Tuesday, July 7, 2015



The word Yoga literally means “union” –a process of spiritual union. It is a method or technique –one of many– by which an individual may become united with the Reality (Atman) underlying this apparent (non-Atman) universe. Gita equates this apparent universe with Prakriti comprised of earth, water, fire, wind and space - these five subtle elements plus manas, buddhi and ahamkara.

bhoomiraaponalo vayuhu kham mano buddhireva cha |
ahankaara iteeyam me bhinnaa prakritirashtadhaa ||Gita 7.4 ||

Yoga is the path to move beyond these eight elements by attaining the knowledge of each and, eventually, to know the Atman via unification. In the Yoga-Sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as Chitta-vritti-nirodhah: the control of thought-waves (vrittis) in the mind (Chitta), which forms the basis of the entire philosophy of Yoga. Bhoja, a classical commentator on the Yoga-Sutras, describes Patanjali’s use of the word yoga as “an attempt to separate the Atman from the non-Atman”. With the practice of control of mind, yoga takes a seeker beyond the states of non-Atman to be in union with Atman, a perfect state of yoga –the goal of yoga.

Chitta (Mind)

Let us first understand the word “Chitta” in Chitta-vritti-nirodhah. Patanjali describes Chitta or the Mind as being constituted of three components: manas, buddhi, and ahamkara. Manas, is the recording faculty which receives impressions (data) gathered by the senses from the outside world. Buddhi, is the discriminating and decision-making faculty which analyzes and responds to the data. Ahamkara is the ego-sense, which claims the recorded and analyzed data as its own and stores it as individual knowledge. Advaita Vedanta has called the mind (Chitta) of the Yoga-Sutras as the Antahkarna, composed of four constituents: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. Here, manas functions as a faculty of will (sankalpa) or resolution, buddhi again is the decision-making faculty, while chitta is the faculty of memory (storing data) and ahamkara is false-identification of “I or Self” with the acquired experiences. Like Patanjali, Gita also affirms the mind (Antahkrana/Chitta) as being comprised of manas, buddhi, and ahamkara.

Guru Maharaj’s description of mind is similar to that of Gita and the Yoga-sutras. However, he describes the manas as being composed of two complementary parts: chitta, reservoir of thoughts and manas, the receiving/recording faculty of thoughts. 

Vritti (Manifestation of Mind)

The word Vritti literally translates to ripples or waves, here meaning as the manifestations of mind (Chitta). The way our whole being, mind-body unit reacts or manifests to the outside environment is a Vritti. We react to the entire world outside with the totality of our being. This reaction is the central Vritti, or the psychic operation in us.

The mind manifests itself in the following forms: scattering, darkening, gathering, one-pointed, and concentrated. The scattering form is activity. Its tendency is to manifest in the form of pleasure or of pain. The darkening form is dullness, which tends to injury. The third form is natural to the Devas, the angels, and the first and second to the demons. The gathering form is when it struggles to centre itself. The one-pointed form is when it tries to concentrate, and the concentrated form is what brings us to Samâdhi.

To elaborate the relationship between our true Self, the Chitta and the Vrittis, every commentator has cited the analogy of a lake. The bottom of a lake we cannot see, because its surface is covered with ripples. It is only possible for us to catch a glimpse of the bottom, when the ripples have subsided, and the water is calm. If the water is muddy or is agitated all the time, the bottom will not be seen. If it is clear, and there are no waves, we shall see the bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self; the lake is the Chitta and the waves the Vrittis. Again, the mind is in three states, one of which is darkness, called Tamas, found in brutes and idiots; it only acts to injure. No other idea comes into that state of mind. Then there is the active state of mind, Rajas, whose chief motives are power and enjoyment. Then there is the state called Sattva, serenity, calmness, in which the waves cease and the water of the mind-lake becomes clear.

Nirodhah (Cessation or Control)

Why should the mind be controlled?

It is the mind that makes us falsely believe that we are individuals, with a physical independence of our own, isolated from the vast structure of creation. Therefore, control of the mind is a necessity; it is unavoidable. The mind is not something outside us, nor is it different from us. I am my mind and my mind is I. The body and the mind are not just inter-related, but they are an organic stuff, forming a complete whole.

To get a clear idea as to what the mind is in its relation to the body, let us take an analogy. Let us assume that we are mountain climbing. The higher we go, the more we experience difficulty breathing due to the air becoming rarified. As we keep climbing higher and higher, the air keeps getting thinner and thinner until it becomes so rarified that we cannot breathe and we stop there. The heavier air at the bottom and the lighter air at the top cannot be compartmentalized into two separate entities. There can be no watertight separation of the one from the other. There is only a gradual disappearance of the one into the other. Gradually the heavier air becomes lighter. The other way round, the top portion, lighter air leads us down to the base, the heavier air. In other words, only density changes, and that too very gradually, so that we cannot know where one begins and the other ends. Somewhat similar is the relationship between the mind and the body. For our practical purposes, we may compare the mind to the rarified air at top, and the body to the heavy air at the base. The mind that is thin air has become the heavy air that is the body. And just as there can be no demarcation of a rigid type between the two types of air, no distinguishing line can be clearly drawn between the mind and the body. The mind and the body are a total whole that is the individuality, of which the mind is one aspect and the body another.

