2.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha kleshas
Bouanchaud: The causes of suffering are ignorance, conscious of “I” (egoism), attachment, repulsion and fear.
Desikachar: The obstacles are misapprehensions, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes and insecurity.
Swami J: There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas): 1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya), 2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita), 3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga), 4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha), and 5) love of these as being life itself, as well as fear of their loss as being death
Some sutras have so much stuff in them, that one blog post just won’t cover it. Okay, it could but it would be a really long blog post and that would mean a more dedicated and skilful writer than yours truly. Yesterday, I took a look at asmita – egoism – as one of the obstacles that keeps me from a state of yoga. The word “kleshas” is derived from the word that means “coloured”. These kleshas “colour” my thought patterns. They make me see the world as something other than what it is. If I wore green coloured eye glasses, then the world I saw through green lens would be perceived by me as green. Green everything. Green houses, green clouds, green people. It would be a form of unreality. It’s the same deal with the kleshas. If I perceive the world through the glasses of asmita (ego), then I’m not seeing the world as it really is. I’m seeing as if I actually was the centre of all creation and that it was all about me, all the time.
It’s the same deal with raga and dvesha. They too colour our perceptions about the nature of reality. Raga is the bear I wrestle with most often and its English translation is “attachment”. Sound innocuous when it’s phrased that way, doesn’t it? Trust me, it’s anything but low-ball.
Raga, or attachment, is the result of pleasure. Right now, as I’m typing this, I am drinking an extremely fine cup of coffee. It’s exactly the right drinking temperature. It has just enough sweet but isn’t cloying. The acid content is low. The beverage is aromatic and the notes of flavour fairly dance on the tongue. I am totally liking this cup of coffee. And because I like it, I want another one, because it’s just that damned good. Now I don’t need another one but I want another one because I’m attached to the pleasure of that taste.
Given my heart condition, I really shouldn’t have more than one cup of caffeinated coffee per day … but it tastes soooooooooooooooooo good. And there is attachment. It’s not that I enjoyed the taste of my coffee. We’re wired to experience pleasure. Yoga isn’t about turning us all into a bunch of joyless, sour-pussed, pinched faced drones. Having the first cup of coffee is a pleasurable experience. Having the second cup of coffee that I shouldn’t drink – that’s attachment.
This is a very subtle point but an important one because sometimes I think people can get caught in “black or white” thinking around this subject. Patanjali isn’t telling us that we shouldn’t enjoy things in life. To contrary, yoga is about finding joy in all that life has to offer. It’s attachment to the pleasurable things of life that we’re warned against. A while back, regular reader of this column, Michael from Hong Kong, wrote in to say that the Chinese word for attachment translated to “things we cannot put down’. It is, to date, the best definition of attachment I’ve ever heard. The things we cannot put down. We’ll talk a little later in this chapter about the things we cannot put down but for now, it’s time to move onto the other side of the coin: dvesha.
Dvesha is repulsion. It’s the consequence of displeasure. Exactly like we want to repeat the things we enjoy, we do not wish to repeat the things we didn’t enjoy. In my case, we’re talking dandasana – the Staff pose. I don’t merely dislike this posture. I bloody loathe this posture. If the rest of my life passed without ever doing this hell-fest every again, I would be perfectly content. This aversion to the posture is, of course, a clear sign that I need to be doing it more often and my teacher, bless her, has me doing it at least once a week for the next six months. For the record, she’s not doing this out of some sadistic bent. The root reason of why I dislike this posture is I have a considerable restriction in my thoracic spine that dandasana works on directly. It’s very uncomfortable to sit in this posture and it’s taxing to hold the position properly for even a few breaths. That said, it’s therapeutic for me to do it on a regular basis.
Very much like the pleasure versus attachment bit, my inner mental hooligan, dvesha, has hijacked my mind and coloured my perceptions around this posture. It’s not that I merely find it uncomfortable to do. There are lots of postures that I find uncomfortable when I first try them out. But with dandashana, dvesha has turned it into an ordeal. I dread doing it. I anticipate dreading doing it. I take mental inventory of how many days will pass before I have to do it again. And that, my friend, is aversion.
But here’s the deal – remember Sutra 2.2: samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha — Then such practices will be certain to remove obstacles to clear perception (trans by Desikachar)… back to those words in the middle: Klesha tanu – the enfeeblement or reduction of the kleshas. This is the promise of chapter 2. If I maintain a consistent and persevering practice of yoga, then the kleshas that colour my perception of the world will diminish. I’ll still like coffee, but I won’t be attached to it. I’ll probably still not find a lot of pleasure in dandasana, but I won’t be so emotionally reactive around it.
And you know what? It works. On the days I practice, I find it easier to follow my doctors’ instructions on how to manage my heart condition – including sticking to my diet. And it was abiding practice that allowed me to let go of my total aversion to the Bridge posture. That was the first yoga posture I hated with a passion but I finally accepted the fact that it wasn’t likely to go away, so I might as well get over it. I did and now, I have to confess, I rather enjoy Bridge.
That’s all for today. It’s time to unroll the mat and work on dandasana. While I’m there, I’ll try to let go of my attachment to my loathing of the posture.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,