The Five Sources of Pain, Part 3: Approaching the Kleshas

The obstacles on the spiritual path are obstacles in all areas of life. We call them the sources of pain and suffering not just for Yogis and mystics but for every person. Yoga tends to place them front and center, however, so the Yogi needs to have a solid understanding of the Kleshas going in or risk being blindsided. Similarly, the practice of magic seems to exaggerate the role of the Kleshas in the magician. Any involvement in spiritual or occult study and practice therefore benefits from a practical understanding of these knots within us.

My last article, which may have struck some of you as unrelated to the series as a whole, concerned the elements and some of their major relationships with one another. This addendum was necessary to ensure that we have a shared vocabulary for the present discussion: how can we usefully deal with the presence of the Kleshas in ourselves?

The first step is to figure out which Kleshas present the most direct difficulty for you. Forewarned is forearmed. If you have gone through any sort of elemental inventory — such as that found in Franz Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics or its like — you will have an immediate sense of where the sources of pain fit into your own life. Similarly, the prominence of the planets and signs in your natal chart can give you a working map of your inner territory. Excesses and gaps of elemental forces discovered in this way show precisely which Kleshas will be the most immediate and extreme obstacles for you.

While the Kleshas are not precisely elemental, there is a close enough correspondence that the elements can serve as both a map and a point of contact. For starters, compare the pentagram in the elements article with that in the first post of this series. You will see there a correspondence, thus:

  • Space to Ignorance;
  • Wind to Attachment;
  • Fire to Ego;
  • Water to Clinging to Life;
  • Earth to Repulsion.

Much as space among the elements, Ignorance is the root and context for the other four; in a real sense, it is the Klesha, the other four being more particular forms of it. Attachment is the first outward movement of Ignorance as the awareness identifies itself with external objects. This identification gives rise to Ego as a limited sense of self is built up from bits and pieces of the world; this colors the light of awareness and generates a worldview, however complex or rudimentary. Ego begins to experience fear of its own dissolution which results in Clinging to Life. Clinging to Life results in an instinct of Repulsion against that which appears to be a threat to the Ego-identity. Repulsion supports Ignorance by keeping at bay any and all experiences which could serve to adjust, modify, or throw out what one thinks one knows.

So much for the relationships mapped onto the pentagram. The cycle of feeding — the circle around the pentagram — also exists among the Kleshas. Ignorance feeds the Ego by blanketing the soul’s own self-knowledge, necessitating a hasty reconstruction of its own identity out of whatever parts happen to be within reach. Ego feeds Repulsion by giving that instinct something to protect; if Ego is the keep, Repulsion is the fortress wall around it. Repulsion feeds Attachment by demanding a constant stream of identifiable externals to fill the gaps left by everything the wall keeps out. Attachment feeds Clinging to Life in that the more externals with which we identify, the more we fear death which separates us from them. Finally, Clinging to Life feeds Ignorance by keeping us from examining anything which we feel to be threatening.

As with the elements, reversing these relationships shows us a route to starve or dissolve the relevant Kleshas. This is not as straightforward a task as it may at first seem, but it does give us a place to begin. Any effort toward what Franz Bardon calls Elemental Equilibrium is a help in reducing the severity of the Kleshas as a whole. This is a positive insofar as it makes daily life smoother and has positive effects on one’s magical practices, but it does nothing toward the end of dissolving the obstacles altogether — one way of defining the goal of Yoga.

Meditation is the single greatest tool in dealing with the Kleshas. Silent meditation, zazen, mantra japa, and so on, all work toward the goal of dissolution. However, more focused ritual practices and discursive meditation approaches can speed the process up significantly. The next article in this series will explore a couple of these methods in detail. For now, though, I leave you with a simple puja — literally “veneration”, “honor”, or “worship” — of the Lord who overcomes obstacles, Ganapati.

You will need:

  • An image of Ganapati;
  • A small bell;
  • A candle or oil lamp;
  • A vessel of fresh water;
  • A sweet-smelling natural incense (sticks and cones are fine);
  • Fruit, candy, or sweet pastries;
  • Fresh flowers (optional).

Establish for yourself a small altar to Ganapati. If you already have a working space, you may simply set up an image of him there, whether a framed picture or a small statue as befits your space. It is perfectly acceptable to (respectfully) put this image away when not in use, though you may very well find that as you build a relationship with Ganapati you wish to keep his image in a place of prominence: on your altar, in your living room, facing your front door, etc. A pentagram may also be placed near or on the Ganapati image or worn on your person during the practice as a reminder of the Kleshas and the awareness which burns them away.

Give three sharp sounds from the bell, then let it fade completely away before putting the bell back on your altar. Know that you are offering space.

Dedicate the candle (white, orange, red, or yellow) or oil lamp (especially if it burns ghee) to Ganapati. Light it. If you can do so safely, hold it up before the image of Ganapati and make clockwise circles with it between yourself and the image while chanting the mantra Om Gaṁ Ganapataye Namah.* Know that you are offering fire.

