The Cause of Suffering: The Kleshas

The Buddha says life is suffering; both the ancient yogis and the Buddhists point to the kleshas as the causes of our suffering. These "afflictions" distort our mind and our perceptions effecting how we think, act and feel. The five main kleshas vary in intensity on our psyche, from being inconsequential in their effect to utter blindness. The kleshas not only create suffering, but are said to bind us to the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, and thus preventing us from achieving enlightenment.Avidya (ignorance) is the misconception of our true reality, believing that the temporary is eternal, the impure is the pure, and pleasure to be painful. This false representation of reality is the root klesha and produces the four others.

Asmita (I-am-ness) is the identification of ourselves with our ego. We create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) and internal (I am a bad person) false projections. We become trapped within the projections we have created of our life.

Raga (attachment) is the attraction for things that bring satisfaction to oneself. Our desire for pleasurable experiences creates mindless actions and blind sighted vision. When we cannot obtain what we desire, we suffer. When we do obtain what we desire, our feelings of pleasure soon fade and we begin our search for pleasure again, becoming trapped in a endless cycle.

Dvesha (repulsion) is the opposite of raga, aversion towards things that produce unpleasant experiences. If we cannot avoid the things we dislike, we suffer. Even thinking about unpleasant experiences produces suffering.

Abhinivesha (will to live) is the deepest and most universal klesha, remaining with us until our deaths. We know that one day we will indeed die, yet our fear of death is a deeply buried in our unconsciousness.

The first stage of working with the kleshas is to simply acknowledge them. Reflection promotes self-awareness, self-understanding and self-knowledge to uncover and see the kleshas and their roots as well as how they create suffering.

The direct opposition of concentration and other yogic techniques can counteract simple kleshas. Gross kleshas are overcome with meditation, tapas and seeking wisdom. Yogic techniques are said to burn away the impurities of the kleshas to purify the mind. By ridding ourselves of our kleshas, we are able to clearly see the reality of the world and our own true nature.

Comments 9

  1. I believe I am absolutely consciously aware of these things (kleshas and the reasons we suffer) yet I do not know how to stop submitting to them. For instance, I think of my life and the time I have wasted and how much I wish to accomplish and how I might never be able to. I think of my situation and try to figure out how to change it because I am not satisfied with my life, even though I know that just sitting here thinking of how to change it will change nothing and only cause more suffering on top of my unsatisfying life. I never come up with any answers. So why do I waste so much time trying to THINK of how I can change my life? I am well aware that my thoughts about these things are the main reason I am suffering. If I could only live my days in the moment, simply doing what needs to be done at that moment, instead of thinking about what could have been or what I can do to change what IS, and the pain I feel when I realize I don’t have much of a choice or the ability to change anything about my current situation, I realize that I would experience less suffering, regardless of how grim my circumstances may seem. I also realize that the times when I DO let go of the thoughts that cause so much suffering, it is when I have many things to do that take up my time. I am happiest when I am busy with things I enjoy doing. The worst times are when I have nothing to do and too much time to think and dwell on my circumstances. This sometimes makes it very difficult to clear my mind for meditation. Anyway, my point is that even though I am well aware of what I must do in order to avoid or at least lessen the suffering, I can’t seem to make myself do it. I continue to have this uncontrollable urge to sit in silence and try to come up with a solution to change my circumstances even though I have been trying to come up with a solution for a long enough time to realize that there is nothing I can do to change my situation at this time. Unless I constantly keep my mind occupied on other things, things I enjoy, my mind immediately returns to thinking about things I cannot change and I begin to suffer. As soon as my mind has a minute of idle time in which to think about my situation I begin suffering. I am torturing myself and making life seem worse than it is. How can I train myself to stop this? DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY ADVICE?

    1. So, you suffer.
      What’s the big deal?
      I hope you don’t think your alone with mind monkeys running around like 2 year olds begging for attention, maybe some structure.
      You seem capable and functional–even if you’re not where you want or think you are supposed to be.
      Welcome to your dissatisfied life, or at least periods of time where you identify as “not happy” (no matter your definition of “happy,” and the potential concretization of this 5 letter word).
      Don’t be mislead by those who will tell you what they think helps them–especially when “they” are in no “better” place than you.
      Yeah, maybe there are those who have learned to accept a few additional pains and limitations in their life, but my hunch is when given the choice between cushy 2-ply toilet paper and scratchy 1-ply, the 2-ply gets selected. Call it ego’s desire, or rationalize it as a practice of ahimsa.
      Whatev. . .
      There is a part of me that even questions the authenticity of your letter, Mr/Ms bodhi2b.
      It is overly well constructed and even, to a degree, contrived.
      It almost comes across like something written by a trust funder who struggles with having/creating a sense of purpose or place in the world (as small and seemingly insignificant it might be), hence has too much time to become self absorbed–or write letters, for entertainment. . . (?).
      Happy suffering!

  2. I would suggest that when you do move into the space where you think about your situation that you focus on acceptance of your situation, gratitude for all of the gifts you have in your life, and seeing/understanding how the universe is creating these situations of suffering as opportunities to grow. In short, learn how to turn your lemons into lemonade.

    If you can turn those moments of idle time into opportunities to practice yoga. I.e. Instead of focusing your thoughts on your situation feel the breath moving in and out of the body.

    You are correct in that you will need to train yourself to stop repeating these negative patterns and to create positive actions to replace them with. To do this takes a lot of work and perseverance, so know that this can take some time.

  3. The thinking mind is controlled by the ego. There is a way to reduce the endless spirals of thought. A book called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle. This book would be very helpful to you.
    Goodluck and remember is all just a process and learning experience.

    1. This interpretation of the Kleshas is a very Classical view as opposed to the Tantric view taken by many including me. However, all views are valuable and serve. It is a blessing that people can search the internet and even find this information in varied forms.

  4. Find out what you’re attached to and desire that’s disturbing the mind and making you think you’re unsatisfied with your present situation. Practicing meditation at the beginning is more of a discipline for a while. When you were a child, your parents had to make you brush your teeth every day. Now, you wouldn’t dream of going out of the house until you do. Practice will lead you. Don’t worry that you’re not experiencing what you expect at first. Just do it. The same time and place everyday. Make a determination that you will sit for 5 min. then if you get to the point of enjoying, maybe it will be longer. Don’t worry about how long. Just do it. You’ll access Buddhi. And that will guide you. Let go of your belief that you have to be doing something else. The only thing you have to do is sit each day. Hang in there…Namaste

  5. whose; where? whose maya is where atman is you? where is whose oneness at, at yogic art. where does yoga do atman at? who are you at,at yogic art,at where are you at,at yoga? whose;where? oneness at maya at,atman equals reality(atman) is greater than illuision for oneness to be?

  6. Thanks for sharing. I’m a yoga instructor/retreat leader and I’m always looking for accessible ways to share yoga philosophy with my students. Thanks again!

  7. We understand that music dependency serves as a surrogate for lack of human bonds. Songs can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. Regular Bass House mixtapes uploaded every Wednesday. Listen to us out on MySpace!

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