Kleshas: The Root Causes of Suffering

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



Photo Credit: http://jojobatanesi.deviantart.com/art/root-161575906

Kleshas: The Root Causes of Suffering

Growing up Christian, I was taught to fear the Devil.

The Devil was this evil little red man who was the reason for everything bad: actions, thoughts, world disasters…these were the fault of the Devil. It’s so easy to become brainwashed by this idea. Every decent human alive wonders at some point why the world is filled with so much undeserved suffering. Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to good people? What can possibly justify all the injustice of this world?

The concept of the Devil has given millions of people a place to point their fingers and cast their blame. Which is much easier than the yoga belief that the only Devil that exists is within ourselves.

We create our suffering. We are responsible for the “bad.” It’s not the Devil’s fault. It’s our own.

According to yoga philosophy, we create our suffering through the five kleshas: ignorance, egoism, fear of death, attachment, and aversion. These five concepts are both separate and interconnected. They can occur individually, or all at once. Typically, ignorance is the primary state of suffering that begins the cycle, which works something like this:





First, we have an experience. Our senses pick up that something is happening. We hear, taste, smell, touch, and see. Our physical body is engaged.

Immediately, our emotional body begins to react. We have a feeling about what we are sensing in our physical body. This feeling is neither positive nor negative yet. In this phase, it is simply energy moving through us in reaction to our physical experience.

Suffering begins in the next stage of perception. As soon as we have a feeling, we also begin to label it good or bad. Without awareness (ignorance), we have no control over this process. Our experiences become clouded with our perception.

This, in turn, leads us to our thoughts about the experience which typically involve some form of the five kleshas. We become either attached to the experience and emotion (I want to do/feel this forever!), or averse to it (I never want to do/feel this again!). Or we allow the experience to define us (I do/feel this because I am this) which is the klesha of egoism, and therefore we hold on to the experience for much longer than is healthy (fear of death). 

In every moment, our experience revolves in this endless cycle of suffering. This is why the Buddhists claim that life is suffering. Because until we learn how to bring total awareness to our every experience, we will suffer. And for most of us, this is a lifetime practice. It simply isn’t possible to hold our awareness in every moment. Perhaps it could be if we spent our entire lives dedicated to this specific purpose, and some people (monks) do. 


But for most of us, we will find ourselves cycling until—by stroke of luck or tapas-fueled effort— we shift our perception through our awareness.

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