Set the light back on the altar. Use its flame to ignite your incense, then repeat the procedure with the smoking incense. Know that you are offering air.

Offer the water in a similar fashion, making clockwise circles with the cup before Ganapati while chanting the mantra. Know that you are offering water.

Finally, offer the food in the same way. Know that you are offering earth.

Sit, with your eyes open and unfocused or closed and relaxed, and continue to chant the Ganapati mantra for as long as you feel inclined. I recommend a minimum of nine repetitions on days when you do not have much time.

As the sound of your final pronunciation of the mantra fades, lapse for a time into silent meditation. You may transition to any form of meditation you usually practice, or else just sit in abidance for an amount of time that feels appropriate.

When finished, extinguish the flame by snuffing or pinching it out. You may drink the water yourself as a blessing; if you do not, pour it out respectfully. Let the food remain (covered or uncovered, as appropriate to the type of food) over night and eat it or distribute it to others the next day as a sacrament. Let the incense burn itself out.

I suggest performing this puja more than once. If possible, make it a daily habit for at least 40 days. Otherwise, it makes a wonderful weekly practice, especially on Wednesdays, monthly on the 4th lunar day (New Moon being day 1), or irregularly just before significant magical or yogic practices are begun.

*Pronounced more or less as “Om Gung Guh-nuh-puh-tuh-YAY Nuh-muh-huh”.

The Elements: Addendum to The Five Sources of Pain

pentagram displaying the generative and supporting cycles of the five elements

Generative and supporting cycles of the five elements

Last time, I went into a good deal of depth in defining each of the sources of pain and how they can manifest. If you haven’t read the first two pieces in this series, I suggest that you do so, though the contents of this post can stand alone.

I imagine that everyone reading this is already familiar with the idea of the classical elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Some in the West add a fifth called by various names and conceptualized quite differently depending on your source; it may be called ether, spirit, mind, quintessence, azoth, prima materia, or any number of other things, but there is generally at least an assumption of a fifth element which somehow transcends and unites the classical four. These five are then mapped onto a pentagram. There are a number of ways to do this, as well, but the better ones place emphasis on how the elements relate to one another when doing so. The Indian system of elements which I prefer to use is very much the same.

Referring to the diagram above, if you are familiar with popular forms of Western occultism you may immediately notice the difference in elemental attributions on the points of the pentagram. Clockwise from the top, they are: space, fire, earth, air, water. (For reference, the common Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn attribution would go clockwise: spirit, water, fire, earth, air.) The lines of the pentagram represent one of the major relationships between the elements, and the circle commonly inscribed around the points of the pentagram shows the other. More on this as we progress.

Before we enter into the elements individually, we must have an answer to the question: What are the elements really? From the perspective of physics and chemistry, they are not atoms in the modern sense because we have a reasonably long catalog of those, far more than four or five, and the modern atoms are divisible (making them, by definition, not atoms). According to some Indian sources, the elements are indeed atoms — properly indivisible — much subtler than our instruments are capable of detecting, possibly subtler than physical instruments are in principle capable of detecting, but responsible for all physical manifestation.

A phenomenological approach prefers to say that they are the atoms of experience, neither fully material nor fully mental but somehow bridging the two realms. This is the Yogic perspective which sees the elements as real forces which are themselves purely subjective but without which the whole category of “object” (in the sense of that which is observed or experienced by a subject) could not exist. These elements are known in Sanskrit as mahābhutas — literally “great existences” or even “big ghosts”. This hints at their quasi-material nature while also underlining their significance in human experience.

Even more subtle than the mahābhutas, however, are the tanmātras. There isn’t room here for a full exploration of those, but as it is necessary to mention them individually as part of the discussion of elements it’s worth defining them for those not familiar with Indian philosophy. “Tanmātra” is often translated as “subtle element” but may also be rendered “trifle”, “essence”, or “potential”. While the elements are atomic in a physical sense, it is possible to divide them further into the sensory data they encode: these sensory data are the tanmātras. As matter becomes more and more subtle, fewer and fewer senses are capable of giving us an apprehension of it. For Yogis and magicians, this includes the so-called astral or psychic senses as well. For example, earth is detectable with all five senses while water is too subtle to be smelled, and fire cannot even be tasted but may still be felt, seen, and heard. The tanmātras are therefore the purely subjective interiority of the mahābhutas.

