Does our suffering have any use to us? And where does suffering come from? According to the Raja Sutras, all of our suffering comes from five main sources. They are ignorance, pleasure, aversion, the ego, and the fear of death. When we begin to investigate these qualities in ourselves we can more clearly understand our path towards liberation.
During her international Satsang on Nov. 15, Swami Sitaramananda introduces the ancient teachings of Maharishi Patanjali to help us understand why we suffer.
The Five Kleshas
The concept today is about understanding the root causes of our suffering. When we understand this we can continue to invest the right amount of energy in the right place. Because when you know the root causes of your suffering you can begin to heal by cultivating an intelligent approach to your sadhana practices. These teachings come from Patanjali Maharishi, who wrote the Raja Yoga Sutras over 2000 years ago. Patanjali says there are five causes of suffering, and the misery that has not yet manifested should be avoided. If you have a certain cause of suffering and you carry on to do certain things out of ignorance, then you will suffer. The misery that has not yet manifested needs to be avoided. This means you need to go to the root cause of the suffering and do the right thing to avoid any future suffering.
The Sanskrit term kleshas means cause of affliction, or poisons. Klesha number one is avidya or spiritual ignorance. When you start on your spiritual journey in order to be enlightened, the more light you will have coming in your mind. And this will make you wiser. You’ll be able to go into the root cause of all suffering. Avidya is the main cause of suffering. The other four reasons come from Avidya. The second klesha is called asmita or egoism. With asmita you don’t know who you are. So you believe that you are this personality called the ego or the ahamkara.
The third Klesha is Raga. Raga is translated as attachment. Because of our attachments we suffer.
Number four, Dvesha means repulsion, and is the opposite of Raga. Raga means you attach to something you like, and Dvesha means you run away from something. So the two together, Raga and Dvesha means your likes and dislikes, your array of love and hate.
And the fifth klesha is called Abhinivesha which means your will to live, or in other words, your fear of death. These are the five main causes of suffering according to Patanjali. It’s important we understand them well.
Avidya is forgetting our true nature as the immortal, unchanging pure consciousness called the Atman. We make the mistake of taking the perishable, impure, external world and appearance for that which is real, true, permanent, and eternal. Avidya means not understanding our true nature as Sat-chit-ananda Atman. Instead, we mistake our body and mind to be ourselves. We do not know the difference between that which will bring pain, and that which will bring immortality. We are unaware of the truth, and that is called Avidya or ignorance. And this is the root cause of all the afflictions. So, if the root cause of all our afflictions is Avidya, the way to cure our afflictions is through self-knowledge.
We need to understand the teachings of Vedanta, which is a yoga philosophy that teaches us about the nature of the self. Vedanta teaches us about self-healing, self-realization, and the nature of liberation or enlightenment. When we suffer from our own negativity, we are suffering from our perceived imperfections in our mind. We may have low confidence, low self-esteem, insecurities, or anxiety. In this case we need to go to the root of the problem and ask ourselves the questions, ‘who am I?’ ‘Am I these impressions in my mind or my habitual thinking?’ ‘Am I my past?’ ‘Am I my pain?’ ‘Am I my past mistake?’ You need to ask these questions about your perceptions from the mind that perpetuate this false idea of yourself.
Detaching from the Body
The problem is we identify with the body and the mind. We believe that we are this body, and describe ourselves with terms like 30-years-old, male, female, pretty, or ugly. We think we are this vehicle. And this is the first mistake. The body and the mind is like a car, with the purpose being to experience life. The vehicle is a vehicle of self-knowledge. You are born in a body with a mind to experience the fruit results of your karma in order for you to wake up and learn the lesson of ‘who am I.’ So, the body and the mind are your vehicle.
It’s like you drive a car, and you say, ‘I’m a Honda. I’m Japanese. I’m 10 years old. I’m red from the outside. And I’m worth $10,000.’ You make the mistake of identifying with your vehicle. You use your vehicle to go from one place to another. This body and this mind are your vehicles in order for you to experience this life. You experience this life the best you can. The vehicle is very sharp and powerful and has lots of skills and equipment so that you can experience this life.
