Overcoming the 5 Mental States of Suffering

Johnson Chong

1. Avidya: Ignorance

Our first affliction is our lack of awareness and disconnection from Truth. To cultivate awareness, consider how often you do the following: Mistaking pain for pleasure:How many times do we need to get burned before we know the nature of fire? Next time you have an unpleasant reaction to something, write it down! Shine your awareness on things that don’t serve you anymore. Make a list of them and keep the list at hand! Think also of the good changes or growth these experiences brought into your life. Mistaking the non-self as the Self:To see beauty is to see unity. To perceive unity is to sense the presence of the absolute.Who are you underneath your clothes? Without your job? Your possessions? Attainments? Hobbies? Get in touch with your eternal Self by stripping away all outer identifications.

2. Asmita: Ego

We often view ourselves and the world through the lens of labeling: labels that our minds tag onto people, occupations, gender, clothing, events, actions, behaviors, and comparative labels (how you compare your labels with those of others). As we recognize the space that labeling holds in our minds, we can practice dropping the habitual tendency that takes up so much of our mental and emotional energy. More often that not, we mistake the labels that we give ourselves for who we really are. Labels that we assign are only fragments of who we truly are. Asmita invites us to step out of the small, limited picture, that we often get stuck in.

3. Raga: Attachment

The third Klesha is all about desire and possessiveness. Whether it’s a significant other, a friend, a practice, an object, a pet, a job, a goal, or a preferred outcome, we all experience the act of deep attachment or investment of various things in our lives. However, when we hold onto things with a tight grip, we are not staying open and flexible to the inevitable changes that occur in life, people, places, and things. Therefore, our desires can become an affliction when it creates suffering. This Klesha asks us to hold on with open hands and to practice inviting all that we hold in our hearts to have the space to change and grow.

4. Dvesha: Aversion

This Klesha can be interpreted as an avoidance of something, or the feeling of dislike towards something. For instance, when we are challenged out of our comfort zone by a pose in our practice, we may encounter this sensation of dislike. Uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes a lesson lies in taking that step that takes out to a new ground, out of your comfort zone; it’s a great opportunity for growth. We perceive as good that which brings pleasure; we perceive as bad that which brings pain. To step out of a state of aversion is to step out of your ego’s comfort zone. Being pushed around by the ego that tells us “I want, I don’t want” is a vicious cycle that creates suffering. However, you’re in power of breaking the cycle: identify one habit, and change it. You will come to see that your true identity is not defined by your likes and dislikes. Here are two questions that you can explore: If you usually WANT to challenge yourself, what would it feel like to take a step back? If you usually DON’T WANT to challenge yourself, what would happen if you did? 5. Abhinivesha: Clinging to life Abhinivesha is a Sanskrit word meaning “will to live,” referring to the fear of death, even if life is full of misery. It is one of the five Kleshas, or negative mental states that causes suffering. Not only is Abhinivesha the fear of death, it also includes the incorrect identification of the true self with the temporary physical body or world. However, when we practice excepting that our human experiences are finite, we are urged to be present, grateful, and make the most out of the gifts and challenges that make this life rich and beautiful.

5. Abhinidvesa: Fear of Death (the Unknown)

The fifth mental state that causes suffering is Abhinidvesa – The Ultimate Fear, which is the fear of death. Essentially, every fear that we have can be traced to this fear of the unknown. The fear of changing careers because we are uncertain what lies ahead is a fear of change. The fear of change is a lack of trust that the universe has got your back. Yes, you could literally fear that you may die because you won’t have any means of putting food on the table, but it also is a fear of the IDEA of our OLD SELF dying. His Holiness the Dalai Lama very beautifully put it that the only thing that is permanent is impermanence. Yet, we go through our lives ignorant to our true nature. We then either take actions from swollen or crushed egos, holding on to what is familiar for dear life, even if that thing we are holding on to is limiting us. We repel everything we don’t know because we fear that it will change our perspective, and ultimately change our world. All because we fear that we will cease to exist.

And yes, we will all eventually cease to exist in the same way that we are now, whether we like it or not. So instead of resisting it, shed some light on what you are avoiding. What are you not wanting to deal with? The first step and the only step I would say is Illumination. Turn on the lights in the basement, and see what kind of crap is hiding down there. Once ignorance has transformed into awareness, everything will take care of itself. And we won’t be moving through life suffering at the hands of our mind.