Space (ākāśa) is the origin, ground, and contextual matrix of the other four elements. It is both the void in which everything takes shape and moves and the potential-substance out of which the other elements arise. It is the essence of movement, and so the manifestation of time: change must occur in relation to something in order to be measured and space supplies this omnipresent relationship. Space is detectable only through the sense of hearing or, more precisely, the sense of vibration which we usually notice as sound but which we can also feel in our organs and “in our bones”. Uses of sound in ritual such as mood music, bells, drums, and so on, are effects of space and bells and drums are often played as etheric offerings in puja. As this all extends to the psychic realm, even imagined sound is used as an offering in Tantric ritual. If something more steady or tangible is necessary as an offering, flowers are common as a way of gently drawing attention to a particular point in space: flowers making a circle around the working area, around the altar, or around the image of the particular deity invoked, etc. Space gives rise directly to wind simply by giving it a context in which to exist. All that movement and change require in order to exist is opportunity. Space supports and feeds fire in the same way; fire needs space in which to spread, always outward from its center.

Air or Wind (vāyu) is yet grosser movement within space. This usually manifests as heat, so the sense of temperature differences — but also “touch” or “feeling” in general, though these are also sometimes considered to be merely extensions of hearing — is the tanmātra associated with air. Wind, however, can be apprehended both by hearing and feeling. Ritual offerings associated with air are mostly breath itself, which is often symbolized by incense; though the smell is more to do with earth (see below), the movement of the smoke rising from the heat is symbolic of wind. Air gives rise to fire through intensification of heat and feeds water by moving things out of place and forcing combinations.

Fire (agni) is fully manifest energy; where wind can move things about, fire transforms them. Fire, of course, emits heat and it makes noise while doing so, so it is apprehensible by the senses of touch and hearing, but it also emits light which is its defining tanmatra. Every source of light in the universe is therefore a form of fire, and this includes psychological levels: fire also represents the conceptual ability to shed light on ideas and experiences, thus transforming or refining them. Technically, this tanmatra is not light but form; light reveals form in its fullness, though, so light often stands in for form — but know that anything which reveals form is related to fire. Naked flame is the best ritual offering to do with fire, and other offerings may be given up to the flame if appropriate and practical. Ideally, the flame (candle, lamp, pit fire) should be the only artificial light source (as in, other than the Sun, Moon, and stars) during meditation or ritual practice. Fire gives rise to water by clearing away obstacles to its flowing and producing a midpoint between itself and its opposite of solid earth. It also feeds earth by transforming substances into one another; consider the soil cycle which requires the transformation of dead organisms in order to release chemicals for new and existing lifeforms to grow.

Water (jala or apa) is the first experience we tend to recognize as matter: gas and liquid are both fluid states which water represents. Wind is not gaseous matter in particular but movement in and through space. Water introduces the tanmatra of taste — rasa or “essence” — which is the most intimate of the senses for the need to absorb a bit of the substance being tasted. While water can be apprehended through sound, touch, and sight, it is characterized by taste. Purely physically, it is the presence of saliva and other liquids in the mouth which make it possible to taste foods. The best watery offerings, then, are liquid water, wine, or fruit juice as flavor either potential or realized. Water gives rise to earth by introducing inertia, and feeds space by its tendency to passively take the shape of any space into which it is placed without the need to actively expand to fill it.

Earth (pṛthivī or bhumi) is the possibility and fact of solid matter and of anything that plays the roll of “foundation” or “bedrock”. It is manifestation, fully; while water may provide the possibility of fluids, without earth to provide all forms of cohesion even the chemical atoms and molecules which make up matter would not be possible. It is possible therefore to refer to earth as “gravity”, provided we do not confuse it with the purely technical sense of modern physics but as all tendencies to come together and cohere. Psychologically, it is also something like Nietzsche’s “spirit of gravity”, though it must be understand that this is not purely negative but has its necessary function in keeping the personality together during day-to-day life. Earth is available to all five senses, but is characterized especially by smell as relatively large particles of a substance are necessary for smell receptors to be able to detect them and this shows how far along we are in the process of materialization. Earthy ritual offerings include the scent of incense or, especially when some material result is required, fruit, pastries, candy, or even meat. Earth does not give rise to anything else, being the most dense of the elements and the final principle of manifestation, but it does provide the equilibrium necessary for continued movement in space to be meaningful. Earth feeds or upholds air by providing a counterpoint to it, the still object by which movement is made meaningful and which provides the solid base against which moving objects may push off or strike.

If you reverse either the cycle of feeding or that of generation, you will see the cycles of undermining or starvation and that of dissolution. Just as too much of an element during the generation and/or feeding cycles can throw the process out of balance and require other elements to compensate, too little of an element also requires compensation and generally brings exhaustion. Nevertheless, the dissolution cycle has its productive use in spiritual practice as exemplified in Raja Yoga, Chan/Zen, Dzogchen, and similar practices.

Just as the Indian attributions of elements to the points of the pentagram differ from Western sources, their planetary associations in astrology and astrological magic are also different. This may not be immediately relevant to all readers, but enough of you will likely find it interesting enough to be worth a brief survey.

