sa tu digha kāla nairantarya satkārāsevīto dṛḍha bhumiḥ
it (practice), but, long/extended, period of time, without interruption/ continuous, with reverence, solid/firm, ground.
For practice to become effective at undoing or rewiring the citta vṛtti it must be established over a lengthy period of time, it must be continuous and with reverence, or an attitude of supplication – then there is a firm ground for citta vṛtti nirodha.
Edwin Bryant’s analogy of a garden best illustrates this. In order for a garden to flourish, the earth must be prepared, nourished, cultivated, then seeds can be planted, which in turn require care. Once the garden is in full bloom (after we have tended it with attention and love) we still cannot simply stop gardening or weeds will take root. In this analogy the plants are the citta vṛtti some are intended to be present, some we plant and encourage, the weeds are also citta vṛtti, these we need to remove. We cannot simply cut them down we need to pull them out from the root and still part of the nature of a garden (mind) is that it is exposed to the world around it so other seeds will be blown to the earth and try to take root. The conscientious practitioner knows that we cannot take a holiday from tending the garden of our mind or if we do, there may be a fair bit of maintenance to do when we get back!
Practice is the effort we put in to achieving steadiness of mind. So whenever we are putting effort into making our mind steady we are practicing, whether this is through asana (physical shape making), dhyana (concentrating), yama (our conduct in the world) or anything else. Patanjlai is inclusive, rather than prescriptive, there is an acknowledgement that the mind may be made steady through many means and it is the effectiveness of the means rather than dogmatic adherence to a specific path which will lead to Self evolution.
As this is a short sutra and easy to grasp I thought you might be interested in a little Sanskrit?
from this sutra let us take ‘sthitau’ and ‘yatno’.
Sthitau comes from the root class sthā from which words associated with standing come. For example tishṭhati (third person) – stands, or samasthitiḥ – same standing or even/balanced standing, or sthira grounded, steady, firm. When you begin to get your head around the root, suffix, prefix, case system of Sanskrit you begin to find a melody and a poetry in the language. A word rarely, if ever, has one meaning. Mostly words are associated with ideas, for example standing can conjure images of a statue or an ancient tree, or people waiting at a bus stop. Because there is a spaciousness in the way Sanskrit can be translated, there is room for us all to find our own understanding. The essence of the idea is captured but we are not limited by a prescriptive definition. This flexibly acknowledges the inherent limitations of language. What I call green and you call green are probably not the same colour, what I consider just and your comprehension of justice is possibly different. Words mean what we want them to mean. Remember vikalpa? metaphor or imagination born of words with no foundation in reality? We live our lives striving for understanding, often times we think this comes through language, critical thinking and study but what if it came through putting effort into steadying the mind?
Yatno is probably from the root yam via yat. The origin of yam is to stretch – which is of particular interest to asana practitioners as we are stretching our bodies in an effortful way. Or in the context of concentration/mediation we are stretching our attention, in yoga we stretch our awareness to encompass all things, rather than alone we are all one.
The mind is unstuck from its habitual patterns (tannirodhah) through practice (abhyāsa) and nonattachment (vairāgyābhyām).
Also through the practise of nonattachment. It is the practise of yoga that Patanjali is advocating, the details of this will be expounded at the sutras continue. The more I study, explore and live with the yoga sutras the more I appreciate that they don’t exist in isolation of each other, whilst we can break them down and examine them each specifically, this is unlikely to be the most efficient way of grasping them . Patanjali lays firm foundations, I would describe this as a guide book rather than an instruction manual. Even when Patanjali does begin to go into greater detail about what we can practice the instructions are minimal and terse, it is the act of practising which becomes the teacher.
It is worthy of note that nonattachment rather than detachment is the translation I favour. It is a subtle but important difference. Nonattachment acknowledges that we love, we feel, we experience emotions and we may well need to acquire some material possessions to function effectively within society, but we are not attached to them, they come, they go we remain equanimous. From detachment I infer a coldness, an aloofness, a not engaging with life. Yoga is not about disengaging from life but rather living as fully as we can in a state of freedom. We are undisturbed by the horrors but this does not mean that we don’t see them and that we can’t agitate for change but we are more effective advocates as we see beyond the whirling mind stuff.
Please note this is bloody difficult, which may well be why it’s a practise! If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, across as many life times as we need.
Hopefully you have seen that Patanjali is systematic in his approach to conveying information. He is grounded in definitions and explanations.
These first 11 sutras have given us;
a definition of yoga,
a description of what yoga is,
and what yoga is not,
– further to what yoga is not there have been some detailed descriptions of the five citta vṛtti.
