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In Buddhism, the Sanskrit word klesha (Pali: Kilesa meaning "defilements," "corruptions" or "poisons") refers to mental states that temporarily cloud the mind's nature and manifest in various forms as unskillful actions of body, speech, and mind. (The kilesha are called "The Three Poisons" in Mahayana Buddhism.) The three primary kilesha are known as mula klesha ("root obscurations"): 1) lobha: greed, lust (rāga), attachment; 2) dosa: hatred, aversion; 3) moha: delusion, sloth, ignorance (avijjā). These three kilesas specifically refer to the subtle movement of mind (citta) when it initially encounters a mental object. If the mind initially reacts by moving towards the mental object, seeking it out, or attaching to it, the experience and results will be tinged by the lobha kilesa. Unpleasant objects or experiences are often met by aversion, or the mind moving away from the object, which is the root for hatred and anger to arise in relation to the object.

All Buddhist schools teach that through Tranquility (Samatha) meditation the kilesas are pacified, though not eradicated, and through Insight (Vipassana) the true nature of the kilesas and the mind itself is understood. When the empty nature of the Self and the Mind is fully understood, there is no longer a root for the disturbing emotions to be attached to, and the disturbing emotions lose their power to distract the mind.

Religious Context

Buddhism speaks of the three root causes of suffering (greed, hatred and delusion) and states that they must be rooted out in one's mind in order for one to live at peace. In general, Buddhism teaches that intentions are the root source of either good or bad karma (actions). Thus, Aryadasa Ratnasinghe writes, "There is nothing called 'sin' in Buddhism in which actions are merely termed as meritorious ('kusala') and demeritorious (akusala)."[1] Vipaka, the result of one's Karma, may create low quality living, hardships, destruction and all means of disharmony in life; and it may also create healthy living, easiness, and harmony in life. Good deeds produce good results while bad deeds produce bad results. Karma and Vipaka are a person's own actions and results.

The Five Hindrances and Ten Fetters

Kleshas encompass different types of mental defilements. These defilements are known in Buddhism as fetters (Pāli: samyojana, saŋyojana, saññojana) and hindrances (Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni).[2] A mental fetter is a "chain" or "bond" that shackles a person to samsara (the cycle of suffering). However, by completely cutting through all fetters, one attains Nirvana. Fetters span multiple lifetimes and are difficult to remove, while hindrances are transitory obstacles.

The Pali canon identifies ten fetters:[3]

  1. belief in an individual self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)[4]
  2. doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings (vicikicchā)[5]
  3. attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāso)[6]
  4. sensual desire (kāmacchando)[7]
  5. ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo)[8]
  6. lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth (rūparāgo)[9]
  7. lust for immaterial existence (arūparāgo)
  8. pride in self, conceit, arrogance (māno)[10]
  9. restlessness, distraction (uddhaccaŋ)[11]
  10. ignorance (avijjā)[12]

Correspondingly, the five hindrances (Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni)[13] are negative mental states that impede success with meditation (jnana) and lead away from enlightenment. These states are known as:

  1. Sensual desire (kamacchanda): Craving for pleasure to the senses.
  2. Anger or ill-will (byapada, vyapada): Feelings of malice directed toward others.
  3. Sloth, torpor and boredom (thina-middha): Half-hearted action with little or no concentration.
  4. Restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkacca): The inability to calm the mind.
  5. Doubt (vicikiccha): Lack of conviction or trust.

In the Pali Canon

The Pali Canon's Samyutta Nikaya contains several discourses that juxtapose the five hindrances with the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).[14] For instance, according to Samyutta Nikaya 46.37, the Buddha stated:

"Bhikkhus, there are these five obstructions, hindrances, corruptions of the mind, weakeners of wisdom. What five? Sensual desire… ill will… sloth and torpor … restlessness and remorse… doubt….
"There are, bhikkhus, these seven factors of enlightenment, which are nonobstructions, nonhindrances, noncorruptions of the mind; when developed and cultivated they lead to the realization of the fruit of true knowledge and liberation. What seven? The enlightenment factor of mindfulness… [discrimination of states… energy… rapture… tranquility… concentration…] equanimity….[15][16]

From post-canonical Pali literature

  method of
path of
first jnana based
on bodily foulness
nonreturning or
ill will first jhana based
on metta
sloth &
perception of light arahantship
& worry
serenity arahantship
& nonreturning
doubt defining of phenomena
Table 1. The Pali commentary's methods
and paths for escaping the hindrances.