Unlike Western astrology, Jyotish does not associate the two luminaries directly with the elements. While the Moon rules over water and the Sun rules over fire, the Moon and the Sun are not “watery” or “fiery” because they project those elements rather than presiding over and being influenced by them. When reading a chart in which one or both of the luminaries is exceptionally significant, the corresponding element is likely in the native’s life in force, but usually in a more primal and polar manner than is the case with the other planets. Franz Bardon’s “magnetic fluid” and “electric fluid” make good stand-ins for the elemental influence of the Moon and Sun, respectively. That leaves us with Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.

According to the sage Parashara in his Hora Sastra, Mercury is the planet of earth, Venus that of water, Mars of fire, Saturn of wind, and Jupiter of space. There is a reciprocal influence, here: each planet, as an intelligence and deity, presides over its corresponding element and is most strongly of that element and therefore influenced by its nature. In brief, we can say that Mercury is the planet of manifestation (which includes but is not limited to thinking, designing, and communicating); Venus is the planet of taste, essence, vitality, and fertility; Mars is the planet of strength, energy, courage, will, and transformation; Saturn is the planet of disease, disorder, aridity, coldness, roughness, loss, and the steadfastness necessary to weather all of these; and Jupiter is the planet of generosity, expansiveness, order, legitimate authority, and learning. The elemental associations are rather obvious in these attributions.

The same cycles we examined for the elements above, those of generation and of feeding, are equally true of the planets in their elemental ordering. Jupiter therefore gives rise to Saturn as order automatically creates disorder and as the expansiveness of space leaves gaps of cold aridity; Saturn gives rise to Mars as the will, courage, and aggression which develop in the face of hardship; Mars gives rise to Venus as the vitality needed to carry out Mars’s will and the desire to give it constructive form; Venus gives rise to Mercury by providing much-needed vitality and the will of Mars filtered through a sense of beauty and taste all to the end of bringing something to manifestation in the world of shared experience; finally, Mercury gives strength to Jupiter by providing the wealth and knowledge upon which generosity and authority are founded.

Similarly, Jupiter’s providence, knowledge, and meaning give purpose to Mars in his strength and courage; the power and will of Mars fuels the skill and intelligence of Mercury; Mercury’s creations feed and are necessitated by the depredations of Saturn; Saturn’s harshness inspires beauty in a healthy Venus; and the beauty, vitality, and artistry of Venus inspires the sense of meaning which feed Jupiter.

While these cycles are not aligned with the parentage of each planetary deity in puranic myth, and there is plenty of useful information to tease out of these myths, the present diagramatic cycles are intended more to display relationships between the powers and faculties represented by the planets in the individual’s makeup — being especially useful in spiritual, psychological, and physical health matters. These relationships are also very important in astrological remediation and magical methods. So, for example, if one’s Mars is quite weak or afflicted, it is likely that the native’s space is starving their fire; we can then quickly determine that propitiation of Jupiter by way of donations or service is in order, followed by strengthening of Mars with a talisman to restore healthy fire. Similarly, a weak Venus starves Jupiter of the experience of beauty and liveliness which allows for a sense of meaning, so strengthening Venus will give Jupiter a greater capacity to bring his gifts into the native’s life.

In the next article, we will see how these same relationships apply to the Kleshas and begin to explore how we can actually make use of them.

Meaning of Fires on Earth & in Space

Very soon after I found out about the Notre Dame fire, an acquaintance posted the following to a private occult forum:

Sun in Aries squaring Saturn conjunct Cauda Draconis in the 4th house (real estate). Mars in the 9th house (religion).

Scrolling through Twitter a bit later, I saw a few other astrological posts about the devastation of that grand cathedral and then, quite quickly, as many from scientists and “science fans” proclaiming that astrology is obvious bullshit and astrologers are all delusional, superstitious idiots, or else grifters and frauds. It was as obvious as it was petulant; it was the dictionary definition of “too soon”.

Astrology is a common tool of humanity, a means of digging out meaning from the events of life and finding out our part in the universe.

Now, be honest: Did you have an immediate eye-rolling response to that last sentence? Do phrases like “search for meaning” and “our part in the universe” immediately strike you as clichéd? Rest assured, the astronomers of Twitter and readers of “IFuckingLoveScience” agree.

What is the rest of humanity missing that these Children of the Enlightenment see?

The answer, I’m afraid, is a stark, dead universe lacking in poetry.

Astrology, of course, is not the only approach to meaning; it just happens to be a particularly useful and effective one. Magic, mysticism, religion, poetry, and art all perform this duty. Even the sciences do so when they are pursued to sufficient depth. To paraphrase Gordon White, if you go deeply enough into anything, it becomes theology.

And here we come to one of the great persistent points of confusion which makes such a discussion necessary in the first place: How do we define meaning? Even the words we have to use to phrase the question cause problems. Meaning, like pornography, is a know-it-when-you-see-it proposition; it is not a fact but a sense. Very importantly, meaning is not the same as explanation.

