II.12 क्लेशमूलः कर्माशयो दृष्टादृष्टजन्मवेदनीयः

kleśa-mūlaḥ karmāśayo dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-janma-vedanīyaḥ
karma-āśayaḥ dṛṣṭa-adṛṣṭa-janma-vedanīyaḥ

“The root of the kleśas is the karma-reservoir. [Past experiences] will make themselves known in births, seen and unseen.”

In sūtra II.10, Patañjali stated that the kleśas are deep, embedded in our consciousness. Here he elaborates: they grow from the great reservoir of accumulated actions and events within us, the karma-āśayaḥ.

An āśayaḥ (from ā-, prefix that gives emphasis, + śī, “to lie down, to rest”) is a receptacle or vessel, a bed. It is used to refer to the seat of the thoughts and feelings. I translate it here as “reservoir” because of the liquid quality that suggests.

Karma is such a well-known concept in the present day that it seems almost unnecessary to describe it. From the verb kṛ, “to do,” its simplest meaning might be considered “doings.” It is what happens in life, what one does. It can also refer to the law of cause-and-effect, and it is this sense that is perhaps most widely used.

Sūtra II.12 asserts that the events that have happened to us and the actions we have taken will shape the afflictions we struggle with and will make themselves known going forward: dṛṣṭa-adṛṣṭa-janma, in births seen and unseen. In the Indian tradition, which espouses a principle of reincarnation, births would mean, literally, future lives. But the text can also be read to refer to the manifestations–the reappearance of tendencies–in one lifetime.

In this sense, Patañjali comes close to describing our modern idea of the unconscious. Most modern psychologists agree that the occurrences of our pasts–especially from childhood–do not just pass away. They make an imprint. Shape us. The unconscious–unseen and unrecognized–informs us. It makes itself known.

When I consider the unconscious and the power of the past, when I hear the teachings on past karma affecting me today, I wonder–what is my relationship to the past, and how does my yoga practice affect that? I would like to be free–can I leave the past behind? Bernard Bouanchaud writes, “The infinite chain of causality stops when we act in a way that is pure, thoughtful, and not engendered by suffering.” How does yoga break the “chain of causality”?

It is obvious to me that practice has brought my past to me more. Through yoga, buried sensations and feelings have arisen. Memories that seem to have been preserved in the very cells of the body have “made themselves known.” Awareness of my awareness has increased, and my respect for the fluidity, adaptability, capacity of citta has grown.

The formidable psychologist Alice Miller asserts that healing comes from hearing our own story. Indeed, according to her, we will re-create that story if we have not yet listened to it, if it is buried and out of reach. Here, she defends the practice of attending to the unconscious and argues that by learning its knowledge, we can heal:

It may still be decades or even centuries before humankind stops regarding the knowledge stored up in the unconscious as immaterial, as pathological fantasies of the insane or of eccentric poets, and comes to see it for what it really is: a perception of reality, stemming from the period of early childhood, which had to be relegated to the unconscious, where it becomes an inexhaustible source of artistic creativity, of the imagination per se, of fairy tales and dreams. –Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, p. 229

Yoga is attention. As Krishnamurti wrote: “Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence” (quoted by Rohit Mehta in The Science of Meditation).

When I have heard my story, I am calmed. A silence comes. A satisfaction. Citta is freed. This kind of attentiveness is an act of love. I love myself by being a witness to myself. This is transformative.

A person who has consciously worked through the whole tragedy of her own fate will recognize another’s suffering more clearly, though the other may be trying to hide it. She will not be scornful of others’ feelings, whatever their nature, because she takes her own feelings seriously and knows how to work with them.  She surely will not keep the vicious circle of contempt turning. –Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child, p.115

Experience has taught me that my own body is the source of all the vital information that has enabled me to achieve greater autonomy and self-confidence. Only when I allowed myself to feel the emotions pent up for so long inside me did I start extricating myself from my own past. Genuine feelings are never the product of conscious effort. They are quite simply there, and they are there for a very good reason. –Alice Miller, The Body Never Lies, p. 20


“‘What goes around comes around.’ Karma is the universal law of cause and effect; action and reaction. Actions and experiences are linked.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, p. 115

“When mental disturbances (kleśa) cause our actions they produce effects that themselves produce other effects. This mechanism is unavoidable, whether we are conscious of it or not and whether these effects are immediate or sometime in the future. A conditioned and historical way of reacting is handed down from generation to generation through atavism, heredity, and imitation. The infinite chain of causality stops when we act in a way that is pure, thoughtful, and not engendered by suffering.” —Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 89

• Has the practice of pratiprasava (sūtra II.10) revealed more to you about your past? What is an example of that?
• Has dhyāna (sūtra II.11) helped you change any habitual behaviors or thought patterns? Has it helped you sense, feel more?
• Bouanchaud mentions historical ways of acting handed down by generations (see excerpt above). Do you see yourself as undoing any such patterns in your behavior in the present?
• What do you consider a pure action?


masculine noun in compound

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


masculine noun, 1st case singular
root, source (from mūl, “to be rooted”)

neuter noun in compound

action, cause-and-effect (from kṛ, “to do”)

masculine noun, 1st case singular

receptacle, bed, resting place, reservoir (from ā-, prefix that gives emphasis, + śī, “to lie down, to rest”)

adjective in compound

seen (from dṛś, “to see”)


adjective in compound

unseen (from a-, “not,” + dṛś, “to see”)


neuter noun in compound

birth (from jan, “to give birth”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

to be known, experienced (from vid, “to know”)

One thought on “II.12 क्लेशमूलः कर्माशयो दृष्टादृष्टजन्मवेदनीयः

Leave a Reply