Category Archives: klesas

True or False? Something outside of me can make me unhappy


This is my grandpa, Henry.

This is my grandpa, Henry.

The kleśas are afflictions—things that cause us suffering. The five kleśas suggest that the root of our suffering is misperception. If we misperceive or understand something incorrectly, we take action based on this bad intel. When action is based on a kleśa or misperception, our action isn’t correct. This causes a lot of problems for ourselves.

Two of the kleśas I’d like to highlight today are raga and dveṣa. When raga is at work, I act from an incorrect belief that something outside of me can make me happy. Dveṣa is the belief that something outside of me can make me unhappy.

Take that in for a moment. The implications are huge.

Sure, our circumstances can cause us problems. There are some pretty horrible situations at work right now and it’s okay and very human to have emotional reactions to those things. But here’s the thing. Patañjali teaches that even when circumstances or experiences are very difficult, we don’t have to be happy or unhappy because of them. Our sense of peace or upset doesn’t depend on things going on around us. There’s something within us that can be steady, clear, and with peace all of the time. No matter what.

Even though I’m not in a constant state of equilibrium and peace, I have a lot of faith in the practice of yoga. So much of what’s presented in the yoga sūtras has been right on, describing my experiences and the growth I’ve had as a result of practice. So I’m holding on to this possibility, too. And I’m hopeful that as I continue to embrace this perspective I can be at peace even when I have to take action that’s difficult. I can be at peace even if I strongly disagree with someone’s ideas. I can be at peace and show up for my family, students, friends, community and country in that way. And this peace can spread.

RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

I'm now enjoying chai in the mornings...

I’m now enjoying chai in the mornings…

Coffee is one of my favorite things but when I drink it, over time it starts to have this cumulative effect of gradually increasing my anxiety. I’ve tried to will this side-effect away, to ignore it, or to pretend that it isn’t all that bad, but after a few months steady coffee intake, the anxiety reaches a point where I can no longer deny the problems it causes me and I resolve to quit. Again.

The kleśas are five ‘afflictions’ or ways that our perception can cause us problems. In a nutshell? We suffer because we don’t see things as they are but instead, misperceive. This isn’t ignorance. If I’m unsure what time the appointment is, then I’ll open up the calendar and see that it is scheduled for 10:00am. But if I know that the appointment is at 1:00, then I leave the house at 12:15 and drive to the office. I miss the appointment because of my avidyā, misperception. We knew incorrectly. Because we believe that the way we see it is the right way, we take action based on that misperception. This causes us all sorts of problems.

Patañjali describes particular ways in which we misperceive.

  • We misidentify, confusing what is happening in the mind.  We say, “I am angry.”  “I am sad” etc.  We think we are these emotions and if we act from this place, this is Asmitā.  It would be better expressed if we said, I feel angry or I feel sad, giving space to observe the experience rather than identify with it. (*Edited 8/28/16 see below)
  • We have a positive or pleasant experience and want to repeat that experience of pleasure so we go after it even if it may no longer be appropriate or helpful. I think of this as also misidentifying what it is that will be truly satisfying. Raga!!!!
  • We have an unpleasant or negative experience so we avoid the thing that we associate with the problem. Dveṣa
  • Fear makes us see things in ways that may not be accurate or correct. We all know that when we are afraid, many things can seem threatening or dangerous even when they may not be. Abhiniveśā.

Why do I struggle with coffee, so? .

Patañjali nails it with raga. When I’m out of balance, underslept, or over-committed, then the attraction to the morning bev can overwhelm the more practical voice in my head. “I waaaaant it” is the beginning of the story I start to tell myself. “I like it. I like the routine. I like the little jolt and I want to repeat it every morning of every day. Why not? My parents drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee. It’s for sale everywhere.“

This is how I’ve known it to start. It seems good at first, but inevitably, unpleasant effects show themselves. If we see a kleśa at the foundation of any action, Patañjali advises that we take action early when they are small. If we don’t, the suffering may eventually be great enough, and provides motivation to change.


