The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.
The 5 afflictions listed here are less of a discrete set of five problems and more of a summary of human qualities that suppress enlightenment. There is overlap between them and intermingling of concepts. For example, I feel like attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain are the same thing, in a way. Drug addicts begin as people seeking pleasure but often become dependent on the aversion to pain quitting causes. Regardless, these qualities all support my general motto – moderation.
Ego and the sense of ‘I’ are not in themselves afflictions because we need them to achieve a sense of identity as thinking beings. It’s the excess of ego that leads to an affliction. Evolved souls are able to detach from the ego and perceive the world with a more objective lens but the sense of ‘I’ is fundamental to humanity and cannot be eradicated. The driving force of ego can be the only thing keeping someone alive when life becomes bleak due to tragedy or misfortune. Affliction or not, we can’t survive without it.
Ignorance and lack of wisdom start out as the same thing. As we age and learn, lack of wisdom can be conquered. Ignorance, on the other hand, is a blockage in someone’s mind preventing them from seeing the connection to Brahman. It must be directly confronted and summarily conquered to move toward a more evolved existence. Students who spend time learning from others, whether in class or via books, gradually strengthen their spiritual knowledge and expand their depth of wisdom. It takes time, which is why respecting our elders is pretty important in this area.
Iyengar states that “the sadhaka must learn to locate the sources of the afflictions, in order to nip them in the bud.” The act of self-study in Sutra 2.1 is the best way to identify our individual sources of affliction. Each path is different and relying on the words of others to do all the work will yield insubstantial results. After all, there are no shortcuts on the path to enlightenment.