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The five kleshas

The kleshas (poisons) and what we can do to manage them

1. : “The kleshas, which are greed, hatred, and delusion, are the root causes of suffering. They cloud the mind and perpetuate the cycle of birth and death. By understanding and uprooting the kleshas, one can attain liberation and experience true peace.” – The Buddha

2. : “Kleshas are the afflictions of the mind that lead to suffering. They arise from ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Mindfulness and deep looking help us recognize and transform our kleshas, leading to liberation and happiness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

3. : “Kleshas are the mental states that bind us to suffering. They manifest as craving, aversion, and ignorance. Through meditation and cultivating awareness, we can unravel the grip of the kleshas and awaken our inherent wisdom and compassion.” – Pema Chödrön

4. : “Kleshas are the defilements that obscure our true nature. They arise from the untrained mind and cause suffering. By practicing mindfulness, kindness, and wisdom, we can purify the mind and free ourselves from the grip of the kleshas.” – Ajahn Brahm

5. : “Kleshas are the disturbing emotions and mental afflictions that disturb the mind’s natural clarity and peace. They arise from self-centeredness and grasping. Through meditation and developing insight, we can transform the kleshas and awaken to our true nature.” – Lama Yeshe

These quotes are paraphrased summaries.

The concept of the five kleshas originates from ancient Indian philosophy and is fundamental to the understanding of suffering in Buddhism. The term “klesha” refers to mental afflictions or disturbances that cause suffering and hinder our ability to experience true happiness and liberation.

The five kleshas, also known as The 5 Poisons,
are attachment, aversion, ignorance, pride, and jealousy.

1. Ignorance (Avidya):
Ignorance refers to a lack of understanding of the true nature of reality. It is the root cause of suffering and gives rise to other afflictions.
To overcome ignorance:
– Cultivate wisdom through study and contemplation of Buddhist teachings.
– Reflect on the impermanent and interconnected nature of all things.
– Seek guidance from wise teachers and spiritual mentors.

2. Attachment (Raga):
Attachment is the strong clinging or craving for pleasurable experiences, objects, or relationships. It leads to dissatisfaction and suffering.
To overcome attachment:
– Practice mindfulness and develop awareness of your attachments.
– Cultivate contentment and gratitude for what you have.
– Reflect on the impermanence and insubstantial nature of things.
– Develop generosity and practice letting go.

3. Aversion (Dvesha):
Aversion represents the strong dislike or avoidance of unpleasant experiences or things. This klesha arises when we resist or reject what we perceive as negative or undesirable.
To overcome aversion:
– Cultivate acceptance and equanimity towards challenging situations.
– Practice mindfulness and observe your reactions without judgment.
– Cultivate compassion and develop empathy towards others and their suffering.

4. Pride (Asmita):
Pride refers to excessive identification with the individual self or ego. It creates a false sense of separation, leading to self-centeredness and arrogance.
To overcome pride:
– Cultivate humility and recognize the interconnectedness of all beings.
– Practice selflessness and compassion towards others.
– Reflect on the impermanence and interdependence of all things.

5. Jealousy (Matsarya):
Jealousy is the feeling of resentment or discontentment towards others’ success, possessions, or qualities. It arises from a sense of inadequacy or comparison.
To overcome jealousy:
– Cultivate gratitude for your own qualities and achievements.
– Practice loving-kindness towards others and rejoice in their successes.
– Cultivate self-acceptance and focus on personal growth and development.

Overcoming the five kleshas is an ongoing practice that requires self-awareness, discipline, and inner work. It involves cultivating virtues such as wisdom, mindfulness, compassion, and humility. Regular meditation, introspection, and studying spiritual teachings can help develop the necessary understanding and awareness to transcend these mental afflictions and experience greater peace, joy, and liberation.

The core misunderstanding that lies at the root of all these Poisons is ignorance, the false view we have that every single thing in the universe exists on its own, by its own power independent of everything else.

This dualistic view then sees “me” as somehow existing outside the universe.

And then from that universe, my personal supermarket, I imagine that I should be able to pick and choose the things and events that I want, and refuse or reject whatever things or events I do not want.

We can see that is a crazy view. But it makes little difference to us — we continually grasp and reject, impossibly trying to get and not lose the wanted and not being able to avoid the unwanted. Thus we fuel and suffer from each of the poisons. It’s obvious.

We know this view is ridiculous but we are helplessly hypnotised by it and are even swept along in samsara when we dream. That wrong view drives our aversion and attachment, and from them our pride and jealousy and not being able to rejoice in the good qualities and fortune of others.

If it’s not obvious that we need a spiritual friend to guide us out of samsara, consider these perspectives below.

Je Tsongkhapa states:

[Attachment] is a desire after any pleasurable external or internal object by taking it as pleasing to oneself. For example, just as it is difficult to remove oil stain from a cotton cloth, in the same way, this hankering after and getting more and more involved with the thing makes it very difficult to get rid of.

In the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 162), Buddhagosa writes:

…greed has the characteristic of grasping an object like “monkey lime”. Its function is sticking, like meat put in a hot pan. It is manifested as not giving up, like the dye of lamp-black. Its proximate cause is seeing enjoyment in things that lead to bondage. Swelling with the current of craving, it should be regarded as taking (beings) with it to states of loss, as a swift-flowing river does to the great ocean.

Apparently hunters used monkey lime to catch monkeys. In the Kindred Sayings (V, Maha-vagga, Book III, Chapter I, par 7) Monkeys who are free from “folly and greed” do not get trapped.

We read:

…But a greedy, foolish monkey comes up to the pitch and handles it with one paw, and his paw sticks fast in it. Then, thinking: I’ll free my paw, he seizes it with the other paw, but that too sticks fast. To free both paws he seizes them with one foot, and that too sticks fast. To free both paws and the one foot, he lays hold of them with the other foot, but that too sticks fast. To free both paws and both feet he lays hold of them with his muzzle: but that too sticks fast. So that monkey thus trapped in five ways lies down and howls, thus fallen on misfortune…