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Five Mental Activities: YSP 1.5

1.5 vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta

There are five activities of the mind. Each of them can be beneficial and each can cause problems.

Translator : Desikachar

Those gross and subtle thought patterns (vrittis) fall into five varieties, of which some are coloured (klishta) and others are uncoloured (aklishta). –

Translator:  Swami J:

We’re starting to head into the heart of this chapter of the Yoga Sutras with a discussion on what is the nature of the mind. Aphorism 1.5 is an introductory statement to the discussion that follows. All Patanjali is saying here is that the mind function is divided into five types (panca is 5 in Sanskrit) of mental activities and those activities are capable of increasing or decreasing our suffering. Rather than keep you on the edge of your seat for another week, I’ll let you know what the five mental activities are right now, although the detailed discussion coming in the weeks to follow. They are understanding, error, imagination, deep sleep and memory.

Often in yoga (and Buddhist) discussions about the nature of the mind, the concept of the Kleshas will come up, so I’d like to take a moment here to discuss the general idea of what the Kleshas are, how they are formed etc.

The Kleshas are afflictions of the mind. To use a western metaphor, they’re mental pathologies that arise from incorrect thinking and confusion. They’re powerful delusions with effects that can range from very mild to life-threateningly. I’m not sure if a scholar would agree with me here but I’ve always viewed the Kleshas as a stubborn impurity.

Once, I lived in an area where there was a great amount of dissolved mineral content in the drinking water. A regular cleaning task was removing this hard building up as it accumulated on the heating element of any water heating appliance. The coffee pot, the tea kettle, the iron, the hot water heater, the shower heads all needed regular maintenance to remove these hard water scales. If they weren’t removed on a regular basis, they could ruin the appliance.

That’s what I think of when I think of the Kleshas: lime scale like build-up of crud on the mind that is our ruination if not kept in check. It’ll be a while in this column before I get into a nuanced discussion about the Kleshas, so I think it’s best to have a quick rundown here. Listed, they are:

  1. Ignorance;
  2. Ego;
  3. Attraction;
  4. Aversion and
  5. Fear of death.

The root of these mental afflictions is found in the first one, ignorance (avidya in Sanskrit). It comes about because we mistake our true nature. The mistake lies in confusing our ever changing bodies, thoughts, emotions, circumstances for ‘reality”. In yoga-speak, it’s a mix-up of mistaking prakriti (that which is changing) for Purusha (that which is unchanging and unchangeable). We identify ourselves with matter instead of realizing that we’re divine beings at our centre. The rest of us, the body, the mind, the emotions, all of it, is just equipment that our essential self, our unchanging spirit, our Self (often capitalized to distinguish it from the mundane use of the word “self”) uses to navigate in the material world. Again with the yoga-speak, we lose connection with our svarupe (true form) because all the fog of mental confusion obscures it.

All the other Kleshas are variations of this fog of ignorance. Ego (asmita, the “I-maker”) thinks it’s running the show and that everything we do or think or feel is all about IT. Attraction (raga) is about the fact that as humans, we like to repeat that which feels good. From this theoretical framework, an addiction is an attraction that’s about to burn the house down. Aversion (dvesa) is the opposite compulsion. We tend to avoid doing that which causes us pain or discomfort, even if it’s good for us or necessary. Procrastination is a milder form of this klesha at work. Repressing uncomfortable emotions or thoughts is another.

The final one is abhinivesha – the fear of death. This one drives the engine in a lot of respects. Our ego, attraction and aversion problems are fuelled by our underlying fear of death. It arose because we forget that that our svarupe is eternal and unchanging spirit, not prakriti which by nature will die and fade away.

So where are we on this sutra journey thus far? In a nutshell, our suffering comes from the fact that we have forgotten our essential nature as spirit. We get lost in all the ways our minds fluctuate. Yoga helps clear up the confusion because it stills the gyrations of the mind. When the mind is stilled, we can see our true nature as Spirit, ending the confusion that messed us up in the first place.

Still not clear? Not to worry. Stay tuned. We’ve got another 45 aphorisms of clarification coming up and another three chapters on what happens next to go.

In the meanwhile, thanks for reading and Namaste,


A general note: This blog is to help me integrate the philosophical teachings of Yoga into my daily life. I’m not an expert on Sanskrit, Yoga or Life in general. My teacher Kathryn Downton provided an important part of my education in these matters but I read voraciously on these topics. I’ll credit her for the parts that I get right and I’ll own the parts I mess up. I try to acknowledge my sources where I can but frankly, I haven’t kept good notes over the years on where I got this stuff. These discussions are one person’s perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is exploration and not explanation.


About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

4 responses »

  1. Hi Kate
    I’m soo glad you’re back on the subject 🙂 I’m afraid that if I’ve heard the concept “kleesha” I’ve forgotten about it again. So, good for me to get a new go at it! Seems usefull. And thank you for bringing the sutra-terms on the matter. Has the obstacle of greater power been removed? 🙂 Who is swami J? love jenni

  2. Hi Jenni … Swami J is an on-line guru/teacher. I frequently drop into his site for information, translation and commentary on the Sutras. Website is

    I like his stuff. It gives me a good base from which I can expand.

    As far as the obstacle of greater power — I have all my obstacles still intact!! 🙂


  3. Pingback: Letting go of attachments — YSP 1.15 « Dharmayoga’s Weblog

  4. Pingback: God defined: YSP 1.24 « Dharmayoga’s Weblog

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