So you need to understand that you made a mistake. You need to detach from this false identification with the vehicle so you can recognize who you are. This body and mind vehicle that you are born into is there for you to wake up. For you to experience life and to know that it is not yourself, and to know that this experience is the condition of your thinking. You can change your thinking and you can progress to have a better idea of who you truly are.
In Vedanta, your true nature is known as sat-chit-ananda. It means who you are is more than this body. We come for a short time to experience something in this body, but your life is more than this body. You are unlimited. You come for a short time to explain something in this body. Sat-chit means you are immortal, it means you are your own knowledge, you are the source of all knowledge.
Ananda means bliss. That means the true nature of yourself is that bliss absolute. So this is something that we need to remember. Otherwise we experience objects of the senses and we believe that these objects can give us the happiness we want. But it’s impossible, you can possess all these objects you desire, but you will not be happy because they are just objects.
You are the power, you are the existence, and you are the truth. The problem is we constantly have an illusion projecting a different idea outside of us and we run after these illusions and think that we can get some happiness from them. This is Avidya or spiritual ignorance. We need to wake up from avidya and understand our body and mind are only our vehicles. In order to understand this, you need to have some level of detachment.
The body is ours only to be used by the mind. You have to know that the core of your consciousness is not your mind or body, but that you are the immortal spirit. This knowledge requires continual training of the mind to be a more detached person.
You have three bodies: the physical body, the astral body, and the causal body. The three bodies help us to understand ourselves properly.
The physical body is the envelope of food. What you eat becomes the body. In the astral body you have you have a layer called prana. Prana is your vital energy and your aura in the subtle body. Then you have the mind with emotions and a subconscious. And then you have your intellect and your ego. All this is in the astral body. And what this means is that the mind is a very subtle tool for you to experience life. And your mind experiences pleasure and pain. When you experience pleasure and pain, pleasure is limited and pain is limited. You have to know that there is something unlimited that is beyond the pleasure and pain.
You experience pleasure and you take that to be the truth, but when it ends you suffer. And when you suffer, you have to turn inward. Then you will find a place of peace, the unlimited peace that is within yourself. This is how you learn. Pain is also limited but the mind will swing between pain and pleasure. We’ll talk about this swinging nature later on.
The experience of pain and pleasure helps to guide you to the truth within yourself. You withdraw yourself and you recognize yourself, that’s the reason why you are equipped with the body and mind. Then you can recognize yourself, and that is called the process of waking up or self-realization. We need to cultivate this true knowledge by practicing self-remembrance. You forget yourself in the objects of the senses, and your mind says you are the ego but you need to detach and reflect on your true self. Remembering your true self happens when you do sadhana or your spiritual practice like yoga or meditation. These practices help you remember the truth of who you are.
We need to truly understand the cause of our problem. Usually when we have problems we always blame something external. You think if an object gives you happiness now, and it does not give you happiness later, something must be wrong with the object. But you don’t see that it’s your mind that projects an illusion upon the object expecting it to perform how you want it. The object will never behave exactly how you want. Permanent happiness is not possible from an object. You need to turn your attention inward to find the lasting happiness that is within you.
For example, you think that if the body is very pretty and youthful that it will give you happiness. Eventually the body will get old or an accident can happen. The body is relative. You try to make it perfect, but it can never be perfect. Some people spend so much time and money to make the body perfect. But the body is not new, it cannot be perfect. It changes every moment. You have to detach and use the body wisely. The true nature of the body is to grow, get old, and eventually self-destruct. You know that the nature of the body is to grow old, so don’t put all your energy in the body. Instead, put your energy in living your life meaningfully by doing your sadhana practice so you can recognize your mistake in thinking.
We function out of our mistaken identity. We cannot see beyond our thinking. It’s similar to thinking the sun does not exist when a cloud is blocking our view. If we only pay attention to the cloud, then we only see the external. We will only see the external appearance when we don’t do any kind of practice according to yoga or Vedanta.