Patanjali is striving for us to come from an attitude of negation: if we can clearly define and understand what constitutes citta vṛtti then what is left will be yoga.
In some respects this could be related to the practice of “Neti, neti” where we strive to understand Brahman through understanding what Brahman is not “not this, not that”. For example sitting in contemplation and focusing on our body our thoughts, realising that if we can focus on them whatever the thing that is doing the focusing can not be the same a the thoughts or body, therefore we are not our thoughts or body, so what are we?
Patanjali is offering us an opportunity to look deeply into the way the mind works. Remember that these five different patterns that the mind follows can be both detrimental and helpful in our evolution towards the cessation of all fluctuations of the mind, as we move towards steadiness.
The five patterns are: Knowledge, error, metaphor, sleep and memory.
When the mind is no longer stuck in these patterns then we can see that we are not the mind but something else, we see our true form.
experienced sense objects not slipping away (is) memory.
Memory is our capacity to retain information.
We remember what we experience in the way we perceive it. Therefore memory is dependent on the other vṛttis. if we have correct knowledge of something we will remember it correctly, or we will remember the errors that we make and if we don’t realise we made an error then our memory may result in us making that error again. We often think and remember in metaphor, we may remember our ‘lovers face is like the moon’ or ‘she walked in beauty like the night’, and swapna (our dreams) are created by our memories. In nidra we may have no active vṛtti but on waking we remember the quality of our sleep.
Remember in the last sutra the concept of pratyaya (the imprint of an object in the mind)? When there are imprints which are collated by the mind into actions, or the performance of a task, through memory, they are called saṃskāras. Saṃskāras are the patterns that we learn in order to function in prakṛti, as an embodied being. For example the action of making a cup of coffee is a saṃskāra. I have learned to set up the areopress, put in the ground coffee, put water in the kettle, light the stove, place the kettle on the stove, wait for the kettle to whistle, add the boiled water to the coffee, press the coffee. All of these stages form the saṃskāra of making coffee. There are variations on the theme depending on the equipment and my familiarity with it. A few years ago I had a south Indian coffee press, it took me several days to learn and remember the order of the process, I had to modify my previous coffee making saṃskāra to include new information.
If any step in the pattern of the saṃskāra is crystallised incorrectly then the mistakes will be repeated. Let us extrapolate beyond coffee making. There are saṃskāras for every element of our lives, from mundane tasks to building relationships, they are all predicated upon our previous experiences, our perceptions, our understanding.
Thus our life and the way that we exist in the world is completely within our control. For example if my perception is that my self worth is low then Patanjali gives me the tools to change that perception. The process of yoga is an undoing of misunderstandings and misidentifications with parts of our mindstuff that we mistake for who we are. The answer to the question ‘who am I?’ is puruṣa. Yoga helps us to realise this. We can realise this as householders or renunciates but ultimately the purpose of our life is to live in harmony with ourSelf, in such a way prakṛti (the act of living in the material world) does not hinder the experience of puruṣa (the cosmic world).
Patanjali postulates the first step towards this is acknowledging the components of the mind so we can recognise we are not our mind. We can contemplate and analyse how we think, which in itself indicates we are not those thoughts but something else. Whilst this sounds like Cartesian dualism it is worthy of note that in the context of yoga puruṣa is not the mind, the mind is of the body but that puruṣa pervades all matter as well as being beyond matter (remember sutra 1:9, vikalpa, my experience of studying these philosophies is such that at some point I have had to let go of trying to put my understanding into words because words are not fit for the purpose of understanding.
Just sit in the silence and watch, become the drṣṭṛ and see for yourself who you are.
abhāva-pratyayālambanā vṛttir + nidra or abhāva-pratyayālambanā tamovṛttirnidra
When the mind is in a state of deep sleep one could consider all patterns, fluctuations (vṛttis) to have ceased, but is this not cittavṛtti-nirodhaḥ (छितवृत्ति निरोधः) as described in sutras I:2, 3, & 4. Although the mind may seem to not be whirling or taking the form of any pattern, in the state of nidra the guna of tamas (heaviness, solidity, denseness, lethergy) is dominant. In the cittavṛtti-nirodhaḥ which leads to the seer seeing itself, and all vṛttis ceasing, the guna of sattva presides. Please note that there are two versions of this sutra, one where the guna of tamas is implied and one where its presence is stated.
(For a little more information on the gunas look at the Yoga, Sankyha, Vedānta pdf in the “What is Yoga?” section of the website)
A literal translation of this sutra could be:
absence of impressions supporting the mind stuff is sleep
absence of impressions in the mind stuff caused by tamas is sleep.
