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A kleśā (Sanskrit, also klesha; Pali: kilesa; Tibetan: nyon mongs), according to the Buddhist tradition, is a state of mind that leads to suffering. The three primary kleshas are ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Kleshas can also include states of mind such as anxiety, depression, and fear.

Contemporary Explanations of Kleshas[edit]

Generally speaking, kleshas are states of mind that obscure the mind and cause suffering. Contemporary translators have used many different English words to translate the term kleshas,[1] such as: afflictions, passions, disturbing emotions, or defilements.

The following table provides brief descriptions of the term kleshas given by various contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars. The table also indicates the English words used by each of these teachers as a translation for the term kleshas.

English term used Description Source
Afflictive emotions ...those mind states that cause suffering, such as depression, fear, hatred, anger, jealousy and so on – it’s a long list! Joseph Goldstein. The Emerging Western Buddhism: An Interview with Joseph Goldstein.
Afflictive emotions In general, any defilement or emotion which obscures the mind. They are often summarized as three: ignorance, attachment and aversion. All other negative predispositions are produced on the basis of these three. Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen (2010). A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path. p. 451
Afflictions Mental factors that produce states of mental torment both immediately and in the long term. The five principle kleshas, which are sometimes called poisons, are attachment, aversion, ignorance, pride, and jealousy. Longchen Yeshe Dorje (Kangyur Rinpoche) (2010). Treasury of Precious Qualities. p. 492
Conditioning Factors or Mental Afflictions The processes that not only describe what we perceive, but also determine our responses. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (2008). The Joy of Living. p. 115
Destructive emotions Fundamentally, a destructive emotion—which is also referred to as an ‘obscuring’ or ‘afflictive’ mental factor—is something that prevents the mind from ascertaining reality as it is. With a destructive emotion, there will always be a gap between the way things appear and the ways things are. Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. p. 75.
Kleshas The basic idea is that certain powerful reactions have the capacity to take hold of us and drive our behavior. We believe in these reactions more than we believe in anything else, and they become the means by which we both hide from ourselves and attempt to cope with a world of ceaseless change and unpredictability. The three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance are the classic Buddhist examples, but others include conceit, skeptical doubt, and so-called "speculative" views... Mark Epstein. Going on Being: Buddhism and the Way of Change, a Positive Psychology for the West.


  • Citation needed

In early Buddhist texts the kilesas generally referred to mental states which temporarily cloud the mind and manifest in unskillful actions. Over time the kilesas, and in particular the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion, came to be seen as the very roots of samsaric existence.


References used to clarify the meaning of the three poisons in English:


  1. ^ Epstein, Mark (2009)