Vedanta gives you a practice of meditation and self-inquiry. So even if the clouds are there and you don’t see the sun, you can know within that the sun is there. This is called self-remembrance. Even through the ups and downs in your life, when everything seems to be changing, you know that the sun is behind it all. The light is there behind your changing life. You have to remember the teachings and the words of the scripture. You have to hear the teachings from the guru again and again so that you keep a healthy idea of who you are. And you have to reflect. Nobody can reflect for you because people looking from the outside will just give you the false idea of who you are. Millions of dollars are spent for beauty supplies every year. You spend so much money to try to make yourself beautiful. All this spent on the body instead of spending money to go to a yoga class or go to yoga retreat. Go to a yoga retreat and I will talk to you about who you are.
So you have this false concept of who you are. People don’t like you. You feel lonely and you’re thinking ‘oh, because I’m not pretty enough, people don’t like me.’ And again you go to a beauty parlor to make yourself look nicer to create that aura of beauty, but inside you are empty. So when this happens you need to put more energy into the practices that make you feel full. When you feel complete, you feel you know who you are. You feel strong.
The outside is bound by nature. The body is bound by nature, it can regrow and change. When people buy a perfect apple for me, I refuse to eat it. Because in nature, there is no perfect apple. It’s perfect because it’s made naturally. But manmade perfection is different. People now do all kinds of things to fruit and food to make it perfect. But that perfection is artificial.
Seek the truth of perfection within you. Don’t try to have perfection outside. Nature is changing all the time. There are no two leaves that look the same. No day on earth will look the same. The sunlight from day to day will change. And no flower will ever be an exact replica of another flower. Similarly, no person looks exactly the same. Everything is changing. That is the true nature of the universe, the true nature of maya, and the nature of the world. So learn to accept your body for what it is – it’s a part of nature. And remember that at the core of yourself, there is an unchanging spirit. That unchanging consciousness that is creating this and is the source of everything.
Reflecting on the Scriptures
I cannot explain to you the true nature of the self in this short discussion. I teach all day long and there many different courses. Please, I encourage you to take a course if you’re serious about developing your knowledge and understanding. There’s no way I can explain the self in this short discussion. You need to make an effort for self-knowledge.
Number one, you have to listen to the Scripture. Then you have to think about yourself. The scriptures say the body is only your vehicle. So go around and think about this every day. Think to yourself, ‘in which way is my body a vehicle, I am not the body, so then who am I?’ You have to take the effort to think, because I cannot think for you. And then think deeply about the teaching of the truth in Scriptures. They say that you are the immortal spirit. You are the Satchidananda atman so think about it. Otherwise you buy a newspaper and you think all kinds of things that is not really the truth. So try to find self-knowledge in order for you to wake up from the ignorance. This is the first teaching.
Identifying with the Ego
The second lesson is when you don’t know who you are, so you start to believe what you are not to be. That is called egoism. You believe that your limited self is who you are. You think your body, mind, and personality is who you are. This is the second cause of suffering, the ego. The ego is called the self-arrogating principle of the mind.
In our mind, we have the ahamkara, that means you have to assert and affirm who you are in your mind in order for you to experience life well. You came here to experience life and to wake up and know that it is limited. It’s not the truth. Therefore the ego is a necessary instrument for your enlightenment and for waking up. Because if you don’t have the ego, you don’t have the personality. You may believe you’re Elizabeth Taylor or the queen or something. If you think like this you’ll never learn about yourself. You have to learn from your lessons. The lessons that come with your life, personality, and ego. But don’t think that the ego is yourself – this is the teaching.
You need to have the ego, so there’s nothing wrong with self-confidence and going through your life as an integrated personality experiencing your life. It’s good that you are clear in mind and you know your personal experience and what is wrong for you and what is good.
But egoism comes from the idea that you get attached to this idea of who you are. You become attached to this personality of who you are. The moment you get attached to it, then you cannot see who you are not. You are more unlimited, powerful, and complete than your personality, because the personality is limited. So that’s why you constantly feel incomplete, because you identify with your personality. And when you compare yourself to others you will feel incomplete.
