Rev. Jaganath, Integral Yoga Minister and Raja Yoga master teacher, has spent a lifetime delving into the deepest layers of meaning in Patanjali’s words within the Yoga Sutras. Our series continues with another foundational sutra: 2.3. Here, Patanjali outlines the kleshas, the five causes of our human suffering according to classical Yoga philosophy. As Rev. Jaganath points out, there are very clear parallels in these teachings and Buddhism’s four Noble Truths.
Sutra 2.3: avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-abhiniveśā kleśa
Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles. (Swami Satchidananda translation). The root causes of suffering (klesas) are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to bodily life (Rev. Jaganath translation).
avidyā = ignorance; nonwisdom, delusion, unlearned, unwise, foolish, not educated, spiritual ignorance
from a = not + vid = to know, feel, experience, being, existing, obtaining, to declare to be, understand, seize, visit, discover, recognize
Avidya, ignorance, translates literally as not-knowing. While there is almost always a negative connotation associated with the word ignorance, regarding it as not-knowing reveals shades of meaning pertinent for the seeker:
- To be unaware of the spiritual nature of self, suffering, and the transcendent Self. In this case, these truths are not ignored, they are not known. You can’t consciously turn your back to something you don’t know exists.
- The truths are known but the individual is not inspired to engage them. There could be a lack of understanding of the importance or benefits of a spiritual lifestyle. Or the individual could be swayed by friends and family who disapprove or have little or no interest in spirituality.
- One might not be open to, or might actively oppose, principles of faith. In these cases, ignorance could stem from a past hurtful experience with a faith tradition or its followers, or misunderstanding the true meaning and depths of spiritual truths.
- Ignorance is also a sincere seeker who engages in a yogic lifestyle, but has not yet attained liberation. While progressing and gaining wisdom in many things, the seeker is ignorant of — has not yet known/experienced—Self-realization.
When a superior person hears of the Tao,
She diligently puts it into practice.
When an average person hears of the Tao,
she believes half of it, and doubts the other half.
When a foolish person hears of the Tao,
she laughs out loud at the very idea.
If she didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao .
—Tao Te Ching
Avidya is the ultimate cause of all suffering. It is not just any kind of not-knowing. In spiritual contexts, avidya refers to the continued, deeply ingrained misperception of one’s essential identity as the body/mind, instead of the Seer/Self.
The root, vid, suggests that ignorance is not a simple state of not knowing facts, but it is in some way, a state of not being engaged with life: avidya is not feeling, experiencing, discovering, or recognizing. Avidya is a passive state, a way of being that withdraws from the fullness of life.
Without proper moral, ethical, and mental training (i.e. introspection, contemplation, selfless service), the mind, out of fear and habit, not only retreats from truth and engages in distractions and denials, but misses the harmony and wonders of life and self.
In Buddhism, avidya is often equated with not being aware of the Four Noble Truths (suffering is inevitable, it is caused by selfish desire, the cause of suffering can be removed, and it is removed by following the Eightfold Path).
We can see the same essential teachings of the Four Noble Truths in Patanjali’s Sutras:
- 2.15 All life is suffering to those who have deeply investigated the truths of life
- 2.16 Suffering can be avoided
- 2.17 and 2.24 The cause of suffering is ignorance, or not discerning the difference between the Seer and seen.
- 2.26 Unwavering discriminative discernment removes ignorance
- 2.28 By practice of the limbs of Yoga, unwavering discriminative discernment can be cultivated
Buddhist teachings offer other wonderful insights into ignorance that are a perfect fit for yogis.
- The root of everything unwholesome
- The state of mind that does not correlate to reality
- The taking of the phenomenal world as the only reality
- The veil that obscures the true nature of the world and self and is responsible for constructing the illusory appearance of reality
asmitā = egoism; literally, I-am-ness, the fundamental sense of ‘I’ before it takes on identifications
from asmi = first person singular indicative of as (be) + ta = feminine suffix = meaning to have the quality of
There is often confusion between the terms asmita and ahamkara. Ahamkara, the I-maker, is not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, although it is considered to be one of the three aspects of the citta (mind stuff) along with manas and buddhi. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they can hold slightly different meanings. While asmita is the sense of individuality, ahamkara can be more specifically defined as the power of asmita to build self-identity. For example, ahamkara is the power that makes our identification with gender, occupation, intellect, body, etc. possible.
Ahamkara, the I-maker, creates the many versions and variations of our self-identity. It is our misidentification with the body/mind that makes asmita a klesha.
Asmita can also be a samadhi (see sutra 1.17) but, in this case, the ego is purified.
rāga = attachment; any feeling or passion, affection, love, or sympathy for, vehement desire, act of coloring or dyeing, color, hue, tint, red color, inflammation, delight in, loveliness, beauty
from ranj = reddened, be attracted
dveṣa = aversion; repulsion, hatred, dislike
from dviṣ = hate
abhiniveśā = clinging to bodily life; desire for continuity, application, intentness, study, affection, the determination to realize a purpose or attain an object, tenacity, adherence to
from abhi = to toward + ni = down, into + veśa, from viś = enter
kleśa = left untranslated; obstacles, pain, affliction, distress, pain from disease, anguish, wrath, anger, worldly occupation, care, trouble
Refer to 1.24 for more on klesa.
About the Author:
Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book, Patanjali’s Words, is coming soon from Integral Yoga Publications.