2.3 – The five painful barriers to samadhi are: 1) lack of Self-knowledge, 2) a mistaken self-identity, 3) attachment, 4) aversion, and 5) the desire to live (as the false-self).

अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशः क्लेशाः ॥३॥

avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha

  • avidya – lack of Self-knowledge; spiritual ignorance
  • asmita – egoism; a mistaken self-identity; the sense of being an “I”; a sense of being a separate, isolated, independent entity
  • raga – attachment; passion; desire; longing
  • dvesha – aversion; dislike; repugnance; hatred
  • abhinivesha – desire to live (as the false-self); fear of death (of the false-self)
  • pancha – five
  • klesha – afflicting; pain causing; troublesome; distressing; the painful barriers to samadhi

2.4 – Lack of Self-knowledge gives rise to all other painful barriers. And those can be dormant, weak, hidden, or fully active.

अविद्या क्षेत्रमुत्तरेषाम् प्रसुप्ततनुविच्छिन्नोदाराणाम् ॥४॥

avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vicchinna udaranam

  • avidya – lack of Self-knowledge; spiritual ignorance
  • kshetram – field; domain; sphere of action
  • uttaresham – of the others; the subsequent; the following
  • prasupta – dormant; latent; quiet
  • tanu – to reduce; weaken; attenuate
  • vicchinna – hidden; disconnected
  • udaranam – fully active; rising; aroused

2.5 – Lack of Self-knowledge causes one to confuse the impermanent with the permanent, the impure with the pure, that which brings suffering with that which brings happiness, and the false-self with the Self.

अनित्याशुचिदुःखानात्मसु नित्यशुचिसुखात्मख्यातिरविद्या ॥५॥

anitiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih avidya

  • anitiya – non-eternal; impermanent
  • ashuchi – impure; soiled
  • duhkha – suffering; misery; grief; distress; pain; unease
  • anatmasu – non-self; false-self
  • nitya – eternal; permanent
  • shuchi – pure; clean
  • sukha – pleasure; delight; happiness
  • atman – the Self; soul; spirit
  • khyatih – knowledge; view; point of view; conception
  • avidya – lack of Self-knowledge; spiritual ignorance

2.6 – The false-self is formed by mistaking the instrument of seeing with the power that sees.

दृग्दर्शनशक्त्योरेकात्मतैवास्मिता ॥६॥

drig darshana shaktyoh ekatmata iva asmita

  • drig – the seer
  • darshana – seeing; observing; perceiving; viewing
  • shaktyoh – power
  • ekatmata – one self; one and the same nature
  • iva – like; as
  • asmita – egoism; a mistaken self-identity; the sense of being an “I”; a sense of being a separate, isolated, independent entity

2.7 – Dwelling on past pleasure creates attachments.

सुखानुशयी रागः ॥७॥

sukha anushayi ragah

  • sukha – pleasure; delight; happiness
  • anushayi – consequentially; fruits of actions
  • ragah – attachment; passion; desire; longing

2.8 – Dwelling on past pain creates aversions.

दुःखानुशयी द्वेषः ॥८॥

duhkha anushayi dvesha

  • duhkha – suffering; misery; grief; distress; pain; unease
  • anushayi – consequentially; fruits of actions
  • dvesha – aversion; dislike; repugnance; hatred

2.9 – The deep-rooted will to survive as the false-self persists even among the wise.

स्वरस्वाहि विदुषोऽपि समारूढोऽभिनिवेशः ॥९॥

sva-rasa vahi vidushah api tatha rudhah abhiniveshah

  • sva-rasa – instinct of self-preservation
  • vahi – streaming; flowing; carrying
  • vidushah – a wise person
  • api – even; also; too; though
  • tatha – in like manner; in the same way
  • rudhah – rooted; established
  • abhiniveshah – desire to live (as the false-self); fear of death (of the false-self)

Commentary on Sutras 2.3—2.9:

The first of the painful barriers (kleshas) listed is avidya. The word vidya means “knowledge” or “clarity,” and in the context of yogic philosophy, it means “knowledge of the Self.” Avidya is the opposite of vidya. It’s often translated as “ignorance,” not an intellectual ignorance or a lack of common sense, but an ignorance of one’s essential nature.