So this is one of the causes of suffering, when you identify with your ego. And when you attach to your own way or your own desire, your own action will create pain because it’s not possible to get everything that you desire because its illusory, it comes from your mistaken identification of your limited self. And from there comes problems. The ego can bring a lot of negative emotions – the problem of selfishness, egoism, anxiety, pride, arrogance, using others, anger, jealousy. The ego brings a lot of problems if you believe the ego to be yourself. Thats why we say the second cause of suffering is the ego.
Know who you are, then the ego becomes small, then you will learn whatever lesson you need to learn. Don’t believe that you are this false ego which is your instrument only. When the ego becomes thinner and thinner, you know inside who you are. With the personality, you still have to function in this world, but you do not believe that it is yourself. So this is a very important lesson. You have to repeatedly ask yourself the question, ‘Who am I?’ And then you have to come to the better version of yourself – an ego that is more sattvic, is more open, has more compassion, and is more enlightened. You’re trying to get out of the tamasic ego. The rajasic ego always thinks, ‘mine mine mine.’ The rajasic ego always says, ‘me, mine, me, mine, look at me, look at me.’
So this is how suffering occurs. So if you can come to the sattvic ego it means you have a greater sense of self, but you are not denying the greater truth. And you are not asserting your difference with others. You assert your limited personality with others. You don’t assert this. You use this but you don’t assert this. This is not you.
So you are able to be flexible, to be adaptable, to be compassionate, and to understand more than what your ego can come up with. This is the second cause of suffering. We need to think a lot about this so you can wake up your own ego. So be humble. To work through your ego, you need to learn humility, flexibility, adaptability, and compassion.
The Swinging of the Mind
The third and fourth causes of suffering are to be understood together. Let’s call them raga and dvega. These are the likes and dislikes and the swinging of the mind. They cause the mind to swing from one side to another. The mind always has the tendency to swing to whatever it likes, and to run away from whatever it dislikes.
Why does the mind swing? If your mind is calm, then you’ll be able to see yourself. It’s like when a lake is calm, then you can see through the movement of the lake, and you can see your true reflection of yourself as beautiful. But why can’t you calm the mind? It’s always swinging and some people swing more than others. Some people are more calm than others, and some people just want to swing in opposite directions all the time. Because of the swinging you are not peaceful. Patanjali asked, ‘why does the mind swing? Why does the mind have this raga or attachment?’ Raga’s definition is an attraction in that which dwells on pleasure. That means that we had an experience of pleasure before, so we want to repeat this experience of pleasure, but pleasures are ending all the time because the true nature of pleasure is not to last forever. We have this experience in our mind of pleasure and we want to go back to this experience. We have these impulses within us of attraction, always learning and remembering this experience of pleasure and always wanting to repeat it. We become attracted like glue to this experience of pleasure.
Let’s say you have the experience of ice cream. Oh, so good! Right? So you want to repeat it. Every day you go around looking for some ice cream that will give you that experience of pleasure. So then the opposite happens – after three ice creams then you have stomach pain. Aversion means that which you don’t like. Aversion is that which attempts to avoid pain. After you experience pleasure from the ice cream, you will then experience pain. You may have diarrhea or stomach pain from the ice cream, and now you have an aversion of ice cream. The moment you hear the word ‘ice cream’ you run away. Why? Because you have the experience of pain in the past and you want to avoid pain.
So aversion, or dislikes, is made up of pain and things that cause discomfort. They don’t last, they’re precarious. You get attached to things that are precarious and when they change, then you have an experience of pain.
And then you dislike this thing that gives you pain. Some people have the experience of being hurt in a relationship and they decide to close off and they don’t want any relationship anymore. And they think that all men or all women give them pain, and they run away and become isolated. They’re the phenomena of people that become so hurt they become isolated. They don’t want to experience the pain anymore. They don’t want to experience anything anymore and they close off. They become depressed and they think they want to die like this in isolation and depression.
You have to know the right way of dealing with the ups and downs of attraction and repulsion. The mind always going towards what it likes, and running away from dislikes. So, you have to know why is it like this? It’s because of ignorance. You cannot see yourself and only see objects, and objects are limited in nature. The senses are always looking for objects. When the senses are glued to the object then you have the experience of calmness, you have the experience of the mind stopping its swinging. The mind stops swinging because the senses are glued to the object. At that time you have the experience of happiness that comes from within. When your mind stops for a moment, then you feel the experience of bliss. But then you wrongly attribute your happiness to the possession of the object. The object doesn’t give you happiness.
