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    The kleshas: five hindrances to the experience of the wholeness of Life

    The word klesha has been variously translated as afflictions, sufferings, coverings, poisons or hindrances.

    Patañjali, in his Yoga Sūtras identifies five kleshas. These barriers to well-being and wholeness of life are best understood as cognitive muisunderstandings that each individual would do well to correct through the practice of Yoga.

    The five kleshas are:

    1. Avidya, Ignorance:

    Avidyā is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is "ignorance,", "delusion", unlearned", "unwise" and it is the opposite of Vidya. It is used extensively in Hindu texts, including the Upanishads and also in Buddhism

    Avidyā, in all Dharmic Systems is a cognitive limitation to be overcome by each individual and does not imply a failure or transgression. The "entrenched misunderstanding of ourselves and the world" is avidyā (false knowledge) which gives rise to several root causes of misery or kleshas, which include ruinous states of mind and addictive habits.

    From: Malhotra; Rajiv. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, Pg no. 72, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2011

    Avidya, ignorance, is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant and the non-Self as the Self.

    From: Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


    Avidya is perhaps best understood as a learned cognitive framework that confuse the real world of direct experience with the conceptual world of objects and relationships between obects.

    The world of direct experience (vidya) is simple, whole, perfect, undivided and radiantly alive. The conceptual world of avidya is seen as variously fragmented, conflicted, dead, broken and flawed. When we see the world as it is, it's perfect. When we see the world in terms of what we've come to believe about it, it's inevitably flawed.

    The real world, in this sense, is neither flawed not perfect. But when we see things as they are, we find nothing wrong. Things are just as they are. It is only our judgments and comparisons that render the world flawed or broken, good or bad.

    Experience is an entirely subjective, naturally arising, whole phenomenon. The sense that we are an object surrounded by objects is a conceptual reality that exists only in thought. The idea that the world is a loose collection of "objects," some of which have awareness of one another is a a confused overlay that obscures our actual experiential reality.

    Avidya is confusing the map with the landscape, substituting the menu for the meal. Instead of beliefs, ideas and descriptions adding to our understanding of the experiential world, they come to replace our experience of the experiential world; the infinite world becomes finite, the eternal world becomes limited.

    The best times of anyone's life are those brief moments when once again, we experience the world the way we did before we began to mediate it through words and beliefs. We call these experiences of the self "peak experiences."

    Avidya is usually translated as "ignorance," that is, ignorance of the true nature of reality.


    2. Asmita, Identification:

    It is the cognitive fault of mistaking the part for the whole. In Yoga terms, it is identifying yourself with your mind, or your beliefs, or your body, or anything you own. When we mistakenly think we are our history, or our heritage, or our purposes, or anything else, we reduce the infinite wonder of who we are to a very small and limited thing.

    Like avidya, asmita is rooted in the tendency to see oneself as an object, not as a subject -- we replace our experience of being connected with a sense of being separate.3. Raga, Attachment:

    Experience comes and goes. It is self-maintaining, self-supporting. When we try to attach, or hold on to, or fixate on any one experience or idea, or desire, we resist the natural flow and evolution of life itself.Raga4. Dvesha, Aversion:

    Aversion is the futile attempt to eliminate something by pushing against it or trying to destroy it. What we resist only grows stronger. Dvesha is impossible. You cannot really eliminate anything through resistance.5. Abhinivesha, A Sense of Mortality:

    Life is composed only of life, all is one, all is alive. Life is all there is. There is no death, no limitation in a real sense. There are no boundaries, no delineations, no beginnings and no endings. All of those things exist only in the mind. In realtiy, there is only endless flow, eternal expansion. There is only evolution and growth

    The practice of yoga is one of seeing through and letting go of all the kleshas, of restoring our wholeness, our eternalness, our freedom and our joy. Abhinivesha is the mistaken idea that things are finite, that things have an end. It is the erroneous notion that life itself can fail. In a personal sense, it is the fear of mortality, the clinging to one aspect of life and failure to see the endlessness of life. It is the terrible sense that things can be over, can go away, when the truth is that nothing that comes into being can ever go away., attachment, is the futile attempt to hold on to or fix the ephemeral flowing nature of life itself. It is resistance to change and evolution, it is pointless grasping. Raga means trying to control, to dominate, to manipulate, to unilaterally direct the flow of life. It is the part trying to control the whole. is usually defined as the sense of "I-am-ness." It is the false conviction that you are a separate self, an individual, apart from others, that you stand apart from the world and view it. It is the terrible sense of separation and alienation, of existential loneliness.

    * Notes on avidya:

    Yoga describes three ways of knowing: direct experience, inference, or testimony.

    How does one know anything? We can experience it directly, through the non-verbal mind and senses. This is direct experience -- knowing water is cold because your hand is in it.

    Another way we know something is that someone told us something and we believed it. Here there is no direct experience. Words or symbols are used to point to memory. This way of knowing is based more on relationships and social proof than anything experiential.

    The third way of knowing is inference. Most of what we know we know through inference. We figure something out or assume something based on inductive logic. We put things in general categories and assume we know all about them. Again, this is largely symbolic, verbal. There is no direct knowing.

    Direct experience is subjective, non-verbal, outside of words and symbols, ideas and beliefs.

    Inference and testimony are objective, verbal, wholly composed of ideas and beliefs.

    Most of the values or ideals we live by are not derived from our personal experience. We rely extensively on what we've been told and what we have inferred based on what we've been told.

    It wasn't always this way. Infants and toddlers (you were once one yourself) rely almost entirely on their direct experience. They don't have enough language to understand the world verbally. They get a lot of things wrong because they haven't had enough exposure to life to have sorted things out, but they are not confused by words and ideas.

    Once kids get enough language to tokenize and categorize their direct experience, grown-ps help them speed up the process oforientation by telling children what's so, and kids fill in the rest with guesswork.

    Direct experience takes a major backseat at this point for most of us.

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