II.3 अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः क्लेशाः


avidyāsmitā-rāga-dveṣābhiniveśāḥ kleśāḥ
avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-ābhiniveśāḥ kleśāḥ

“Not-knowing, the question ‘who am I?’, obsession, fear, and the will to survive–these are the kleśas.

I was introduced to yoga, as many are, through the practice of āsana. The method that attracted me fixed my attention and drew me in, emphasized awareness in the poses–a particular, illuminated calling out of details. I felt areas in my body that I had not felt in a long time or ever, that had been either numb or asleep or pushed out of the field of my perception. Mr. Iyengar has said, “while doing yoga, the body must tell one what to do, not the brain” (Light on Life, p. 30), and in my experience of his method, I have learned to listen to the body, to be led by it.

I do other practice (kriyā) that I consider yoga: the study of Sanskrit and sacred text, participation in a twelve-step program, joining in worship at religious services. I consider the performance of my role as householder and mother to be yoga, and I would even say that, for me, political activity, too, is a kriyā.

Practice of āsana, however, continues to be my lodestone. I will go for a day without āsana practice; more than that and I feel off, adrift, perhaps. What goes off is not just my ability to hear the body but to be led. I am less connected–to myself and to the source of myself. So I think body has been for me, for a very long time, a leader. And as I come to contemplate the kleśas, I am realizing how radical Mr. Iyengar’s approach to yoga–which always emphasizes experiencing the body and celebrating its intelligence–is.

The list of afflictions that Patañjali gives fascinates me. It is intriguing that they make a kind of whole, grow one out of the other, come from our histories and maladaptations. It is surprising that they include traits I value.  The kleśas are not bad in a one-sided kind of way. To develop aversion (dveṣa) to a food that has made one ill is a useful, healthy response. And it often takes anger (again, dveśa) to help us establish a boundary and protect ourselves. The question Who am I? (asmitā) is important, beautiful, what makes us human. And to experience I-am-ness (asmitā) is a joy that yoga helps us know.

Bernard Bouanchaud writes, “Each of these natural impulses, good in itself, becomes a poison when manifested in excess, at the wrong moment, or when mistaking the object.”

Much traditional commentary on Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras teaches that the sensations of the body must be overcome. My path has led me to value the sensations of the body and to trust its intelligence. My experience of yoga presses me to know that it is by living and feeling that I will learn how to let go and die.

Often, as we age and can no longer do what we once could, we say that our bodies are failing us. That is misguided. In fact, our bodies continue to carry out the processes of life with unwavering devotion. They will always move toward living for as long as they possibly can. — Matthew Sanford, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, ch. 13


“One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life. … In yoga you focus your attention on your breathing and on your sensations moment to moment. You begin to notice the connection between your emotions and your body—perhaps how anxiety about doing a pose actually throws you off balance. You begin to experiment with changing the way you feel. Will taking a deep breath relieve that tension in your shoulder? Will focusing on your exhalations produce a sense of calm? Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation, and it helps you to stop trying to ignore what is going on inside you. As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are ‘Notice that’ and ‘What happens next?’ Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.” — Bessel van der Kolk MD, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, p. 274-5

“If one examines the above five factors, one would realize that they are not five different causes of afflictions. They constitute a whole so that one naturally follows the other. Truly speaking, Patañjali has given in the sūtra just one and the only cause of suffering. This is ābhiniveśa, which is usually translated as ‘strong desire for life.’ This is indeed a desire for continuity, being an expression of Tamas or inertia so deeply rooted in man’s nature. It is from this desire for continuity that attraction and repulsion arise. They are indeed the cause of one’s identification giving birth to a false identity. And what greater ignorance can there be than to move in life with a false identity?” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.3

“The word kleśa could be translated into English by the word ‘suffering.’ When the pain or hurt that took place in a fraction of a moment is given continuity by thought, when there is identification with it, when there is identification with the event that took place, and you say, ‘I was hurt,’ ‘I was insulted,’ ‘I was humiliated,’ then there is suffering. …Pain is one thing, and it takes place as an event; suffering is inflicted by thought, which gives it continuity. Identification gives it continuity. So kleśa is suffering, misery with the help of imagination due to fear, due to identification. Out of the physical pain and hurt, we create suffering—psychological suffering.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p.40

•Do you have a set sense of yourself? Has yoga affected that?
•Are there ways that you have created suffering? Has practice helped you change any such patterns?
•Pain is unavoidable. Has yoga affected how you relate to pain?
•What is the interplay–for you–between sensation of the body, mindfulness in the body, and psychological affliction?


feminine noun in compound

not-knowing (from a-, “not,” + vid, “to know, perceive”)


feminine noun in compound

“I-am-ness” (from asmi, “I am,” + – to form an abstract noun)


masculine noun in compound

desire, passion (from raj, “to be excited”)


masculine noun in compound

aversion, dislike, fear (from dviṣ, “to hate, dislike”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural

will to live, determination (abhi- , “towards,”+ ni, “continuance,” + viś, “to dwell”; literally, “towards continuing to dwell”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural

affliction (from kliś, “to trouble, harm, torment”)

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