What do want from life?
The universal answer to this question is: “to be happy”. So, then, what does it take to truly be happy in this life? If we were to listen to the giant advertisers from Madison Avenue, we couldn’t possibly be happy without driving a Lexus automobile, while wearing the latest creation by Hugo Boss, talking to our travel agent on our blue tooth smartphone while planning our next eco vacation to Nicaragua. Pinning our happiness to satisfying external desires sets the human heart and mind on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The dance of desires draws our consciousness out of the present moment and any possibility of truly realizing lasting happiness within that moment.
Far too many of us will admittedly or not, attach our happiness to satisfying desires, such as, I’ll be happy when I loose 25 pounds, or when I can pay off all of my debt, or when I marry my dream partner, or when I can live in a better home. Upon exploration of these desires, we find the shadow side of our emotional spectrum. An undercurrent of dissatisfaction with what we currently experience in our lives with a subtle or sometimes blatant aversion to our current state of being. This aversion to what “is” propels us toward attempting to satisfy our desires. If we are able to attain our desire, there is a rush of elation and temporary joy. If we are unable to attain our desire, we remain in a state of projection into the future, with the desire perpetuating a state of grasping.
Unattained desires are a root cause of deep and often unnamable emptiness and sadness, and these darker emotions can be a catalyst for self-destructive behaviors. On a subconscious level we perceive ourselves as a failure. To soothe these emotions we turn to indulgences, which if gone unchecked can turn into addictions. Things such as eating sweets to give us a rush of temporary pleasure, or drinking alcohol to numb out to the heaviness of the dark emotions and give ourselves a buzz of temporary happiness, or we may purchase one of our desires, possibly with a credit card, that will only perpetuate our negative feelings as we have now added to the burden of debt. On and on it will go until we step off of the roller coaster ride, and direct our efforts to lasting happiness unpinned from the aforementioned desires.
As human beings, we share common desires, and common obstacles to attaining these universal desires. From the Vedic teachings, spiritual texts that date back 5, 000 years or more, the Rishis or “Seers” outlined the four common desires of life:
1. Dharma: the desire to know one’s purpose of the soul.
2. Artha: the desire for the means (knowledge, skills, money, security, health, etc…) to fulfill your dharma.
3. Kama: the desire for enjoying the pleasures of life in all forms.
4. Moksha: the desire for spiritual realization and ultimately freedom from the three previous desires.
Patanjali, author of the classic text on yoga, The Yoga Sutras, clearly describes the obstacles to the attainment of moksha (liberation) in Yoga Sutra 2.3. He writes in detail about the klesas or afflictions of the human mind, which are:
Avida:Ignorance/IllusionAsmita:‘i”-ness/Ego senseRaga: Attachment/DesireDvesa: Aversion/ResistanceAbhinivesah: Fear of death/Clinging to life
These five klesas (afflictions) are the dragons we must slay upon our journey toward moksha(liberation). The consistent practice of the 8-limbed path of Astanga Yoga strengthens, and steadies us. Adopting ayurvedic lifestyle principals, cultivates true health in body, mind, and spirit, infusing the body with abundant Prana(life force energy). These two sister sciences that I call the “owners manual” for living a optimal human life, provide the power to transcend the grip of these dragons and live our lives in mokshapure, lasting and joyful freedom.
In order to slay our dragons, we must first observe and get to know the nature of these mythical and primordial beasts. In Sanskrit the mind is describe as Chitta, which is comprised of several specific attributes.
Jivatma is the spark of the Divine that dwells at the center of our being and is the all-pervading consciousness. It is the “I am” presence in contrast to the “i”–ness/ego sense. The jivatmaremains dispassionate, blissful, observant, rooted in all loving acceptance within the still center of the swirl of action that is the human drama.
Buddhiis the discerning mind that is stable and reflective when the Vrittis (fluctuations in consciousness) find Niroddhaor stillness. Buddhiconsciousness demonstrates clear perception, which directs pure actions without the drama of attachments to outcomes, or desires for things to be different than they are. When chitta (mind) dwells in buddhi, we act at the exact appropriate time, with the appropriate action that is in the highest good for all and without developing karma.
Ahamkara is the “i”-ness/ego aspect of chitta(mind) that dwells in limited self perceptions harnessing us in a state of diminishment and disconnection from our source. When we dwell in ahamkara, we are living in an isolated, disconnected, and dualistic mind that will remain in a state of reactivity to the external world.
Manasis another aspect of chitta (mind) in an ego state which is “externalized”. Manaskeeps the mind focused outward with projections, reflections, associations, judgments, desires, etc… Manasensnares the mind into a constant state of fluctuation as it looks outward and remains reactionary to everything it witnesses.
A mind that is not seated in buddhiin the repose of niroddaha(stillness) is in a state of vritti(fluctuation). Chitta (mind) in a state of vritti, dances continuously, vacillating between ahamkaraand manas(“i”-ness/ego and it’s relationship to everything in the external world). This is the eternal ping-pong game with the mind being bounced like a ball between the paddles of ego and it’s reactions and relationships to everything outside of the stillness of buddhi. The play of these reactionary aspects of chitta(mind) allows the klesasor dragons to dominate our lives and restrict our progression toward moksha (liberation). Patanjali states in his yoga sutra 1.2: Yogaha Chitta Vritti Niroddha. Defined: Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations in the mind.