Isn’t it interesting that when a child asks an adult, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why did grandma have to die?”, the immediate response is not to discuss the “why” but the “how” or the “what”? The sky is blue, of course, because of light refraction caused by atmospheric moisture and particulates, and grandma had to die because she was very old and her immune system was weak so she got sick and couldn’t fight it off so that was that. The answers to those questions famously do not satisfy the child, who then asks another “but why?”, and rather than rethinking the problem, the adult merely gets annoyed and keeps giving more of the “how” and “what” until both are frustrated.

It should be clear from the fact that we have different words for them that “why”, “how”, and “what” are different questions. “How” is about process; “what” is about substance; “why” is about meaning. And meaning, it turns out, is so fundamental to our experience that the child’s first impulse was to ask after it! Why are we adults so bad at responding in kind?

As more information, video, and photographs of the Notre Dame fire started to hit news sources and social media, there were also more and more posts berating people for being sad about it or imputing less than noble motives behind the emotional outpouring. Some of these were transparently political, such as insistences that sadness over the collapse of Notre Dame’s roof and endangering of its contents was hypocritical in light of the crimes of the Catholic Church — an observation which ignores all of those odd little bits of meaning like history, art, architecture, skill, and labor. But others were simply based in the accusation that many of the mourners around the world had never even visited Notre Dame, aren’t French or Catholic, and so forth.

But, again, this ignores the deeper truth of the situation. People who may have never even thought of entering through the doors of Notre Dame before have been slapped suddenly with a strange sort of existential realization that perhaps the option has been revoked entirely and, more intense still, one of the greatest efforts and creations of human genius has just burnt to cinders before the eyes of the globe. If it can happen to a protected historical landmark, it can happen to anything, anywhere — or anyone, for that matter.

One thing that astrology and the Notre Dame fire both do is remind us of time, of change, and of eventual destruction, death, and decay. At their best, however, both cathedrals and astrology also remind us of the vaulted heavens, of the smallness of our bodies but the infinite expansiveness of our souls, of the endless outwardness of the cosmos and corresponding inwardness of the mind. Whether or not the cathedral is rebuilt as it was, whatever was or wasn’t able to be saved, it can never be rebuilt exactly as it had been — and it was never the same from moment to moment anyhow. The same is true of our bodies and minds. Just as the Notre Dame roof caved in, just as our skulls will eventually collapse from heat or the weight of centuries, yet the space within both simply rejoins the space from which it had been (only ever apparently) separated by the confines of stone and bone.

Here, then, is meaning.

We could have a whole other discussion about the accuracy and usefulness of the information gained from astrology — such as the smaller but still notable fire in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in all of Islam, at the same time as the Paris blaze — but for as great as that is I find the greatest benefit to be gained from the study of astrology is what I learn about myself and about the connection I enjoy with the cosmos which I share with every other person for whom I conduct readings. This, too, is meaning, above and beyond the facts.

It is not my goal, here, to convince anyone of the non-bullshit nature of astrology any more than I care to prove to you that music is a discipline worth keeping around. The fact is that they both arise from something intrinsic to the type of sentience which not only sees itself of the world but also sees itself as in relation to the world. In a civilization which sells meditation as a productivity tool and does not have words for the worth of something which do not immediately and semi-consciously tie it back in with assumptions of capital and materialism, I despair of anyone who does not simply have it to be capable of gaining the understanding of meaning-as-such distinct from what-and-how processes. Philosopher of religion Jeffrey Kripal insists that such a shift in perspective requires that a person be “flipped” by the weight of bizarre and numinous experiences; a fundamental revolution in many peoples’ way of living in the world is required to let them tell the difference.

The Five Sources of Pain, Part 2: Delineating the Kleshas

As stated in the last post, the five sources of pain are listed as Ignorance, Ego, Attachment, Repulsion, and Clinging to Life. Though existing as upwellings of a single disease, the five may be teased apart like the threads of a rope, thus weakening the whole. (Have you ever noticed that ropes burn better when separated enough to allow oxygen to move between the strands? No? Just me? Well, the simile stands even for people who haven’t burned as many things.)

Ignorance (avidya), being the root of all pain, is not merely the lack of knowledge of some particular fact or other. A person may be illiterate and less ignorant, in the Yogic sense, than a highly educated university professor; this is in no way a judgment on education, but to point out that it is not possible to attain to gnosis (jñāna or vidya) from gaining worldly, or wordy, knowledge. For many people, such knowledge can form a temporary barrier to gnosis, though wisdom gained can tip this balance in the other direction. Kleshic Ignorance is a fundamental misapprehension of the Nature of the Self, a failure to recognize who and what one’s own soul actually is. This is the closest thing to “original sin” or “fall from grace” there ever was, and we cannot know who or what is to blame anyway. As Lord Buddha made clear, to ask the question of how it came to be before we have attained freedom from the condition which keeps us from knowing is like the man struck by a poisoned arrow who refuses treatment until he knows who fired the arrow and why, who created the poison, etc. In short, don’t worry about it; get free, and then the speculative questions can be approached. Whether or not this Ignorance has always existed or was somehow added to us is not, therefore, a relevant question for now and must be set aside. What is sure is that it can be removed. We have this assurance by way of the example of the individuals who have transcended it and come to jñāna. While each such Master’s followers may make claims to uniqueness, as a rule they all tell their disciples something like, “If I can do it, so can you.” Accepting this idea is shradha, or faith, an essential trait for engaging in the practice. This particular faith overcomes ignorance, not by blinding us to any contradictory evidence (which is really a deepening of ignorance) but by opening us up to the possibility of deliverance. We can rightfully say that Ignorance is the one Klesha from which the others grow and which the others reinforce.