** read more about the Kleśas in the second chapter of the yoga Sutras or join us NEXT WEEK in Ojai, CA for our women’s retreat and get in on some great discussions on how this applies to daily living.!

Edit 8/28/16: When I originally published this post, I confused asmita and moha YS.II.32 “We think we are “wife” or “mother” or “yoga teacher” but then something changes and that role is no more or needs to adapt in some way and this can be very painful.” This is moha.  Asmita is something that happens with how we are thinking… confusion in the mind with how we are perceiving. (see above)

Innocent misunderstandings still have consequences: YS 1.24


Please don't misunderstand my micro-expressions...

Please don’t misunderstand my micro-expressions…

This is blowing my mind this week.

In the first Chapter of the yoga sūtras (I.24), Patañjali describes this cycle. It’s one we all know well.

Kleśa – misperception

So, we are in a situation, and for some reason, we don’t see what’s happening clearly. Maybe we are in a bad mood or we spaced out for a second and were thinking about pizza instead of what our friend was telling us, or we got flooded with memories of the last time we were in these stupid circumstances, or we plainly misread the situation. The point is, there are lots of times when we misperceive what’s happening. We don’t even know we are doing it, and then based on that misperception, we take an…

Karma – action

Because we misread that tone of voice as angry instead of afraid, we respond with aggression instead of compassion. Or even though something isn’t right about that job, we take it anyway because it seems like we should. We do something based on the misperception and that give us a…

Vipāka – result

One of the things I tell my kids is, “there’s a consequence to every action you take.” You don’t clean your room, you lose tv privileges (parental consequence). When you choose to go outside without wearing a coat in the wintery morning, you’ll be cold (natural consequence). Some consequences or results aren’t so obvious at first, but they’ll show up in some way, eventually. And every result leaves an….

Āśaya – impression

Something remains with us. We have 2 glass walls in our shower and for the first 6 months that we lived in our house, I’d shower, leaving the water droplets clinging to the wall. Slowly, the gla  residue from our hard water would build up and the glass would get cloudy and ugly looking. And it was so hard to get off! It took one of those flat razor blades and chemicals and a lot of elbow grease to get is clear and shiny again. (Now I have a squeegee and it’s much easier to clean, but I have to take a minute at the end of every shower.)  Impressions and residue is part of this misperception-wrong action- result cycle. The things we experience leave something with us.

But this is only the first part of this sūtra. The second part is even more exiciting, if you can believe it. The second part says…

Aparāmṛśṭaḥ – unaffected (by kleśa karma vipāka āśahaiḥ)

The sūtra we are talking about here comes after I.23, in which Patañjali introduces an incredibly helpful thing we can have or cultivate along our yogic path: A belief in a higher power. This doesn’t have to be God, but it could be. Because yoga is experiential, it can be the force that jives with your way of thinking of the world – universal order, an inner wisdom, divine being. Something that helps you to see that you aren’t in charge of everything that happens in your life. I.24 sūtra describes Īśvara and says that this higher power is unaffected by this cycle of misperception.

Puruṣa – soul or person

Viśeṣa – special

Never misperceives? That is a special being or soul.

Īśvara – this is being described. This is the name Patañjali uses for higher power.

There’s a chain of events that’s set off when an action we take is based on a kleśa or misperception and the end result is a residue that’s left behind. That residue then influences how we perceive the next thing that comes along and if we’ve got too much buildup on our glass, then it’s harder to see the next situation clearly… or the next.

But there’s something that’s unaffected by this cycle and that has always had clear perception. Maybe it’s an inner voice or a special being or a system out there in the universe. And if we can find ways to link to this puruṣa-viśeṣa, then it will help us along the way. It can help us to have less of the misperceiving and more of the seeing clearly, so that the impressions that remain are of a different kind. A kinder kind.


Special thanks to Chase Bossart for teaching the sūtras in a way that continues to make them so very meaningful to me. I’m so grateful.