When our dragons have been slayed, the mind rests in the expansive, still splendor of buddhi and ascends into jivatma which is the journey to moksha or spiritual liberation.
As any good warrior will tell you, the key to triumph is to “know your enemy”. We’ve come to know that chitta(mind) in a state of vritti (fluctuation) is rooted in the ping-pong game of the ego that gives rise to the sharpness of the dragon’s claws, and the brutal heat of it’s wrathful fire. The sharpest weapon we can bring to bear in our mortal combat with our dragons in the inner practice of yoga called Dharana(Contemplation). This practice directs the mind toward buddhi by contemplation upon the root causes of our vrittis (fluctuations). Once the dragon is identified, we can digest the root cause by understanding the “life lesson”. After digestion of the life lesson, the mind will no longer ruminate or vacillate over the “story” thus liberating the mind by the elimination of our attachment to that vritti. The dragon is slayed!
If you have ever sat quietly in observation of your mind, you have probably witnessed thesevrittisor fluctuations. They are often incessant and habitual in nature to the degree that they color our self-perception, and actions. In Sanskrit the habitual vrittis thathave carved grooves into our consciousness are referred to as Samskaras. These samskarasare entrenched habits of thoughts, emotions and actions that appear inescapable. They confine us, define us, and obstruct the light of our soul from shining brightly through the obstruction of repetitive thoughts and actions. These are fiercest dragons of all as they hold us in their sharp talon-like grip of false “ego” identity. Samskaras perpetuate the illusion that we are simply only human by imprisoning the mind into incessant virttis. By slaying these dragons we unveil the jivatma (Divinity Individuated) that is radiant, endless, timeless, and ever blissful.
Let’s now take a closer look at each of the klesadragons to gain clarity on their nature. The Asmitadragon is the “i”-ness/ego that can take on different forms. One form is a false or inflated opinion of ones self that remains locked into comparison and judgment, and cultivates a disrespectful attitude toward others. Another form is a persistent negative self-image, propelling the mind into judging, comparing, and contrasting oneself against a perceived “perfection”, eternally falling short of that perfection. This is also one of the major roots of conflict, as our sense of “self” and our ideas of what is “right” pits itself against another’s perception of what is right. The asmitadragon drives us to seek external confirmation of ourselves to feel a sense of worthiness.
The Raga dragon is the attachment/desire dragon. This dragon is intertwined with the third of the 4 Desires, Kama(pleasures) and so is a dragon that has a very tight grip upon the mind. The ragadragon drives us to seek pleasure to the degree that many people begin to dwell in a very imbalanced state. There is a constant striving outside of oneself for things or situations that may or may not ever come to manifestation. Our happiness becomes dependent on the attainment of our desires, and keeps the mind attached to the future, rather than finding peace and acceptance in the NOW.
The Dvesadragon is a big and scary one, as it is rooted in the fear of not getting what we want, or getting what we don’t want. Dvesa is aversion and resistance that constantly pulls us away from the present moment and the possibility of peaceful acceptance of what is real in this moment NOW. When we allow the mind to dwell in aversion we actually anchor our consciousness into the very thing we might be trying to avoid. Attempts to avoid a specific situation, causes the mind to focus upon the subject of our avoidance. Dwelling upon our aversion inflicts even more pain, and acts like super glue sticking our mind to the aversion.
Of all theklesas, the Abhinevisahdragon has a paralyzing effect our psyche. This dragon goes to the very root of our existence. It taps into one of the biggest stumbling blocks to spiritual liberation, FEAR of the loss of our survival. We cling to this life because we have forgotten the truth of our eternally blissful energetic nature. The true seeker who wishes to transcend abhineveshawill direct their attention inward toward the jivatma to the place of blissful eternal stillness that remains unsullied by the drama of the mortal human dilemma.
The mother of all dragons, the biggest, and scariest is the Avidyaor ignorance/illusion dragon. When we lack awareness of who we truly are, jivatma, we get tangle up in the ego (asmita) leading us to desires or attachments (ragas), resistance and aversions (dvesa), and as well, clinging to the temporary life in the physical body (abhinevesah). This ignorance is the result of all suffering. Avidyaisn’t just the ignorance or lack of worldly knowledge of science, art and culture. It is ignorance of our true nature, jivatma(Divinity) that is all love, all knowing, in complete union with the Divine and the whole universe. The rational mind that is completely locked in asmita(ego) finds this statement incomprehensible. So, we dwell in avidya (ignorance) and suffer from the wrath of all of the dragons.
The inner exploration through the practice of Dharana (contemplation) to the peaceful center of the jivatmathat dwells within out heart is the most powerful weapon we have to slay our dragons. The consistent and persistent practice of dharana (contemplation) is the path to liberation. Through dharana we honestly looking at where we are allowing these klesadragons to operate in our life, and slay them one by one through recognition, learning, digesting the lesson, and then releasing the vritti (fluctuation) or samskara (pattern). As we slay our dragons, we no longer live in the dark and painful place dominated by these dragons. We step into the radiant, blissful, all loving and liberated light of the jivatma and dwell in moksha.