The foundation of yoga philosophy rests on the principle that life is eternal; it appears bounded because of the manifested state of the body.  There is a catch in this logic.  All living objects are not equal, they follow different trajectories in life and their duration of living is different.  The eternity concept is indeed compromised in real life.  This compromise is attributed to a phrase karmAshaya, the logistics of the manifested body being affected and controlled by one’s karma in the previous manifestation (birth).   The root of the karma is in klesha “affliction” of our existence.  klesha as properties are born with us in our manifested state and they operate through our life.  The goal of yoga practice is to reduce the effects of klesha(s), thus effectively to release oneself from the effects of karma.

Patanjali would say that karma affects us in three ways.  First it determines the life form, which family, place or clan one would be born.  Then it determines how long one may have the capacity to retain the body indicated by one’s longevity in the present life.  Finally it controls the quality of life one can have while living, the sorrows and pleasures accumulated together.  In Sanskrit, these three concepts are termed as jAti “species”, Ayuh “age” and bhogaexperience.” The determining factor of karma is one’s klesha. klesha is the topic for the present essay.  If life is eternal and permanent, klesha is temporary and transient.  We enter yoga practices to eliminate klesha from life.


Klesha as a word in Sanskrit stands for characteristics that cause suffering.  Suffering can be both psychological and physical.  Most often psychological suffering appears first leading to physical suffering.  All sufferings are due to errors in our judgment in estimating the proper sense of our environment and our role in the environment.  The deviation can be large and the suffering can be intense.  The state of blissfulness remains hidden from us, since it needs be realized through reduction of the incorrect impressions.  We remain in a world of physical pleasures until we discover the lack of joyfulness in life.  Yoga teaches us to maintain joyfulness as our state of life and enjoy the pleasures without compromising the joy.  Practicing yoga is a therapy to the reduction of our suffering (klesha).


The uniqueness of yoga philosophy in relation to other ideas is the comprehensive nature of its vision.  This reduces to the physical aspect on what we “see” or what we “sense.”  Do we sense objects or do we understand them?  What is the difference between our physical deduction and understanding deduced through intuition?  While analyzing this, we realize that our local understanding gets subjective through what we wish to understand than what the object wishes to communicate.  Our perception of the universe gets limited, most often our understanding of others gets plainly erroneous.  Such subjective view created by our senses that are biased by our own nature is the principal klesha in life. The Sanskrit term is avidyA.


avidyA is a feature of our existence.  If we don’t protect ourselves through our subjective conduct, our own existence could be in peril.  We may think that the universe is our home, but we must seclude ourselves from others in order to survive on our own.  avidyA kicks in when we close ourselves from the universe and operate as isolated individuals.  Its root is in our differentiation of ourselves from others and creation of our own domain of existence.  vidyA translates as knowledge, avidyA is ignorance.  avidyA is our ignoring the fact of our origin and our non-difference from everything else that exist in the universe that we perceive.  Because we build our life on an erratic view, we remain bonded in our ignorance till we may clear through a contemplative understanding of our own origin in the universe.


The question comes why we have improper vision.  Why do we forget our own spiritual nature?  The answer lies in a klesha called asmitA, the ever-present conduct in our egotism.  Egotism in yoga is not our selfishness but our rationalization of the reality as it would be conducive to us.  In every scene, event or interaction, there is an objective view that is known to our conscience.  We cover up our conscience with our local intelligence and create our own convenient inference from the scene.  Such errors in our rationalization accumulate in time and we enter into a narrow and limited setting without having the freedom and joy of observing the grandeur of the universe.


asmitA is built in our misperception in believing that we are the doers of our actions.  It is not easy to escape the appearance of our efforts in each action.  It is not easy to comprehend that our action is only the product of a large number of other parameters which are directly or indirectly causing the action to happen.  asmitA makes us judgmental about the actions, making us add our own evaluation to an action.  In the larger functioning of the universe, no action is small or big, just like no object is small or big.  The quality of an action is in our minds, rather than in the action.  The universe operates in a causal manner and we are only local players in the large drama.  asmitA tries to separate us from the universal flow and we suffer through our isolation.


The principal goal of asmitA is to pursue physical pleasures, bundled as a word sukha in Sanskrit.  It is our relative understanding of our perceived needs to make us happy.  We search for objects that we may like and we associate with them.  Association builds attachment, which propels to seek further bondage.  The klesha which generates attachment is called rAga in yoga literature.  Once we enjoy a pleasurable object, we seek more of it.  We suffer when we do not have enough and there is no limit on what we may want.  Our pursuit of pleasure is individual and has little relevance to anyone else.  We cause pain to others by pursuing pleasures, eventually the pain returns to us when we can no more pursue our pleasures, or when we get disabled.


rAga is not friendship, it is domination.  We feel happy with our ownership and subjugation of others. Our dependence on other objects and events through our attachment is the source of our reduction in freedom and the cause of our suffering.  Objects perish, people disappear; we lose links to our attachment.  We feel bereaved and aggrieved.  While there is no escape to physical attachments in the operation of life, we make our operational sphere larger such that we don’t get affected by the pain of loss.  Yoga teaches detachment, but detachment is the acceptance of all rather than rejecting any.  Our pleasure is in “being” a part of the universe with uniform liking to all.


The reverse of pleasure is grief and misery, which result from a different klesha, called dvesha in yoga literature.  Our liking of some objects creates a condition in us to dislike other objects leading to hatred and aversion.  We could get jealous of people who could appear brighter than us, or we could hate people who might appear wealthier than us.  Once we create our limited model, we wish to stay happy in that model.  We could feel uncomfortable to anything that appears better, nobler, or more wholesome.  We forget that the value judgment is in our own mind only and our suffering is generated through our own limited rationalization.


In our pursuit of happiness, we diminish others.  This creates negative feelings towards us.  Our causing of negative feelings and our affliction with the negative thoughts from outside are the principal causes of suffering in our life. There is no more suffering than being hated by others, but we don’t realize that hate begins from inside of our own hearts and is hidden over there.  dvesha is a mental condition that wishes to separate us from others and it is a low level manifestation of asmitA.  It is believed through the empirical observation that we may be carrying our dvesha in us rather than generating it.  It could be the offshoot of our internal insecurity of survival in the world, feeling deprived than blessed for our life.


Our private universe created through our ignorance, egotism, attachments and aversions, get trumped when the body loses its capabilities and we get on the verge of passing away.  Actually the scare of death is built into our psyche from the time we are born.  Holding on to our life is the fundamental instinctive attribute we seem to carry.  This scare can permanently debilitate us making us fearful to our life in every situation.  Such fearfulness to preserve our own life causes our major suffering.  Knowingly or unknowingly, all living objects operate in such scared mode and find protection with slightest aberration.  Though the future is unknown, the scare of life makes us extremely insecure.  The klesha generated through this conduct has been called abhinivesha.


Hankering to avoid death is abhinivesha.  Since the other klesha parameters operate on memory, we have to think how the perception of death can affect a living being.  It is believed it is one of the characteristics we carry when we are born having encountered the pain of death in the previous life.  From the imagined condition, we deduce that old age and death must be painful events and we wish to avoid.  From the etymology of the word, we can conceptually say that it is a characteristic of any manifestation when the object becomes conditioned by time with an arbitrary future.  We remain scared because we associate ourselves with the manifested object (body) than the eternity of the life force which is our yogic realization.


After defining and categorizing the klesha, Patanjali would lead us to alleviation of klesha through the practice of ashTAnga yoga, which would be our next topic.


Let Sai bless all.

Bijoy Misra