The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali discuss raga (desire) as the third limb of the klesa-s (causes of suffering). In the past weeks I touched on the foundation of the klesa-s – avidya (wrong perception) and asmita (identity or ego).

Avidya is the basis of all of the klesa-s. Without clarity of mind we cannot judge what is appropriate for us. And from here stems other klesa-s such as raga (desire). Raga is characterised by the idea that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. We want what we do not have. We may have tasted an experience and want more. So we pursue.

In the Sanskrit language, the ra of raga is the root for fire. Fire can consume! Ga is the root for darkness. So in ra-ga there is the potent combination of both fire and darkness!

Raga fulfils because it is an instantaneous form of pleasure or gratification. Then follows the expectation that this pleasure will occur whenever we indulge in the same activity.

We might become so attached to that feeling of fulfilment that we overindulge in trying to achieve it.

The irony here is that too much raga creates unhappiness. When raga is in excess what was once a pleasurable experience begins to cause suffering (dukha).

Our past experience becomes the expectation for all that follows. But how often are we disappointed by something that once gave us pleasure?

Excess raga is all around us (often highlighted by the suffix ‘a-holic’!) – shop-aholic, alcoholic, work-aholic. Desire for the perfect appearance, car, home, partner or job. Desire can easily become a form of addiction.

Even relationships can contain a good dose of raga – there may be pleasure on one hand but pain on the other! How often do we go back for the good parts and try to ignore the bad? It may take a long time to see that the destructive patterns outweigh the pleasurable ones.

Our yoga practice can be fuelled by desire to improve our flexibility, tone our body, lengthen our breath or many other things. Maybe we have a profound experience in class and want to replicate it week after week. If we go into every class expecting the same result we are going to be let down. Change is the only certainty!

It’s not all bad news though…through reflection and mindfulness we can begin to see patterns that are not serving us and take the steps to change. Yoga actually teaches us to let go of the results of our actions and be in the now.

Desire to change can be a positive thing!

Is there excess raga somewhere in your life?

By Jill Harris



Next week… dvesa (attachment).