Causes of Suffering – Klesha #4: Dvesha (avoidance)

In our previous post we learned about the five kleshas, or causes of suffering, according to yogic/Buddhist tradition.  If you missed that post, check it out here!  The kleshas are thinking patterns that cause us unnecessary pain and cloud our perception of life and of ourselves.  They are defined in the Yoga Sutras, written between 200 and 500 B.C. by the Indian sage Patanjali.  The Sutras are the most referenced book on yoga, and they are all about how to transcend suffering through mental liberation. 

In this post, we’ll reference the Sri Swami Satchidananda translation, available here.  The five kleshas, as defined in the Sutras, are:

Sutra 2.3: avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-abhiniveśā kleśa

Ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), hatred (dvesha) and clinging to bodily life (abhinivesah) are the five obstacles. (Swami Satchidananda translation).

So far we’ve learned about the first three kleshas: avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), and raga (attachment).  In this post we’ll learn about dvesha, or avoidance.  This klesha is essentially the opposite of raga, or attachment.  With raga, we identify with pleasurable experiences and become unhealthily attached to them.  We seek out these things, and fear losing them.  With dvesha, we try to avoid unpleasant experiences, and fear encountering them.  With either state of mind, we experience suffering as they elicit fear and disconnection with reality. 

What is Dvesha?

Avoidance is something we as humans do naturally.  When something we perceive as negative comes up, we try to avoid it, fix it, make it go away, or anything other than face the unpleasantness. We might even become angry about our problems or feel victimized by life.  Dvesha is when we actively or subconsciously avoid things that we have labeled as undesirable in some way.  We might avoid a certain place, a difficult conversation, a new opportunity, because we have somehow associated it with pain. 

Dvesha is when we actively or subconsciously avoid things that we have labeled as undesirable in some way.  We might avoid a certain place, a difficult conversation, a new opportunity, because we have somehow associated it with pain. 

Our minds are powerful computers and just like the internet, they remember everything.  I had a bad experience with a dentist…..20 years ago.  Because of this, I labeled everything dental-related as scary, and would constantly avoid going in for even something as simple as a cleaning.  The thought of it would give me a great deal of anxiety, and I would imagine all sorts of painful and unpleasant things happening.  Only after changing that association, by having positive or, at the very least, neutral experiences at the dentist was I able to break that association. 

That is how dvesha causes suffering.  Because this event is now labeled as “bad” in my mind, I will think only negative thoughts around it.  Maybe I start out not liking dentists, but eventually I might start to be afraid of other types of clinics, or health care providers in general.  Our minds tend to categorize related things, even if we haven’t experienced them directly.  This can cause us to subconsciously shut things out that might actually be beneficial for us, or to avoid experiences that could enrich our lives.

As with any of the kleshas, awareness of dvesha’s manifestation in our lives is the first step to overcoming it.  When we can clearly see the ways in which we avoid things, we can use this awareness to investigate the aversion.  Approaching dvesha with curiosity and insight has a way of diffusing its power in our minds and in our lives.  Through awareness, acceptance, and mindfulness we can overcome aversion and the suffering it causes. 

How Dvesha Hinders Us

Dvesha can cause us to avoid things we might be meant to face.  Sometimes in life, situations that are unpleasant or difficult can provide some of the richest lessons.  When we face obstacles, it can feel like we’re unlucky, or that we failed, or that our life just sucks.  It can be hard to see how the situation might work out to our benefit, or the bigger purpose behind it.  At the time, we just want whatever it is to be over. 

Aversion keeps us from embracing life’s difficulties as opportunities for growth, and the absorption of wisdom.  Life is a teacher, gentle at times but often a bit more in-your-face.  When we have a lesson to learn, things in our life will start to guide us toward the realization of that lesson.  With aversion, we ignore life’s guidance, or actively try to combat it because of our fear of unpleasantness.  When we have a lesson to learn, but avoid approaching it because of dvesha, the Universe will continue to present us with that situation until we do, and sometimes in increasingly intense ways. 

As with any of the kleshas, awareness of dvesha’s manifestation in our lives is the first step to overcoming it.  When we can clearly see the ways in which we avoid things, we can use this awareness to investigate the aversion.  Approaching dvesha with curiosity and insight has a way of diffusing its power in our minds and in our lives. 

Aversion creates judgement and entices fear toward things that are either unfamiliar to us, or with which we’ve had a negative experience in the past.  In extreme cases, dvesha can even cause us to label entire groups of people as ‘bad’. 

Like the example I used earlier about the dentist, we categorize things based on our perception of similarity.  This type of judgmental thinking causes suffering on both an individual and global level. 

If you are affected by dvesha, you might experience any of the following:

  • Fear/anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Rigidness/inability to be flexible
  • Judgementalism
  • Stagnancy/complacency
  • Atychiphobia (fear of failure)

Aversion creates judgement and entices fear toward things that are either unfamiliar to us, or with which we’ve had a negative experience in the past.  In extreme cases, dvesha can even cause us to label entire groups of people as ‘bad’.  Like the example I used earlier about the dentist, we categorize things based on our perception of similarity.  This type of judgmental thinking causes suffering on both an individual and global level. 

If you are affected by dvesha, you might experience any of the following:

  • Fear/anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Rigidness/inability to be flexible
  • Judgementalism
  • Stagnancy

Ways to Decrease Dvesha in our Lives

One of the ways we can work with dvesha in our lives is to challenge ourselves to see things as neutral, rather as label them ‘bad’ or ‘good’.  This is tricky.  Things like car accidents or illness always feel negative, while things like a promotion or a new baby feel positive.  But the challenge of a yogi’s life is to see situations and circumstances in life exactly as they are, dropping the labels and associations that our ego assigns to them.  When we’re able to adopt this type of neutrality-thinking, we let go of the fear that aversion creates.   

As with all of the kleshas, awareness of the way they manifest in our lives is key to overcoming them.  With dvesha, it is helpful to be mindful of the ways we avoid things, even little things.  The goal with overcoming both raga (attachment) and dvesha is to practice what the yogis call non-attachment, the understanding that all worldly things, titles, and even relationships, are temporary.  If we are not attaching our happiness to things, or avoiding them out of fear, we can appreciate life’s experiences the way they were meant to be appreciated. 

Have you been enjoying reading our blogs?  If so, we invite you to check out our blog page here for more insightful reads on all things yoga.  At Inspiring Actions, we are more than just a yoga studio.  We incorporate the concepts of overcoming mental obstacles to happiness, including the kleshas, in everything we do.  Click here for a list of our classes or follow us on Facebook to receive daily updates on our schedule and upcoming events!  Thanks for reading!  Join us next week as we learn about the last klesha, abhinivesah, or fear of death. 

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