February 14, 2012

A Taste of the Yoga Sutras, Part 3. ~ Camella Nair

As part of her work connecting yoga and food, Camella Nair has created a 12 week course that pairs Patanjali’s yoga sutras with the everyday life activity of feeding the body. In this series for elephant journal, Camella provides readers with a short version of what she addresses more deeply in her course.

Lesson 3  2:3  Avidya-asmita-raga-dvesa-abhinivesah panca-klesah

The five obstacles are; forgetfulness, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to this physical body.

This sutra lists the 5 obstacles that get in the way of our enlightenment. They are known as the kleshas.

I think it is so important to remember what these 5 obstacles are, that I use my fingers like a child learning to count to remember them.  One finger for each klesha! Making pastry is a great way to literally play around with them and so remember them in a fun way.

In book one which is about Samadhi (a word which means a state of consciousness needing to be experienced to be known. A word that comes close perhaps is enlightenment), Patanjali lists the vrittis or fluctuations of the mind that are the result of not attenuating the kleshas.  One of the most famous lines is sutra 2, from the first book,”Yogas chitta vritti nirodaha”; Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”  The problem with looking at the five fluctuations that arise out of the five klesha’s is that the mind churns out many thoughts in quick succession, and so it can be terribly difficult to categorize our thoughts in a truthful way. Wrong perception is after all one of those fluctuations. Like most problems in life, we need to get to the root cause and step away from reactions that have heavy emotional self-interest.

According to Patanjali’s teaching, the first klesha or obstacle (forgetfulness) is the root of the remaining four; egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to this physical body. Understanding these obstacles of the mind and how and when they occur is a great place for us to start to make a huge shift in terms of our attitude to life. Avidya is translated by some as ignorance but has connotation that we are lacking in some knowledge which requires reading and study, or that we are not intelligent, and that is not the case. We have just forgotten our true nature which is;

  • sat    existence
  • chit   knowledge
  • ananda   bliss

These three components of our higher Nature add up to;

Wisdom  which is knowledge and experience that has been tempered with common sense, compassion and insight.

If learning is but a remembering, then finding a way to remember what the obstacles or kleshas are can be valuable in seeing where our problem stems from, and so, make improvements. We can also introduce a playful kriya or engaged conscious, volitional spiritual action in the kitchen as we prepare food to reinforce that. In the cooking part of the online course, I use pastry-making as a kriya in the kitchen because we use the fingers in an active and intentional way. Reinforcing the meaning of this sutra through making pastry consciously can be a meaningful sadhana. (Spiritual practice)

In astrology, the 5th house is related to creativity and many people do not think that they have a creative bone in their body, yet we are creating all of the time. We bring things into creation by the very thoughts that we think along with our words and actions. Many of the cosmological laws are in a series of 5;

  • 5 elements, 5 obstacles, 5 major chakras,5 fingers,5 sense organs, 5 body sheaths (koshas) for example.

If all things in nature are made up from the 5 elements, then to change something that is no longer serving us in our lives, we just have to reconfigure the elements on some level. Yoga is an alchemical science.

We could, as an example look at the above bulleted list and try to balance our asana practice energetically in such a way that positive change will occur in time.

Let’s take a popular pose like down dog and for each area we can have a mini inquiry such as;

  1. How is prana moving in this pose? Do I have some constriction somewhere that is not inviting air into the pose? Does the pose feel heavy? Is the breath moving like a river?
  2. Have I forgotten that I am always in a ‘pose’ because I inhabit a body? Is there ego to getting this body into a ‘yoga pose?’ Do I prefer certain poses and detest others?
  3. Which chakras are affected by this pose?
  4. Which finger is absent from connecting to the mat?(see below to find out which klesha this is)
  5. How is the physical body, energy body or mind reacting to the pose?

These are just a few areas you could look at applying self-study and discipline. We are trying to think outside our box of limited self- awareness because it gives us an opportunity to have a new thought and experience.We may even tap into the ‘cosmic mind’ and a solution to the problem we are facing may be known in an instant.

Our labeling of who and what we ‘are’ is so confining. For example;

A person may think “I can’t cook; I can’t do that etc….. and so they are closed off psychologically to the prospect of being able to change anything that may be destructive in their lives unintentionally.

Here is an exercise for a brave soul;

Ask your partner what klesha they see is the cause of your biggest obstacle?

Try not to argue the toss over this one but just take it on board and meditate on it a while, perhaps write something down and then work on eliminating that klesha. Set an intention to change and keep coming back to revisit any progress or problems you encounter. Kriya yoga is remember, self-discipline and self-study.

Another area we can take a look in a practical way and sort of digest this list of obstacles to enlightenment is to get in the kitchen and use the fingers such as with pastry making.

The 5 fingers are associated with a planet and also a klesha in the following manner;

Finger              planet/chakra                         klesha (obstacle to enlightenment)

Pinky                Mercury/throat                          forgetfulness (ether)

Ring                  Venus/heart                                attachment (air)

Middle               Saturn/root                                aversion(earth)

Index               Jupiter/sacral                              egoism(water)

Thumb             sun/third eye                              clinging to this physical body

The flour is earth, water we need to bind the pastry, air is added as we rub the fat into the flour, fire is applied as it is cooked, and the ether is the space between the apples and the pastry when making apple pie for example.

Interestingly the fire element is the external source and the fire element or mars chakra at the navel center is associated with the palm of the hand. This is used in the process of baking bread.

Suggestion; as you make some pastry think about how the obstacles of forgetfulness or ignorance and attachment, aversion and egoism relate to clinging to this physical body.

The thumb is the main digit in this pastry making process that is linked to the ‘clinging to this physical body’ klesha. Our attachment to it keeps us coming back life time after lifetime, whereupon we forget (Avidya) what the heck we have come back for (becoming more balanced and remembering our true nature).It leads to a never ending cycle of birth and death, and this is what the yogi is trying to get out of consciously with Self-awareness and Self-discipline (2:1)

The 5 kleshas are looked at even closer over the next few articles so don’t worry about remembering all of them from studying this sutra. Patanjali just introduces them here.


Prepared for elephant journal by Lorin Arnold

Camella Nair is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Yoga tradition and has been practicing yoga since she was 17. She has written two books on yoga as well as an online course on the yoga sutras which is part philosophy and part cooking (http://www.cookingtheyogasutras.com/). She lives with her two teenage sons in Northern California.

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