It is bliss absolute, the truth within that gives you happiness when the mind stops moving. But then the mind will move to the opposite direction. And this move to the opposite is painful. So once again, you’ll fall into the trap of believing that the object gives you pain.
You are all the time looking for the bliss absolute within you, because we are all the time looking for ourselves. We are all the time looking for ourselves, but we wrongly attribute the happiness or the unhappiness with the objects. We attribute happiness to the object, or pain to the object. But we do not recognize this because we are moving in the external, sensual world of objects, and seeking for happiness in that world of objects is impossible. You have to turn your gaze inward through yoga and meditation. The teachings can guide you to limit the effects of raga and dvesha. They can help you to stop running away from pain and to stop chasing happiness in objects. The answer is to withdraw. Don’t blame the external objects. They are whatever they are. If you want to go deep into the cause of the suffering created by your constantly swinging mind then you need to withdraw your mind and turn inward. Don’t spend all your life blaming. People spend all their life blaming something that creates pain to them.
Don’t spend all your life running towards something better and better. These are illusions. The more that you chase after the next best thing, the more you’ll continue to find yourself seeking happiness externally. You don’t need to have 100,000 experiences of pleasure, or 100,000 experiences of pain in order for you to realize that it’s possible to find peace. So turn within and understand the cause of the suffering. Try to calm your mind from all these illusions of happiness and pain. Try to find yourself. Turn within and you will find yourself.
Freeing Yourself from Attachments
Sometimes you dislike these yoga techniques because they’ve made you turn within and you realize you’re always running externally, trying to find happiness in the external world. So you dislike the yoga techniques, you dislike withdrawing of the senses, you dislike asana, pranayama, meditation, repeating a mantra, you dislike these things, or you can try a little but you never go deeper. So therefore, you never go to the other side which is a place of peace within you. You keep falling into the illusion of the central objects that gave you happiness or pain. So you are attached.
Attachment is a big problem in life. We are attached to our emotions, we are attached to our passions, we want to reproduce so we attach to our to action, to work, we are attached to the ego, we are attached to things or situations and thinking that they will last forever. We attach to the object of our senses. The nature of our mind is attachment. So, you need to contemplate on the nature of our attachment and know that it is not the way to happiness.
We are attached to relationships. We are attached to what we dislike. And continue disliking it, because we are attached to this feeling. We are attached to our misery. Even when the memory and misery is felt, you are still attached to it. You are attached to the idea of being a victim. You are lost in the attachment basically, attachment is the description of your life. So you need to learn to detach. In karma yoga, you do the action and let go of the result. We can detach from emotions too. Love but don’t be attached. The detachment that you learn in meditation leads you to let go of the thoughts. When you sit in meditation, you have to learn to withdraw and detach and let go of these thoughts so you can go straight into the experience of something beyond the mind. In Jnana yoga, you detach by asking yourself if this is real or illusory, and then you try to stay away from that which is changing.
So remember the five main causes of suffering. The first is ignorance, the second is ego, the third is attachment, and the fourth is running away. Remember, running toward and running away, these are the swinging’s of the mind. And the fifth cause of suffering is called fear of death.
Connect to yourself and feel alive
Patanjali goes quite deep and says the cause of suffering is life itself. Fear of death means your attachment to this life. And you’re afraid of something you don’t know. You are afraid of the unknown. You believe this life in this body to be the only life. So you are afraid of death. This is a common fear. We are quite afraid of death, because we are very attached to life in the body and our personality. Because we think that if we die then our whole self is gone. We fear the ‘I’ or our personality will disappear.
So you see this is the root cause a lot of wrong thinking. We need to learn by reading the scripture and thinking through meditation and yoga. Eventually, you will have the direct experience that you are more than the physical body. I remember my first experience of meditation. It was not a long time ago, about 40 years ago. I was meditating for the first or second time, and I came out of the meditation and I said ‘I’m not afraid of death.’ Why? Because then you have the true experience that you are existing and something is very vibrant and alive inside of you. And you come back to this physical reality and you know that you experienced something better not worse. You see, people are afraid of death because they think that it will eliminate what they have. That is why they are attached to it. And this attachment will turn them to the place of nothingness.
