Vidya Jacqueline Heisel considers the obstacles to enlightenment as outlined in the Yoga Sutras,one of yoga’s greatest classical texts
As well as compiling the Eight Limbed Path of Yoga – the journey to help us awaken – in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali also makes us aware of the five main obstacles on the path, known as Kleshas in Sanskrit.
Avidya is the main culprit, from which all of the other kleshas are generated. In yoga, ignorance is considered to be a lack of knowledge of the true nature of things. We can only be ignorant until the knowledge of who we really are is imparted to us. Once we have heard the truth, we no longer have an excuse to act out of ignorance. Until then, ignorance is just a condition, not a fault. However, once we have heard the truth – and studying the Yoga Sutras is undoubtedly one way in which the truth can be revealed to us – if we do not live from that knowledge, we are stealing from ourselves, meaning that we are knowingly not living up to our highest truth, which ultimately will create samskaras, or mental impressions, which can influence our future actions negatively.
The wisdom or knowledge (vidya) that is revealed in the first few verses of the Yoga Sutras is that we are wrongly identified with a separate sense of self (the ‘me’ or ‘I’ that we take ourselves to be) and that who we are, in reality, is divine consciousness or the Seer itself (Sutra 1:3 Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam).
Fundamental ignorance of who we really are gives birth to Asmita or ego. The ego is a false persona that we have strongly identified with. It is made up of memories, conditionings, concepts, ideas, neurosis, fears and desires. It is always very limited and contracted. It is never a positive thing. The ego leads to all manner of selfishness and destructiveness. It wants to defend itself, protect its perceived territory, and it always wants to be right. Everything that is wrong with the world arises out of ego. The ego is fuelled by fear and desire, the next two kleshas.
Raga, Attractionand Dwesha, Aversion
These two kleshas can be seen as two sides of one coin. Sometimes we may feel indifferent towards other people and events, but more commonly we have emotional reactions to things. Raga is being attracted to, deriving pleasure from, and desiring more of a certain person, thing or event. On the other hand, dwesha is the experience of dislike, repulsion, and a desire to avoid a person or an event. Either way we are trapped, as we bounce between these two opposing emotions, either craving things or trying to push them away. Human beings, understandably, constantly seek pleasure and try to avoid pain. However, when we do this, we are basing our happiness on external events. This is a recipe for unhappiness, since we have no ultimate control over external events.
So if we are truly practicing yoga, we come to understand the futility of raga and dwesha; that they only bring about suffering, as we get caught up in the resulting emotional roller coaster. Instead, we can choose to wisely step back and become the witness, watching our desires and aversions arise and fall away, and not allowing ourselves to be caught up in them. In time, everything arises and everything falls away. The wise man knows this and lives his life accordingly.
Abhinivesha, ClingingTo Bodily Life
We cling to life because of ignorance and a strong identification with, and attachment to, the ego or separate sense of self. We think we are this body, that was born and will die, and we fear that who we are will disappear with it. In yoga it is known that who we truly are was never born and cannot die, because we are the eternal, changeless self. Once we know this and identify only with our essence or true self, we will no longer fear death. We understand that although the physical body will perish, our spirit or soul is eternal.
Vidya Jacqueline Heisel is the director of Frog Lotus Yoga International Yoga Teacher Training Programmes (FrogLotusYogaInternational.com) and director of Suryalila Retreat Centre in Andalusia, Spain (Suryalila.com)