Yoga sutras II, 3 ? The five kleshas or primal causes of suffering


[b]II, 3 avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesha

There are five
primal causes of suffering:
of your true Self
and the value of Spirituality;
and its self-centeredness;
to pleasure;
to pain;
and clinging to life
out of fear of death.[/b]

M. Stiles

At one point, I would reflect on these 5 kleshas daily and I became aware of how they played a part in my day to day actions. Slowly this awareness led to their eradication ? and I believed that all was well. Gradually, this reflection disappeared but I still thought that I was as aware of the kleshas. However, one had completely slipped away from my memory and since I didn?t remember it, I was not aware of the damage it was surreptitiously causing. And I gained first hand knowledge why discipline and self-study is necessary along with devotion. Without svadhaya, I became unaware of the kleshas. My forgotten klesha ? Egoism. And the one that I was truly unaware of ? Ignorance.

Iyengar organizes the kleshas into intellectual, emotional and instinctual. To quote Iyengar: ? Avidya and asmita belong to the field of intelligence; here lack of spiritual knowledge combined with pride or arrogance inflates the ego, causing conceit and the loss of one?s sense of balance. Raga and dvesa belong to emotions and feelings. Raga is desire and attachment, dvesa is hatred and aversion. Succumbing to excessive desires and attachments or allowing oneself to be carried away by the expression of hatred, creates disharmony between body and mind, which may lead to psychosomatic disorders. Abhinivesa is instinctive: the desire to prolong one?s life and concern for one?s own survival. Clinging to life makes one suspicious in dealings with others, and causes one to become selfish and self-centered." (p. 105)

Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New Delhi, India: Harper Collins Publications India. 1993

Stiles, M. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Boston, MA: Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. 2002


ahhhh, I am immensely grateful for this post and the timing of it. Thank you Lavina.
I actually find myself with tears in my eyes and my mouth watering as I read this sutra and your reflection on it. Both of these things happen for me when I hear or read teachings that truly (re)connects me to spirit. I am going to go sit with this now and maybe add more later.

Many kind wishes for your good work,


Though I have the kleshas posted on one of those enormous post-it notes on my wall, this is appropriate for me as well. It may also be appropriate to outline the four elements of avidya;


permanent for impermanent
pure for impure
pain for pleasure
self for non-self

And their opposites, of course.

On the heels of my return from a yoga festival where the elements of ego were on display as available learning opportunities and as the month-long teacher training contained in the month of August sits on the horizon, this is a book-end reminder. It will allow me to process the festival experience (behind me) and root me for the intensity and joy (ahead) of the completion of my certification.


I sometimes use to reflect on the yamas and niyamas, and often find I can’t remember some of them. Than I know that I did not conform to those. :slight_smile:

I am ignorant, egoist, attached, I fear pain, about fear of death … I don’t know cause I never experinced it.

But I read so much holy books and texts lately that I might be ignorant regarding the real strenght of these aspects in my life. Mind can take the shape of anything and make you feel like a saint, when in fact you are far from it. :slight_smile:

The other day, I passed a half-nut beggar girl. (mentally challenged - politically correct but it does not change what we really feel) We feel natural aversion towards these pople, aren’t we ? Perhaps it is conditioning. She was asking money. I had my pocket deep down in my bag and I was lazy to dig it out.
Than later I thought. That girl, she is me, as she also has the Self, what is only Self related to our limitedness, but nevertheless She is me. I did not give that little help to myself, because I was fooled by her appeareance. I am still ashamed. All the thoughts: why are they beggars, why do not they work, why are they dirty, ugly, and “I should not give them anything because they are lazy parasites”, belong to the realm of the ego.

Another example of this was, when I was stopped by on the street (It happens a lot, I think people find me less threatening), by a man with a natural tan. You must know, where I live, coloured people are only the gipsies, and because they live on the periphery of the society, they are not trusted. (They are seen as people who steal, they are dirty, prone to violent behaviour - and not without any reason) And they often beg for money. So the conditioning for this is to not stop, just walk by. So I did that, taking that “you don’t get anything from me” attitude. The man, probably used to this, still cryed after me, and asked a question how can he find some institution, and when I did look back, I’ve seen that he’s quite well dressed, with a woman and kid next to him, and I felt so ashamed because of my unpolite and judegemental behaviour. I felt how awful must be to be judged by the color of your skin instead of the color of your heart.


Read about love in Andre Comte-Sponville’s Small treatise on the Great Virtues, Sivananda’s Practice of brahmacharya and realized that lust is the cause of my suffering.

Discernment (viveka) must be done every day, every hour, every minute, every second.

It is impossible to have a worldly life, and escape suffering. This is first hand experience. Strong sadhana helps but only Self Realization can destroy this obstacle. Therefore, I need to achieve Self Realization, otherwise I will suffer again and again. There is no other way.

Don’t think you are set and safe, if you don’t realize the pain. I was happy in ignorance for years. It only lasts until you are put to test. Than if you are strong you’ll suffer horribly. If you are weak, you’ll make others suffer, which is even worse.
Think of this when you feel lazy to go to class, or to do your asana set.
Think of this when you indulge in pleasures of the senses.


"Do you know why so little good work is done? My lady goes to the slum. … She gives a few ducats and says, “My poor men, take that and be happy!” … Or my fine woman, walking through the street, sees a poor fellow and throws him five cents. Think of the blasphemy of it! Blessed are we that the Lord has given us his teaching in your own Testament. Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It is blasphemy to think that you can help anyone. First root out this idea of helping, and then go to worship. God’s children are your Master’s children. [And children are but different forms of the father.] You are His servant. … Serve the living God! God comes to you in the blind, in the halt, in the poor, in the weak, in the diabolical. What a glorious chance for you to worship! The moment you think you are “helping”, you undo the whole thing and degrade yourself. Knowing this, work. “What follows?” you say. You do not get that heartbreak, that awful misery. … Then work is no more slavery. It becomes a play, and joy itself. … Work! Be unattached! That is the whole secret. If you get attached, you become miserable. … "

… Sri Swami Vivekananda