ālambanā is a support, it can refer to the object which has been chosen as the focus of concentration/meditation. For example if I focus my awareness on the North Star then the North Star is the support, the ālambanā.
Pratyaya refers to a cause or something that forms the basis for something else, it can also mean an imprint that is made by an external object on to the mindstuff, like the negative of a photograph which needs to be developed, in this case the pratyaya is ‘developed’ by the buddhi and then presented to purusa. Both of these terms will reoccur throughout the sutras.
Patanjali differentiates between nidra, deep sleep, and swapa, the dream state. The dream state is related to the next pattern for the mind to follow, smṛtiḥ, memory.
Knowledge resulting from words which are devoid of a real object is the third pattern Patanjlai introduces us to. Vikalpa is often defined as imagination but Patanjali is more specific than simple flights of fancy or day dreams. śabda means words and śūnya devoid or empty. Therefore this pattern relates to figurative language, words which are in common usage but are in fact devoid of objective meaning.
For example we say the sun rises. In reality the sun does not rise or set the earth moves around the sun, the sun appears to move and therefore we use language which reflects that even though it is not accurate. There are many examples where the language we use may be illustrative rather than literal, but is convenient and comprehensive therefore we continue to use it.
Part of the problem with this is that we become lazy and less precise in our expression of meaning. If it’s ok to talk about things in ways that make sense but are not ‘correct’ then how we understand the world may suffer. The philosopher Wittgenstein concerns himself with a similar challenge with his discussion of the beetle in the box . Language is like a beetle in a box. We all have a beetle that we keep in a box, we never see anyone else’s beetle. But the thing that we all keep in our boxes we all have agreed to call a beetle. That doesn’t mean we have the same thing in our boxes only that we call it the same.
This illustrates but is slightly different to vikalpa as with vikalpa we know there isn’t really a beetle but we are saying there is for ease of understanding. For example a unicorn, we know what a unicorn is even though we also know that they don’t exist. The word ‘unicorn’ conjures an image of a form in our mind which we (collectively as society have agreed on). The word itself has meaning even if there is no vastu (objective reality). Another example could be skyflower. We can imagine a skyflower even though we’ve never seen one.
Vikalpa is so commonplace it is hard to go through a day without the mind whirling into this vrrti and interaction between people would be challenging, to say the least, if we eradicated it. There is one significant difficulty that arises due to vikalpa, we have become accustomed to using language to describe everything, but there are some things that can not be described. Puruṣa can not be described in language as the concepts that we require to try to comprehend puruṣa are beyond words. So here Patanjali is encouraging us not to think about what puruṣa is like but rather to clarify what puruṣa isn’t. It is a warning that whilst poetic and creative language may make the spirit soar it can also limit us in our understanding of the vastness of the universe.
The second of the patterns that the mind traces, like water tracing the same grooves on the beach to the sea, is viparyayo; error.
The mind gravitates towards the patterns we have developed and can get caught in them.
Error or being mistaken arises when there is a breakdown in communication between the mind and the real world. Please note that in this context we dwell in the realm of prakriti, matter. Therefore there is a ‘real’, physical, material world that exists; in this context the tree does make a sound when it falls in the forest regardless of whether anyone is there to hear it; Schrödinger’s cat is either alive or dead before the box is opened.
Error occurs or is established (pratiṣṭham) when there is mithyā, false, jñānam, knowledge of the form (rūpa). The classical example is that false knowledge of the form of a rope creates the erroneous belief it is a snake.
In one discussion with Dr Jayashree we explored other kinds of form which we mistake, for example the form of a ‘dirty look’. It is common that we are mistaken about someone’s intention or thought because we make assumptions which are not founded in reality. We bring perceptions and inferences into our interactions and lives. Whilst these are clouded by the vrtti of viparyayo they reinforce our sense of separation and are detrimental to our evolution. How do we part the clouds, clear the water? Through Yoga of course 😉
Through the consistent practice of analysis and observation, until we smooth out the grooves and the mind can roam in the realm of Puruṣa.
Through sense perception, inference born of logic and authoritative testimony knowledge is gained.
The mind moves in its circles, sometimes these movements move us towards clarity and understanding, sometimes they catch us and halt our evolution.
The first set of patterns the mind can move into are those associated with how we can acquire accurate, ‘correct’ knowledge.
