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”.