By Amy Weintraub
We suffer because we are bound too tightly to our dream of reality by afflictions. But thousands of years ago, Patanjali not only offered an understanding of our misery, but prescribed a natural and practical way out
Those ancient yogis were astonishingly perceptive about human psychology. They understood that our clinging is at the root of our suffering. Whether we are holding on to a person, a dream, or to an image of ourselves that no longer serves us, what classical yoga tells us is that we suffer because we are bound too tightly to our dream of reality by the five afflictions (kleshas). Around 200 C.E., when the great sage Patanjali codified the current wisdom of yoga that had passed from teacher to student for thousands of years, not only did he offer an understanding of our misery, but he prescribed a natural and practical way out. Before we look at the solution he proposed, let?s look a little more closely at the binds that threaten to keep us isolated and alone in our suffering.
Why we suffer
The first and foremost bind is ignorance (avidya). As we live further and further from the truth of our connection to all of nature, we become ignorant of that connection and live as though we are separate and alone, even though modern science tells us this isn?t so, that my molecular structure is no different from yours, or from my cat Smokey?s. This brings us face to face with the next klesha, asmita. Like the other three that follow, asmita or the sense of I-ness, arises out of our ignorance?avidya. Because of our I-ness we identify too much with this body, this mind, these emotions. We conflate our perceptions with pure awareness, not making the distinction Patanjali wants us to make between our temporal consciousness and pure awareness. I think, therefore I am. I perceive, therefore I am. I feel, therefore I am, or I?m a doctor, therefore I am, or I?m a yogi or a Buddhist or a mother or a teacher, therefore I am. These notions reinforce a distortion of reality that we are the center of the universe.