What happens when the mind is restrained?  The seer establishes himself in his own Self. The seer means the conscious subjectivity in us. This so-called subjectivity of consciousness ceases to be subjective anymore, because the subject has no meaning if there is no object outside. Subject and object are co-related terms, one hanging on the other for its survival. If the outside does not exist, there is no inside, and vice versa. So, when the person who has restrained the mind-stuff has realized that the things are not outside, the object ceases to exist and, with it, the inside also goes. So, no more is there such a thing as subjectivity or individuality for that person. It does not exist anymore. Thus from the restraint of the mind or the control of the mind follows a re-installation of one's own self in one's own true nature. The goal of removal of bondage of consciousness being the ultimate goal has been achieved through the practice of Yoga.  

According to Sankhya, bondage is the illusory assumption or imagination rather, on the part of spirit or consciousness, that it has the characteristics of the object. How does this union of the object with the subject that is consciousness take place? Sankhya philosophy explains this through an example of the crystal and the flower. A pure crystal has no color of its own, but when a colored object such as a red flower is brought near this pure crystal; it gets reflected in the crystal, and it can be so reflected that the whole crystal may appear red. When that happens, we may not even know that there is a crystal at all. The crystalhood of the crystal has ceased for the time being, and it appears like a red object. This is because of the absorption of the color of the flower by the crystal, which is; in itself, pristine, pure, colorless. Now, is there a real connection between the crystal and the flower? Absolutely not! The color has not affected the crystal in any manner. The crystal has not become impure by the appearance of the color within itself. It will regain its appearance of purity the moment the flower is removed from the crystal. The crystal never was contaminated or affected or infected in any manner. But, when the reflection takes place, it appears as if the subject has ceased to exist for the time being; there is only the redness, the flower. Such is the situation of world-perception, says Sankhya. In the above instance, the bondage of the crystal is nothing but the false imagination that it is the flower. It never became the flower. It never really acquired even the color of the flower. Because of the reflection, it imagines that it has become the flower. What is freedom for the crystal? The crystal regains its freedom when it is again separated from the flower. Then it assumes its pristine purity of colorless transparency and establishes its consciousness in its own self, not allowing it to project itself externally in the form of the imagination that it is something other than itself, in this case, the object flower. So, what is Yoga? It is the isolation of consciousness from matter, the subject from the object.

In the metaphysics of the Vedanta, the same phenomenon is explained in a slightly different manner. The Vedanta accepts this analysis of the Sankhya as perfectly right, but affirms that the individual is only an assumed form of consciousness, and not the real essence thereof. While it is true that there is a necessity to differentiate the externality that has crept into the subjectivity of consciousness, the object can never become the subject. This is the opening sentence in Sankaracharya’s great commentary on the Brahma Sutras, which says “The subject and object – the self and non-self are so radically opposed to each other in notion and practical life that it is impossible to mistake one for the other.” After this grand opening, he adds “Yet we find that the mistake is universal, and we can never trace it to its source; for in our common life, we cannot do without this initial error.” 

Thus, whatever be the philosophical or metaphysical background of Sankhya or Vedanta, both the systems of philosophy agree that the mind has to be controlled, for the obvious reason that the mind is the externalized activity of consciousness, the empirical movement of the individual, the spatio-temporal involvement of individuality.

Restrain to Zero or Expand to Infinity

Now, how to withdraw the mind from the objects, or rather, how to educate the mind so that it may understand its true relationship with things outside? There is a famous verse in the Yoga-Vasishtha, which is an instruction, given by the great sage Vasishtha to his student Lord Rama. The sage says: द्वौ करूमू चित्नास्य योगं ज्ञानं राघव. "There are two ways of controlling the mind. Either sever its connection with all things, or establish a connection of it with everything".

These are the two ways by which one can control the mind. It is easy to understand something about the benefits that would follow from the withdrawal of the mind from all things –the Path of Yoga. But, it is not so easy to know the advantage of connecting the mind to everything – the Path of Knowledge. The result however is the same in either case. There is an anecdote about Sankaracharya, which is relevant here. It is said that the Acharya was in his Kutir (Hut), and the door was bolted from within. One of his disciples came and knocked. "Who is that?" asked the Acharya. "I" was the answer. "Oh I! Either reduce it to zero or expand it to infinity!" thundered the Achrya from within. This 'I' in every individual should either be reduced to zero or expanded to infinity. Either will do. In one method, the modifications of the mind are restrained by a negative withdrawal of its operations from everything that appears as external. The other method involves the philosophical visualization of the mind's basic identity with all things. The earlier method, namely, the restraint of the mind-stuff is the main instruction according to Patanjali. Guru Maharaj prefers the Patanjali method.

To quote Guru Maharaj, he says somewhat mystically “Darkness really has no existence of its own. You cannot find darkness in the glow of a searchlight. Remove the searchlight and darkness will creep in.”  Here, the darkness equates to the initial error of non-differentiation between the subject and object – the self and non-self even though being so radically opposed to each other. This darkness creeps in as somehow, in an incomprehensible manner, the subject and object – the self and non-self come together. There is a superimposition of matter and consciousness. This superimposition is the source of perception, and everything follows from it. And, this initial error, juxtaposition of matter and consciousness is the removal of the searchlight.  We can bring the searchlight back and remove the darkness through the practice of Yoga (Sadhana) aimed towards restraining the mind.