We can trace all our pain, suffering, and problems back to that one klesha—lack of Self-knowledge. That’s because our true Self is complete and whole and needs nothing outside itself. To know it is to recognize that no problems exist.

Avidya is a veil. At our core, we are unbounded, timeless Awareness. But the veil of avidya prevents us from an awareness of that Awareness. Without that perspective, a cascade of afflictions follows.

The first thing we do after losing our true identity is to assume a false one. Instead of being centered in “the power that sees,” we lose ourselves in the “instrument of seeing” (the body and mind) and mistake it for our Self.

As we travel through life, we have countless experiences. It’s the nature of the mind to string those experiences together into a story and then identify with the story. In this way, we create the illusion of permanence.

Some of our experiences we enjoy and grow attached to, and others we loathe and do our best to avoid. Those attachments and aversions precipitate the karmic material from which we construct an intricate and convincing false-self.

We try our best to cling to that false-self. But being assembled out of temporal phenomena, it’s constantly shifting and changing and morphing into something else. That change is painful.

We go from the beauty and vitality of youth into the decline of old age. The marketplace
veers left, and our career falls apart. Or we identify as a member of a close circle of friends, then watch them each move away or transition from the world. The possibilities of torment are endless for one identified with the ever-changing false-self.

Pain is a great teacher, but it takes us a long time to absorb its lessons, countless lifetimes, it’s said. As soon as part of our identity is ripped away, we construct a new one. For example, we may go from a twenty-year-old athlete to a forty-year-old, beer-drinking spectator. In both cases, we fully identify with our role. Or, should we lose our career, we go from “a successful and important member of society” to an “unemployed failure.”

These are just some of the more obvious examples of the countless ways we lose and reconstruct our false-self. Over and over, we suffer. Finally, we come to a point where the pain is too intense. This pain is a type of grace. It creates the cracks in our veneer through which the light of truth begins to shine.

Many people come to the yogic path in that way. They’ve suffered enough to realize the peace and happiness they seek cannot be found in any external object or relationship. And they’ve had glimpses of something infinitely more profound than what they’ve experienced inside their ego-formed boundaries.

This is the beginning of the trip and often the start of an even greater form of suffering. We’ve tasted the divine nectar only to have the cup pulled from our lips. But at least we’re now on the path and can begin to do the work necessary to remove the kleshas.

Some of these may be weak and easy to overcome with willpower. Others may lie dormant in the subconscious until the right conditions arise, or they may be active but hidden from our conscious perception. And some may be fully active.

If we’re not centered and present, a dormant klesha can transform into a fully active one, hijacking our thoughts, emotions, and actions. For example, someone says something in the wrong tone, presses our buttons, and we instantly react. That’s the ego defending itself. And when we act from a place of ego, we create more negative psychic impressions, further strengthening the kleshas.

Everything on this side of the unmanifest field is in continuous flux. We’re either starving the kleshas or feeding them. We’re either reclaiming our power or giving more of it away.

If we want to evolve toward greater happiness, well-being, and Self-knowledge, we need self-discipline, Self-reflection, and surrender to Awareness.

Patanjali’s kriya yoga is universal. Its three principles do not belong to any particular religion or spiritual tradition. They’re at the heart of all authentic paths to truth.

Without deep spiritual practice to free us from the kleshas, we’ll continue to dwell on past pleasures and pains and create more attachments and aversions, generating additional suffering and confusion.

It’s not an easy cycle to break. In fact, Patanjali tells us that the will to survive as the false-self persists even in the wise. It’s an instinctual desire. But in the following sutras, he shows us how to overcome the kleshas and regain our innate power.