Why do we suffer?
Insights from the Yoga tradition: KLESHAS
Yoga is all about finding peace. Many people think that yoga is just about the positive aspects of life. On the contrary, yoga focuses on the things that stop us from excelling and being free. The focus of yoga is the mind, not the body. It acknowledges how challenging life can be and offers us tools, guidelines, and insights on how we can change our lives for the better and end of suffering.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the most important books of the thousands of years old yoga tradition. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali shares the ancient wisdom of yoga gurus in a systematized way. The text is composed of 196 short verses. It is full of deep insights. It is a text that is meant to be read again and again. Every time you read it you will gain a new insight.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali talks about why it is so challenging to live in continuous blissfulness. He lists five sources of suffering, called Kleshas. Kleshas are very human inclinations of our mind trying to make our lives easier. But they are not long term, sustainable solutions to suffering. Kleshas are our escape routes when things get challenging. So instead of engaging life, with all its beauty and wildness, we hide behind the Kleshas. Eventually, they cause us suffering.
Thankfully, yoga equips us with the tools to free our minds from these sources of suffering. But let’s just begin with getting familiar with five sources of suffering. If we are not aware of the problem we cannot do anything about it.
Avidya – Ignorance
In the Yoga Sutras, Avidya is presented as the initial seed of sorrow. All other seeds of suffering stem from Avidya. Avidya is not about a general kind of ignorance. It is about being ignorant of the teaching that there is more out there than the material reality that surrounds us.
When we think that the material reality is the only absolute reality, then we think we are limited in our physical bodies and we have an expiry date. With such belief, we feel trapped, isolated and insignificant.
Yoga teaches us how the limits of space and time are the constructions of the mind. Through our yoga practice, we open ourselves up for the possibilities beyond everyday reality. Where we are connected, where we can never be alone or insignificant.
Asmita - Identifying oneself with the ego image
We are amazing, continuously evolving, full of potential beings. This means that who we are is not predefined.
Yoga does not help us to find out who we are. It helps us to consciously sculpture who we are.
Raga - Attachment to pleasurable things
I believe yoga is the best thing we can do to get our power back from our addictions. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life and having pleasure. On the contrary, everything is right about enjoying life.
Klesha emerges when the pleasurable things are our distractions, escape routes. When we do things that we enjoy not for the sake of enjoying the moment but to run away from it. When our soul knows we need to do something else but our mind distracts itself with a supposedly pleasurable activity. We usually get a bitter taste or bitter feeling after the activity. Ironically we want to keep doing it to get rid of the unpleasant aftertaste as well. So a cycle of suffering keep going on.
Dvesha - Running away from pain
At first glance, Dvesha sounds innocent. No one wants to suffer. But as soon as you see the phrase ‘running away’, you may guess that there is something off. The mind cannot run away from itself.
There is no running away in life.
Life will keep throwing the same throwing the same thing to us until we learn how to deal with that thing.
How many times you have said or heard people saying: “Why does this keep happening to me?”. Yoga tradition tells us that we need to go through the challenges, painful experiences instead of running away from them. Life has both its sweet and bitter sides. We cannot pick one side and leave the other. We need to embrace life in its wholeness. Otherwise, we run away from life itself while trying to avoid any kind of pain.
Abhinidvesa - Fear of death
The fear of death is the biggest fear of humankind. It is usually too unbearable to think about that it manifest as fear of something else. Deep down the root of all kinds of fear is the fear of death.
The idea of ceasing to exist is so distressing for the mind that many of us live as if we have all the time in the world. If that was not the case no one would have worked in the jobs they hated waiting for the time they retire. No one would accept a life where they would suffocate for the five days of the week and be okay with enjoying only two days of the week.
Yoga tells us to be present, to focus on “now”. That is all we actually got, the now. There have been so many times that I was in so much pain, also other days that was full of joy. I had victories and failures. Still what matters is now. I can’t relive any of those days. I can only experience how I feel about them now. But the mind keeps counting the time, trying to make something meaningful from the numbers.
In the end, what matters is how you spend your days, not how many of them you had.
Kleshas is the reason why we practice yoga, why we need to train our mind and take control of our thoughts, unconscious beliefs. We want to free ourselves from suffering.
I consider myself so privileged that I have access to the teachings of yoga that addresses the deepest suffering of humankind. We have access to yogic methods, tools that have been evolved and tried for thousands of years. I don’t think I would have been able to explore Kleshas in any dept if I did not have a path that gave me hope.
Gratitude to the gurus and teachers of the yogic wisdom.
Thank you for reading.
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Lead Trainer @ Yoga Alloy