Kleshas – Avidya Dances with Maya

Yoga Philosophy talks much about Kleshas, or things on the yogic path that can lead us astray.  Like all moments presented to us in life, the kleshas can also help point the way back home to our divine self.

The Kleshas are described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras as afflictions on the path to enlightenment.  As we are able to identify these afflictions, or games our minds play, we are able to overcome them and move forward freer, lighter, and with a stronger connection to truth.

There are five
primal causes of suffering:
of your true Self
and the value of Spirituality;
and its self-centeredness;
to pleasure;
to pain;
and clinging to life
out of fear of death.

Yoga Sutras 11,3

The kleshas can be used as a framework to view all causes for suffering and stress, as seen in the chart below.

Photo Courtesy of Integrative Yoga Therapy
Photo Courtesy of Integrative Yoga Therapy

I’ve recently found myself on the other end of somebody else’s klesha, which provides it’s own reflections in how the kleshas are interfering with clear vision.  Given that we are each mirrors of that which is within our own hearts, moments of strong emotional responses often provide the clearest (and most difficult) lessons of what we are struggling with.  My struggle has been fighting another’s Maya, or illusion.  Maya is used in Hindu, Buddhist, and Yoga philosophy to describe the illusion that can sit between our perception and reality of the eternal truth that is, was, and will ever be.  Maya exists that we might overcome the illusion, and we are given opportunities through our experiences, interactions with others, and self-study to see through persistent illusions and root out truth.


But when you are dealing with a person who cannot see the you in front of them for the expectation and illusion they have in their own veil of Maya, what to do?  This is a situation that has been present in my world for some weeks now.  My first response was to speak my truth, again and again and again.  When I realized that was not working, I enlisted help of those around me to help verify that truth.  When I realized the veil of Maya was too thick for this person to see through, I had to remove myself from an unhealthy situation.

In these moments, it is important to remember that we do not get to choose the veils through which others see us.  These veils are woven of a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, expectations, and disappointments, and it is impossible to know what past event is being replayed when a person reacts to our truth in an inexplicable manner.  I find it helpful to remind myself why I am where I am in these moments, and to remind myself that I can choose only my actions and beliefs, not those of the people around me.

Maya is closely tied with Avidya, the ignorance that leads to pain and suffering.  When we lose track of the fact that we are all connected by an inner divine light, when we begin looking at each other as enemies instead of pieces of one beautiful whole, how can we not suffer for the delusion?

The shadow work I keep returning to is also a study of my kleshas and a study of my samskara, the behaviors and patterns I naturally fall into.  None of us lives in a vacuum with no interactions with others.  The people we encounter will continue to provide the most clear reflection of where we are and where we wish to be.  Today I am grateful for the reflection which was held up in front of me.  I learned that my focus has been distracted away from what is good and true in this world.  Even though I gave up attachments to the material when I gifted my belongings and moved to Central America, I was still exhibiting an unhealthy attachment and valuation of the material.  Even though I’ve been surrounded by people with good and open hearts, I was not trusting enough in the innate goodness of those around.  This truth has been shined back into my eyes now, and I will work to maintain an awareness of it as I move forward in my practice of yoga and meditation.

Links to Other Klesha Posts:

Abhinivesha Klesha: Clinging to Life

Raga: The Klesha of Pleasure

Dvesha: The Klesha of Aversion

Asmita: The Klesha of Ego

5 thoughts on “Kleshas – Avidya Dances with Maya

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