Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
The human body has limitations. The human spirit is boundless.
- Dean Karnazes
This blog post is part of our Yoga Sutras series.
Want to start at the beginning?
Yoga Sutra 2.3
There are five causes of suffering: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and fear of death
In book two, Patanjali dives into the practical steps of yoga headfirst.
The first sutra in this pada (or chapter) tells us that there are three practices that constitute what BKS Iyengar defines as the “yoga of action” or kriya yoga. Yoga Sutra 2.1 says that kriya yoga is composed of discipline, self-study and surrender.
Practicing kriya yoga will diminish “mental turmoil” (Shoshoni, 18) and bring one closer to enlightenment, according to Yoga Sutra 2.2.
The third sutra in this pada might seem kind of heavy. 2.3 lists the five causes of suffering (kleshas) and Patanjali goes into depth about each one from 2.5 - 2.9.
Yoga Sutra 2.4 tells us that the first klesha, ignorance, is the “fertile soil” (Stiles, 17) for the others. All other suffering and turmoil originates from a “lack of true knowledge.” (Iyengar, 112)
This sutra also reminds us that there are multiple levels of development on the path of yoga and as humans, kleshas affect us all. Just because a person has been practicing yoga for decades doesn’t mean they don’t experience suffering from time to time. Sutra 2.4 promises that over time, our suffering can be diminished by wholehearted, consistent kriya yoga practice, which develops understanding.
Patanjali grades our experience of the five kleshas into four intensities, “dormant, feeble, intermittent or fully operative.” (Stiles, 18)
The five kleshas are:
Avidya (Ignorance) Yoga Sutra 2.5 - just as our vision of the outer world can be mistaken and we see things unclearly (e.g. putting mismatching socks on by mistake in the dark), so we can also mistake things we see in ourselves internally because our vision is dimmed or clouded. In fact, a- is a prefix to denote the negative and vidya means vision. So avidya literally means lack of vision or not being able to see the truth. 2.5 specifically tells us that avidya is mistaking the ephemeral for the eternal, the impure for the pure and suffering for ease. (Stiles, 80) Until a person has lifted this veil over their vidya, or inner vision, they will continue to suffer from all the kleshas.
Asmita (Egoism) Yoga Sutra 2.6 - egoism (not egotism) is “enmeshing” (Stiles, 18) our mind or consciousness - in other words, our “small self” - with the larger, universal “Self”. Iyengar calls this “identifying the instruments of cognition… with the pure seer.” This is our “conception of individuality.” (115) Iyengar draws a distinction between the seer (atma) and the instruments of perception (buddhi). When they work together, there is harmony but if the instruments of perception identify themselves with the seer, there is asmita.
Ragah (Attachment) Yoga Sutra 2.7 - attachment means clinging to pleasure. Ragah is an easy klesha to spot for many people. When we experience pleasure, we can choose to either enjoy the moment and let it go or feel attached, nostalgic, anxious about losing something or the moment ending, etc. When we get attached to the experiences we enjoy, we experience suffering when they inevitably end.
Dvesah (Aversion) Yoga Sutra 2.8 - conversely, aversion means avoiding pain. As we will see next month, we cannot avoid feeling pain in life. All beings experience pain. However, we can choose whether or not we suffer while we are in pain. When we avoid and ignore the lessons pain brings, we are destined to repeat those same lessons over and over. There is great freedom in not having to “live at the mercy of… pleasure [and] pain.” (Iyengar, 116)
Abhinivesah (Fear of Death) Yoga Sutra 2.9 - this klesha is a bit more complicated and the subtlest of all. Patanjali admits that this klesha is rooted “even in the wise.” (Stiles, 18) In fact, fear of death is too simplistic to describe abhinivesah. Abhinisvesah is literally translated into “moving toward liking life” (Stiles, 81). This is an intrinsic, instinctual force that might be called the survival instinct. Patanjali calls this svarasavahi, which Iyengar defines as “current of love of life.” Iyengar says that the klesha “abhinivesah is an instinctive defect which can be transformed into intuitive knowledge and insight by practicing yoga.” (116) So although this klesha in particular seems unresolvable, there is actually hope because there is a method to overcome one’s clinging to life.
Patanjali indicates in Yoga Sutra 2.10 that these kleshas are to be resolved through a process of “reverse procreation” (Stiles, 81) by which they gradually shrink until they are “minimized and eradicated.” (Iyengar, 117) Iyengar also gives us a tip on how to eradicate any klesha, which is to render it “sterile by tracing it back to its source.” (118)
This is the self-study (svadhyaya) aspect of kriya yoga that Patanjali mentions in 2.1. Where does this klesha come from?
While it can feel scary to confront these afflictions within ourselves and resolve them, we must remember that we are actually boundless. The revolution we undergo within ourselves through our afflictions leads us to the state of boundlessness. This state of boundlessness is truly our birthright.
That is the surrender (isvara pranidhana) Patanjali mentions as the third aspect of kriya yoga in Sutra 2.1. To accept ourselves as unlimited means to let go of our humble concept of self.
The first part of Book Two is about the common difficulties we encounter as human beings - pain and suffering - and how to accept and move through them. The second half of Book Two lays out the great eight-limbed path of Raja (Royal) Yoga, also called Ashtanga Yoga. Raja Yoga is an immensely practical and effective set of steps a yoga practitioner can take to overcome our common difficulties.
Stick with us in 2024 to learn the step-by-step basics of yoga and its time-tested method for overcoming suffering.
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Is it easy for you to see yourself as unlimited and boundless? Are you still confused about the difference between the small self and the universal Self?
Do the experiences of attachment and aversion resonate with you? In what ways?
What would it feel like to not be afraid of death anymore? Do you think you might feel less fear of change in general?
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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