Ego (ahaṁkāra) is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of Ignorance. The Sanskrit word ahaṁkāra can be translated as “I-maker” or “I-actor” suggesting that “ego” is really more of a process than an entity. Anyone who has studied Buddhism can see in this a clear parallel with the doctrine of anātman or “no-self”; our self-identity rests on a roiling ocean of experiences and mental events and as we dig into it we can watch pieces of it go floating off into nothingness like icebergs melting into the sea. Ego is therefore the process of identifying oneself with this, that, or the other — none of which is the genuine article. Generally, the more energy we put into the something, the more of our identity we draw from it. Consider that when we ask someone, “What are you?” we are given a career, a university degree, or a job title in response. We may also be told, “I am a father,” or “I am a Christian,” or “I am a film buff,” the like interpersonal roles, belief systems, hobbies, etc., but even these depend on how much time and energy the person puts into them. Few people, for example, identify themselves as comic book fans if they only pick up the odd graphic novel a few times a year, even if the description might still fit in terms of how much they enjoy or get out of the experience when it happens. Thus we find the source of many social phenomena such as “fandoms” which have arisen in a big way in the age of the Internet. This perfectly illustrates the painful influence of Ignorance: nothing about the process of self-identity is inherently harmful, but our ignorance of our true nature means that we reify those identities, letting our minds and senses of self crystallize in a configuration entirely based on those identities. As we will see in discussing the other Kleshas, we feel the need to protect our identities, often irrationally and viciously, because to let them fall apart is death.

Attachment (rāga) is the principle mechanism by which we seek to strengthen Ego and by which ego itself extends its reach. Attachment is often conflated with desire; while desire is part of Attachment, it is not the whole thing. Simple enjoyment of something good or pleasurable which comes our way is not the problem. The problem is how much “need” we feel for that object or experience, how much we think it defines us, how much of a sense of security we try to squeeze out of it, and how unwilling we are to let it go once it has served its purpose. All of the above applies not only to physical objects but to beliefs and ideas as well. More often than not, the ideas we hold dear say a lot more about ourselves than they do about the world to which we think they apply. Again, this is not a bad thing in itself, but such attachments do make it hard for us to re-evaluate our beliefs and assumptions when they begin to hold us back or push us into destructive behavior. If Ego is the fortress keep of the psyche, Attachment is the sum total of its fortifications and supplies which make us feel safe, comfortable, and secure locked away from real experience of the world-as-it-is.

Repulsion (dveṣa) or Revulsion is the other pole to Attachment, and the push-and-pull which they represent is calibrated to uphold the Ego regardless of how deranged it has become. Like Attachment, the problem is not that we avoid that which is harmful but that because of Ignorance we are unaware of what constitutes harm and because of Ego we have false ideas about who or what is being harmed. To continue the fortress analogy, Repulsion is our psychic military; from Repulsion come anger, aggression, defensiveness, and other habits of hostility. Just as Attachment also applies to ideas, so does Repulsion. The beliefs of others can offend us — that is to say, we respond to them as if they are attacks — to such a degree that it is as if an egoic immune response has triggered and a war begun against an invading force. But, of course, the invasion is usually an error of perception on our part rather than a genuine personal attack. Such is the messy interaction of the sources of pain. It’s worth noting in passing that our interpersonal prejudices, both positive and negative, are egoic Attachment and Repulsion in action; racism, for example, is Repulsion based in an overweening emphasis on the superiority of one’s own ethnicity, while those inversions of racism which attribute, say, innate mathematical ability to people from Asian countries represent Attachment focused on a limited sense of identity projected onto others.

Clinging to Life (abhiniveśa), otherwise formulated as fear of death, is the natural outcome of and reinforcement to the other four Kleshas. Where Attachment and Repulsion tend to be focused on specific objects of experience, Clinging to Life is a more free-floating anxiety, existential angst, unhealthy fear of mortality, and the like: basically, all of those patterns of thought and emotion which are rooted in egotism but whose tendrils wrap around the whole of life rather than stabbing straight into some thing in particular. Ultimately, it is the fear of dissolution, of lost identity, of oblivion. After all, this is what undergirds all of life’s anxiety and fear. A person fears being forgotten because this is a form of erasure from the only type of post mortem survival we’re taught to believe in by our materialist society; another is afraid of change because, whatever else they tell themselves, change reminds them that one day they will die; examples are endless.

