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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.