use in my articles are taken from the Wisdom Library website).
You will come across this word in the Yoga Sūtra by Maharishi Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and various Buddhist texts. These are the ones I am aware of but there might be other texts as well that talk about this concept.
Klēsha refers to the aspects within us that cause us pain and bring suffering to our lives. Understanding them is the only way to overcome the effects of their interference in our journey.
Klēsha and Yoga
There are five main types of Klēsha mentioned by Maharishi Patanjali in Sādhana Pāda, chapter 2 of the Yoga Sūtra.
- Avidyā or lack of knowledge / wrong knowledge
- Asmita or egoism
- Rāga or attachment
- Dvesha or hatred/aversion
- Abhinivesha or fear of death
These five are present in all of us in varying degrees and play a major role in our perceptions and responses to life. When we make decisions based almost solely on our visceral reactions to Klēsha, we can be assured that things will go wrong; and things get worse when we are unaware of these effects or are unaccepting of them and continually wonder what we are doing wrong in our lives for things to go wrong. Often, the answers are right in front of us if we are willing to look at, acknowledge, and accept them. That is the first step in overcoming these pain-causing aspects of ourselves.
This is easier said than done. It is often difficult to even notice the effects of Klēsha or know that one of them is influencing your life in some way. This is a hurdle we have to conquer over and over again. Then comes the next big hurdle – acknowledging that we are being influenced by Klēsha. This is one of the most difficult things to accept for many of us. Admitting even to ourselves that we lack the right knowledge, we are egoistic, our thoughts are clouded by attachment and hatred, or that we are scared can be extremely difficult and even distressing for many.
But this is the difficult work that Yoga demands of us; it coaxes us to examine life’s unpleasantness and to face the worst within us. When we see things for what they are, acknowledge them, and accept our inability to control the world around us, it can feel like a huge weight off of our shoulders. We feel like we are no longer drowning but can finally take a deep breath. We do not feel responsible for everything going wrong in the world while still being keenly aware of our Dharma or duty to ourselves and the world around us. We feel liberated!
This can be a journey of a lifetime (or even many lifetimes!) for many of us, and that is alright. It is difficult work and it takes time; how much time depends on each individual and each of our journeys can be vastly different. But constantly and consistently working with Klēsha– recognising, acknowledging, accepting, and overcoming – can be highly rewarding, helping us improve the quality of our lives and feel happier and at ease with ourselves.
If you find this as interesting as I do, do write to me and we can discuss it some more or we can delve into other concepts I have discussed earlier. Find me on Instagram or just write to me here through the Contact page.