In Buddhism, the wheel of Samsara is the repeated cycle of suffering through birth, death, and rebirth. The eight limbs of yoga as described by the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (of which Asana, the yoga postures, and Pranayama, the breath work of yoga, are a part), are thought of as the teachings towards enlightenment — the end of suffering, the end of Samsara. One of these lessons is the overcoming of obstacles, or Kleshas. One of these in particular is more important than ever: releasing Raga, or attachment, especially in moments of challenge.
Introduction to the Kleshas
Within the Yoga Sutras, Kleshas are negative mental states or mental patterns that cause unnecessary afflictions in our lives. There are five Kleshas: Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (ego), Raga (attachment), Dvesha (aversion), and Abhinivesha (fear of death). On your quest for spiritual awakening, the Kleshas are obstacles that must be overcome.
- Avidya (ignorance): The inability to see things for what they are; this causes you to mistake transient, ego-related matters for permanent, soul-related ones.
- Asmita (ego): The tendency to over identify with your ego; this keeps you from connecting with your soul.
- Raga (attachment): The flame of desire that causes addiction to pleasure; this discourages you from leaving your comfort zone for more evolved territory.
- Dvesha (aversion)
The aversion to pain; this can create a quicksand-like cycle of misery and self-hatred that sucks you under and suffocates your will to evolve.
- Abhinivesha (fear of death)
The fear of death or a clinging to life; this dilutes your focus and interferes with your ability to experience the spiritual freedom that is the goal of yoga.
Raga: Attachment, desire, addiction
“Raga is that inclination (attachment) which dwells on pleasure.” — The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
This concept is particularly relevant to the patterns of our modern world today. We have become dependent on a great number of things — whether they be people, material items, or feelings. These addictions become our comfort zone, inhibiting us from exploration and growth. We are so attached to items, people, beliefs, or ideas, that happiness and inner peace depends on what we have and what we want. We suffer because we are attaching our internal happiness to external conditions.
This is Raga. It is important to note that there is a big difference between “attachment” and “love and appreciation.” Attachment is to hold on to what we have, so tight, that we develop fear of losing it. To practice yoga, on the other hand, is to be present and in a state of awareness in which we are able to appreciate what has been given to us and enjoy it while it’s available.
So as you can see, attachment creates pain in two different ways — fear of losing what we have, or fear of not getting what we want. When we are so wrapped up in this desire, we cannot ever be truly present.
How to overcome Raga, or attachment
“You can only lose what you cling to.” — Buddha
The advice of Patanjali (the creator of the yoga sutras) is for us to develop the art of “letting go.” Letting go is not neglecting or rejecting the things we feel appreciation for, but truly enjoying what we have while we have them. As written by Emma Newlyn, long-time yoga teacher, “It’s not about avoiding any sort of pleasure, but realising the impermanent nature of pleasure and pain, and being observant to our thoughts and behaviours.” By acknowledging the vulnerability and uncertainty of life we can find internal freedom.
Just like the other Kleshas, the concept of Raga is only valuable if we bring it down to our daily lives. How do we do that? Well, maybe by paying attention to the internal dialogue happening inside — noticing if we have thoughts that are basing our happiness on what we have or want. Maybe we are expecting certain results from our actions and we get angry if things don’t work as we expect. Or maybe we feel disturbed when people don’t treat us or behave in a certain way.
Happiness and fulfillment are not attained from the outside — with the next raise at work, the purchase of that next outfit/car/plane ticket. We will never be truly happy if we are constantly searching for the “golden ticket.” Fulfillment comes from within, from the thoughts and connection within yourself.
Practicing yoga and mindfulness allows us to train our brains and bodies to remain in the present moment. We can start to notice the patterns within our thoughts that are based around raga (attachment and desire). If we do not accomplish a certain pose or we become distracted during meditation, Raga would lead us to feel discouraged, frustrated, or otherwise unhappy. Instead, we can acknowledge the reality of a certain situation, accept it, and move beyond it.
By letting go of these fluctuations of the mind, we enjoy the fullness of life in the present moment without attaching our emotions to the success or failure of every situation. This is the art of “letting go.”
Raga and “letting go” in the time of COVID-19
Although timely, releasing raga is a very challenging practice in the time of quarantine. Many people around the globe are staying home in order to keep their communities safe as health care workers fight to keep the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic at a minimum. For many of us this means a lot of time spent on the couch, in front of screens, or otherwise diving deep into the “attachments” we recently discussed.
However, this is also a moment to embrace and explore the art of letting go. We can take the extra time that has been given and work on self-improvement. If there are certain attachments that we have been feeling trapped by, this is a chance to work on letting them go without pressure. Whether it is our cell phones, a few drinks at the end of the night, binge watching tv shows, or any other form of attachment — little by little through the art of letting go we can unravel the unhealthy cycles we have fallen into.
During this time at home, we can work on bettering ourselves and learning to connect inwards. Happiness and fulfillment are within all of us. Letting go of attachments that are not serving our wellbeing is one step towards a simplified, awakened life of yogic contentment.
Co-written by Pilar Salazar + Sheridan Plummer