According to the first-century C.E. exegetic Vimuttimagga, the five hindrances include all ten "fetters" as follows: sense desire includes any attachment to passion; ill will includes all unwholesome states of hatred; and, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt include all unwholesome states of infatuation. The Vimuttimagga further distinguishes that "sloth" refers to mental states while "torpor" refers to physical states resultant from food or time or mental states; if torpor results from food or time, then one diminishes it through energy; otherwise, one removes it with meditation. In addition, the Vimuttimagga identifies four types of doubt:

  • doubt regarding self is a hindrance to tranquility;
  • doubt regarding the Four Noble Truths and three worlds is a hindrance to insight;
  • doubt regarding the Triple Gem is a hindrance to both tranquility and insight;
  • doubt regarding places and people is a hindrance to "non-doctrinal" things;
  • doubt regarding the Discourses is a hindrance to solitude.[18]

According to Buddhaghosa's fifth-century C.E. commentary to the Samyutta Nikaya,[19] one can momentarily escape the hindrances through jnanic suppression or through insight while one eradicates the hindrances through attainment of one of the four stages of enlightenment (see Table 1).[20]

Appearance in Yoga Sutras

The concept of klesha also appears in Hinduism. For example, the third chapter of Patañjali's Yogasūtra identifies the Pañca-kleśa (five afflications) as follows:

1) Ignorance (in the form of a misapprehension about Reality) (ávidyā), 2) egoism (in the form of an erroneous identification of the Self with the intellect) (asmitā), 3) attachment (rāga), 4) aversion (dveṣa), and 5) fear of death (which is derived from clinging ignorantly to life)—abhiniveśa—(abhiniveśāḥ) are the five (pañca) Kleśa-s or Afflictions (kleśāḥ).[21]


  1. Aryadasa Ratnasinghe, "The uniqueness of Buddhism.".lankalibrary.com. Retrieved October 29, 2008.
  2. Gunaratana (2003), dhamma talk entitled "Dhamma [Satipatthana] - Ten Fetters."
  3. These fetters are enumerated, for instance, in Samyutta Nikaya 45.179 and 45.180 (Bhikkhu Bodhi, (trans.) 2000. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. (Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 08617133112000), 1565-1566). This article's Pali words and English translations for the ten fetters are based on Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-1925), 656. University of Chicago. Retrieved October 29, 2008.
  4. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 660-661.
  5. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 615.
  6. See, for instance, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 713, regarding the similar concept of sīlabbata-upādāna, "grasping after works and rites."
  7. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 203-204, 274.
  8. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 654.
  9. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 574-575.
  10. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 528.
  11. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 136.
  12. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), 85.
  13. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 376, entry for "Nīvaraṇa."
  14. For example, in Samyutta Nikaya chapter 46, Bojjhanga-samyutta, discourses 46.31 through 46.40 are based on this juxtaposition (Bodhi, 2000, 1589-1594).
  15. Bodhi, (2000), 1591-1592. Bodhi elides the middle five factors of enlightenment, inserted here in square brackets, since all seven factors of enlightenment are identified previously multiple times in Bodhi's text.
  16. Anālayo. (2006) Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization. (Birmingham: Windhorse Publications), 239-240, underlines:

    "To overcome the hindrances, to practise satipatthana, and to establish the awakening factors are, indeed, according to several Pali discourses, the key aspects and the distinctive features common to the awakenings of all Buddhas, past, present, and future."

    Anālayo further supports this by identifying that, in all extant Sanskrit and Chinese versions of the Satipatthana Sutta, only the five hindrances and seven factors of enlightenment are consistently identified under the dhamma contemplation section; contemplations of the [Skandha|[five aggregates]], six sense bases and Four Noble Truths are not included in one or more of these non-Pali versions.

  17. Arahant Upatissa et al. (1995). The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga). (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 9552400546), 316, identifies that sense-desire is "destroyed through the Path of Non-Return." In the context of commenting on sutta Samyutta Nikaya 46.55, Bodhi, (2005), 440, n.14, states that sensual desire is "eradicated by the path of arahantship (since kāmacchanda is here interpreted widely enough to include desire for any object, not only sensual desire)".
  18. Upatissa et al. (1995), 91-92.
  19. Sāratthappakāsinī
  20. Regarding the Sāratthappakāsinī commentary, see Bodhi, (2005), 440, n.14. Regarding the Vimuttimagga commentary, see Upatissa et al. (1995), 316.
  21. [1]. accessed: November 23, 2007

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Anālayo. 2006. Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications. ISBN 1899579540.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. 2000. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0861713311.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu, ed. 2005. In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0861714911.
  • Nyanasatta Thera, trans. 1994. Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness (Majjhima Nikaya 10). Available on-line at [2]. accesstoinsight. Retrieved October 29, 2008.
  • Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede, eds. 1921-1925. The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. online [3]dsal.University of Chicago. Retrieved October 29, 2008.
  • Upatissa, Arahant, and N.R.M. Ehara, trans., Soma Thera, trans., and Kheminda Thera trans. 1995. The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga). Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 9552400546

External links

All links retrieved April 20, 2018.

  • Kilesa māra "The Demons of Defilement" (Kilesa Mara). A tape-recorded talk, dating from the last year of Ajaan Lee's life, by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo. accesstoinsight.org.
  • The ten kilesa


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