So they are very afraid of it, but you have to contemplate on that. The subtle is not worse than the gross. You live in the gross manifestation of body and mind and your sense of self that is limited. But if you go to the subtle and you experience your consciousness, you’ll find its more expanded and enriching. And it’s in that space where you feel very good. Then you come back to the gross and you accept that you still have to live in the material world because that’s why you are born, but at the same time you’re not afraid of death anymore. People that experience a near-death experience die and come back unafraid of death. They become huge, dutiful, and good people because they have a greater perspective of who they are.
So Swami Vishnu said if you live this life but don’t recognize your true nature, then that is called death. And some people are like this. They live this life in this body and mind, but they don’t know who they are. They’re so disconnected from themselves. They’re so depressed, so it’s like death. It’s not better you live life attached to the body and the mind. If you live like this, you have no connection with your soul. So you’re like death. You have no feeling or inspiration. People that understand the spirit know they are alive, and they are life. So the definition of life and death is that if you are getting connected to yourself, and if you are in connection with yourself, then you are alive.
When you’re not in connection with yourself then you are dead. Then you will you start to become depressed. Depression is like that, they want to die. And some people are suicidal. Some people want to die because they want to escape. They want to escape the fact that they are not feeling alive. Instead of feeling the need to terminate your life out of ignorance, they need to take more time to be more serious with sadhana practice. So you have to be very serious with your practice. If you don’t feel good, you do a set of asana. That is a proper way to feel better. Then you feel alive right away. You’re connecting with yourself right away. So then if you feel your emotions go up and down, you go do a set of pranayama. If you calm your mind and emotions down you feel alive right away. So life always is a truth. Life is your life. Life is eternal.
But because you identify with the veils, you think that you are not alive. But life is there, life is beautiful. Life is alive. So try to be alive. But don’t identify with the body, because the more you identify with the body the more you will want physical immortality, and the more you’re dead. Can you find immortality in the body? No, it’s impossible. The body is born. It’s an instrument only. It’s not meant to last forever. You lasts forever. You are the owner of the vehicle. You are the boss of the vehicle. You are the boss of your life. You are immortal. But the body is not. Your instrument is not meant to last forever.
Ponder the five causes of suffering so you’re not in the illusion of happiness when you are not truly happy, when you don’t know what true happiness is. You are not buying into the idea of who I am, when you don’t know who you are. You’re not buying into the idea of this thing. You may think, ‘is this object likeable? I hate this person.’ And you’re not buying into this idea that this person is the source of my happiness, you’re not attaching to a person. Anything external you are not buying into because you go inward, and you become more detached to whatever is around you. And then you find something that shows more truth.
Letting go of attachments to objects doesn’t mean abandoning a relationship, or losing the object, or feeling insecure. This is wrong thinking. If you have a bigger picture of who you are, and you understand that you are with the person in order for you to learn a lesson about who you are, then you will cherish the person even more. You’ll be able to love this person even more because a person is your own self. You have to see that love is not attachment.
And remember, the self is not the ego. So please do contemplate on the nature of your suffering. Stop the blaming, stop being the victim, because you cannot be a victim forever. If a mistake has happened, or somebody did something wrong to you, you need to let it go. If you’re a victim forever, then you’ll lose your life. Your life is for you to experience. You can learn from this negative experience. There’s something you need to learn from it, that’s why it happened to you. It’s no accident. So don’t blame but look inside and learn your lesson. Don’t play the victim, and become the master of your life and come out free. All of Vedanta’s teachings are for you to come out free. You’ll come out strong, with a perspective of right thinking about yourself and about your life.
Swami Sitaramananda leads an International Satsang every Wednesday at 3 pm (PST). During the Satsang we will meditate, chant, and listen to Swami Sita speak on a new topic each week. Join the mailing list to get updates on the international satsangs.