All of these sources of pain may seem so natural to what it means to be a thinking, feeling, embodied being that the cause of dissolving them seems hopeless. Alternatively, one or another of the Kleshas may be such a strong obstruction that dissolving any or all of them itself feels undesirable. The anger of Repulsion, for example, may shore-up our self-identity as righteous, just, socially aware individuals such that it seems like personal weakness or moral failure to do away with it. For many of us, Ego and Clinging to Life are such strong presences that any weakening of the Kleshas as a collective seems like an existential threat — reducing the hold of any Klesha feels like a tearing-away of a piece of one’s own essence and, so, a move toward death.

Partly, the sense of the natural or inherent status of the Kleshas is a consequence of how deeply they have become rooted in any given individual’s consciousness. One of the great lessons of spiritual practice is simply the negative knowledge that, “I am not what I have habitually believed myself to be,” and it is this very negative knowledge which brings true freedom. However it must also be borne in mind, lest we allow ourselves to fall into the dualism, world-denial, or solipsism so common in spiritual circles throughout history, that even the Kleshas are themselves based in something basically good: Ignorance can’t exist without something real of which to be ignorant; Ego is an ersatz of a genuine Self (even if the nature of which cannot be put to words). Contemplation of what might be at the heart of any given Klesha is a useful exercise in and of itself.

To the end of contemplating the Kleshas and find more practical approaches to disentangling them, next time we will explore a model of the five elements and how they relate to one another. While this may seem like an aside, it is actually a necessary step in gaining a better understanding of how the Kleshas actually work in and on our minds. As an added bonus, this astrologically-based approach to the elements is applicable in understanding the planets and signs and in practical magic.

Five Sources of Pain, Part 1: Introducing the Kleshas

Pentagrammatic five kleshas yantra
Rose Devi’s Klesha Yantra

The Five Kleshas, the sources of pain, are given significant attention in the classical Yoga of Patañjali, but they are absolutely essential in the Yoga of the Nathas. They are the principle obstacles in any process of illumination. As such, we give them our attention at the outset of our practice.

But why focus on the problem rather than the solution?

In the case of the Kleshas, the two are one in the same. Knowing about the obstacles is already a huge step forward in the way that knowing about the presence of a toxin in the system is necessary before finding an appropriate countermeasure. To this end, we might even install a Klesha Yantra on our altar for worship; we are not therefore worshiping the Kleshas, but rather the awareness which makes them increasingly transparent to us and the fire which reduces their substance to ash. In fact, the pentagram-as-Yantra is itself used in the worship of Rudra and Bhairava — each radiating triangle is a tongue of flame reaching out from the central pentagon-dhuni. The points of the pentagram are therefore not the Kleshas themselves, but the energy crystallized by them awaiting the freedom of the flames.

“Klesha” can be translated as hardship, trouble, anguish, pain from disease. I like the translations of “obstruction” and “source of pain”. Applied to the spiritual process, the Kleshas are the five greatest sources of pain which follow us through all individual experience. We name them: Ignorance, Ego, Attachment, Repulsion, and Clinging to Life. Every spiritual tradition worth the name has its parallel notions, and may enumerate them differently and draw subtle distinctions where others do not feel the need. There are two most important points shared by enough of them to consider them universals: that there is something deeply rooted in what it means to be a sentient being that causes suffering (dukha), and that the sources of pain are rooted in ignorance or delusion.

In your own practice, use whatever list works for you. For me, this grouping of five is especially satisfying and helpful, especially when each Klesha is mapped onto a point of the pentagram. The lines of the pentagram denote specific relationships between them, as do the arcs of the circle which connect the points in a different order. Future posts in this series will explore these relationships in depth, but for now just be aware that they exist; in short, the Kleshas are not separate psychic forces, but a single source of disease which manifests principally in five ways, and that the relationships between these five make them appear as all the many harmful habits, tendencies, thoughts, and behaviors of which we are capable.

This series will explore these obstructions in some depth, as well as the nature of their relationships. More importantly, I’ll go into the insights I’ve gained in how we can make use of this information in spiritual practice. Regardless of your tradition and methods of choice, there is help to be found in studying the Kleshas — not just in the abstract, but in the day to day particulars of your life.

Post Scheduling & Patreon

I know I’ve been quiet here for a while. I have a lot of material I’m getting ready to go, though, so starting tomorrow I’m committing to post every other Friday.

In support of this, I am also launching a Patreon for any readers who may be willing and able to help me in keeping this blog rolling. Writing takes a lot of time and energy, as well as the background of my daily, weekly, and monthly meditation and magical practice, and the cost of maintaining the domain and hosting for the blog itself. Any money you decide to put into my Patreon will therefore help me to keep to this post schedule and expand it moving forward.

Just as importantly, I also have a number of related projects in the works — from chapbooks to a podcast — which will also require more time, picking up or polishing some different skill sets, and so on, but which I’m sure will be of interest to anybody reading this. The Patreon will also help to bring those to life.