This immediately raises the question of absolute truth, is there ever such a thing as ‘correct’ knowledge? Everything that we consider to be true is only true in the context of the information we have at present. Established truths are constantly changing as we acquire more knowledge that we consider to be authoritative. Probably the best example of this is our understanding of the cosmos. There was once a time the earth was flat and the stars in the sky were placed there as Hercules through his demons in to the heavens. Exploration and investigation have led to current thinking believing the earth is elliptical and the stars are balls of plasma held together by their own gravity. But these accepted truths will change and evolve as more information is gathered and our understanding expands.
At this point Patanjali is not concerned with what the truth or ‘correct’ knowledge is but with how we acquire knowledge. If the process of acquisition is flawed then the veracity of the knowledge is irrelevant.
The practical nature of the yoga sutras places the greatest authority on empiricism, knowledge gained through direct experience from the senses. The process of yoga clarifies the senses so that we can ever further collect more accurate information. Imagine the mind is a window. If the window is dirty we can’t see through it, we might see shapes or movement but we cannot identify what those shapes or movements are. Yoga cleans the window so we can see clearly, our senses (physical and psychological) become more refined and our understanding increases. This is Pratyaksa.
Once we can see, hear, feel things accurately how can we interpret the information we have gathered correctly?
Patanjali calls the most effective way of interpreting the information anumana, through the logical application of inference. In western philosophy this is called syllogism. For example:
All aliens are green.
Tim is an alien.
Therefore Tim is green.
The crucial elements of a syllogism are in understanding its limits. Because we know that “all” aliens are green if Tim is an alien he must be green. This will hold true until we find a yellow alien and then the syllogism cannot be applied, because we now know that not all aliens are green, some (at least one) are yellow.
It is also necessary that Tim is definitely an alien before we conclude he must be green, maybe he just looks like an alien? A syllogism also doesn’t work backwards, just because Tim is green doesn’t mean he’s an alien, he could be an unripe banana.
The reliability of applying logic depends on the reliability of the premises. Another example could be as simple as a literal application of “there is no smoke without fire”.
If the only circumstance in which smoke is produced is in the presence of fire then it follows logically that if there is smoke there must be a fire. Again this can only be logically true for as long as there is no other cause of smoke.
Patanjali is suggesting that we need to be able to apply these precise criteria in order to gain correct knowledge. However how does one know when one has purified the senses to physically see, hear, smell, taste, and touch free from bias? How can we know the syllogism we apply is flawless?
The third way of knowing is possibly the most ambiguous but also the easiest (in certain contexts) to access: Agamah, reliable testimony (verbal). Ambiguous because how do you know the testimony is reliable? First we need to know the person who is giving the testimony is reliable, they should be of irrefutable character free from blemishes, and they should have direct experience of that which they speak. The words of this trustworthy person can create a pattern in the mind of the listener and the citta will then flow into that pattern, facilitating a direct experience in the listener. Finding the trustworthy person is the crux.
Patanjali is writing in the post vedantic era, the concepts of the Veda are firmly established and there is an assumption of their knowledge and understanding in the Yoga Sutras. Yet whilst The Vedas placed the emphasis on ritual and the Upanishads shifted the emphasis to the experience of or searching for experiences of ParaBrahman, Patanjali is guiding us directly towards those experiences. There is no mention of any specific scriptures in the Yoga Sutras, direct experience of Iswara, ParaBrahman is considered to be the goal. Rather than learning about others experiences we should go and have our own.
The stuff of the mind can be pulled into different patterns. Some of these patterns are beautiful the mind will dance with them for a while, some of the patterns bring us pain and the mind can become cloaked in their darkness. The goal of yoga is to help the mind stop both dancing and becoming shrouded: to help the mind turn back inwards and reflect the consciousness.
Another interpretation of vrtti is pattern, possibly an habitual pattern, a pattern of behaviour, a conditioned reaction. The citta (mindstuff) falls into this pattern and the energy of consciousness follows it. This is best exemplified by the classical conditioning demonstrated in the 1890s by Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. We respond to certain stimuli in the ways which we are conditioned to. Patanjali is offering an insight in how to change that conditioning.
Sutra 1:5 tells us that there are five patterns which the citta follows. Of these five some are conducive to a still, quite mind and others will agitate it further.
It is worthy of note the adjectives kilsta/aklista describing the patterns (vrttis) as either detrimental or beneficial have the same root as the word klesha: kils which can mean to trouble or to torment. Think of Macbeth “oh full of scorpions is my mind” this describes beautifully a tormented by vrtiis pulling the consciousness into a negative spiral.
Because Patanjali is taking us on a logical path next we are introduced to these five patterns.
pramana: accurate assessment of a situation, a source of ‘right’ knowledge.
viparyaya: inaccurate assessment of a situation, error.
At any given time when we are not in a state of yoga the mind will be following one of the patterns.