If this blog has brought any value to your spiritual practice or your intellectual life, please consider clicking the link above or in the sidebar and becoming a patron. Every little bit really does help. Either way, stick around for more regular content moving forward.

I Ching for 2019

I don’t do as much divination as a lot of people I know. I’m not the sort who turns toward Tarot and astrology any time I need to make a decision, even an important one. Instead, I tend to use them for spiritual and psychological guidance, setting the tone for a project I’m working on, or otherwise gaining perspective. There’s ancient advice concerning I Ching which I think applies as well to most other oracles, and it simply comes down to this: don’t be frivolous. Everyone has to figure out what that means for themselves, but for me it usually means that if I already intuitively know the answer, I’m not going to bother the cards or coins about it. If we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s most things, most of the time. Nevertheless, there will always be some things which are obscured or too far away for us to see them clearly, and so we have tools. For most questions requiring deeper vision and farther sight, I turn to I Ching.

I have been privately doing I Ching readings for the “tone of the year”, but realized that it may be of interest to others as well. This year, I did two readings: a private one for myself, and one to share with the public.

The query was simple: “What is the spiritual tone for 2019 which my readers should know?”

The Response

Hexagram 54 (The Marrying Maiden) with an old Yang in the fourth place;

Hexagram 63 (After Completion) at the heart of the matter;

Hexagram 54 transforms into Hexagram 19 (The Approach).

The Reading

It’s interesting to note, first of all, that the response of the Marrying Maiden was the same for the public reading as well as my own private reading. The line reading came out differently, but it strikes me that there is a common tenor set for the year for those of a magical and spiritual bent who find some resonance with my writing. The Marrying Maiden advises us to maintain an unshaken focus on the eternal end, which is to say “keep your eyes on the prize”. This constitutes the purity of intention necessary in Yoga. While it may mean having to pass up opportunities in order not to divert one’s efforts, the changing fourth line promises that our inner purity will not have been in vain when an opportunity comes along that actually moves us forward in our spiritual practice.

At the heart of the Marrying Maiden is After Completion: while it may feel that we are just waiting around as we quietly continue our practice, we are really in a dynamic balance in our work. We are trying to hold the middle between two extremes and if we lose focus or become lazy with the thought that everything will take care of itself, this balance will collapse. Here is the most urgent reason to remain intellectually pure, for backsliding is always a possibility until the goal is reached.

In the midst of all of this focus, it is easy to lose sight of other people and their needs, or to feel superior to “the herd” for our different priorities. While a real concern for others can arise naturally from spiritual practice, it doesn’t necessarily do so on its own. We must cultivate humility and compassion not as sidelines but as an integral part of maintaining our internal balance. Excessive egotism is a klesha, a source of pain for all involved, and we must root it out by developing its opposites—if not for their own sake, at least to maintain the equipoise necessary to continue our development.

The Discussion

Any divination is a conversation more than a pronouncement. As such, it is up to every reader to figure out how the above applies to their own life. There is a general interpretation I can give, however, which will likely have something to say for most or all of us. If I were speaking with a client, I might say it like this:

You would be wise to put your full effort into remaining grounded in your spiritual practice in the midst of the chaos of the world. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whether it be Yoga or the Hermeticism of Franz Bardon or ceremonial magic or whatever, contemplate the goal of your practice every day and never lose sight of it, no matter what the world throws at you.

Politics, religion, economics, and similar factors will always be trying to grab your attention and topple you. Maintaining the equilibrium of priorities will make you unassailable. This can, however, lead to falling off the other way into inaccessibility, coldness, and arrogance. It is necessary, therefore, to maintain contact with other people, to allow ourselves to grow affectionate towards them, and to remember that we are all in this together. This doesn’t imply a milquetoast acceptance of anyone else’s bullshit, but it does necessitate making the effort to understand their actions and motives just as we come to understand our own.

When we talk about the world as an obstacle to spirituality, we must be quite clear: “the world”, in this context, refers not to the natural world itself but to the cultural and social world—the world of reified ideas and assumptions. This particular world assails us every moment of every day from the moment we are born until we die (and, arguably, even between death and rebirth, though differently) and we must consciously, deliberately choose to construct an inner world more in line with a combination of our own ideals, the world of Nature, and a vision of the Immensity (brahman) we call God. This process won’t usually make us a lot of friends, but it will ensure our integrity.

2019 will not be an easy year, but what year is? Harkening back to, say, 2012, or even 1996, people may pine for a year when “everything was okay,” but it only looked “okay” if you weren’t paying attention. Better that we make our way well in the world, help those we can, and keep our own equipoise at the center of our concern. We can then better enjoy the good times and carry through with far more wisdom and power during the bad times.

Here’s to all of you. May 2019 bring you the wisdom, power, and integrity to not only make it through, but to excel on your way.