Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.2
yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ ||2||
Yoga is the restraint of fluctuations of the mind.
Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
There are various definitions of yoga expressed in different traditions which, while all overlapping, reflect the fact that yoga referred to a cluster of practices featuring various forms of discipline and mind control practiced by many differing ascetics and communities on the landscape of ancient India with a view to liberation from the sufferings of embodied life; it was not associated with a distinct school until well into the Common Era.24 In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, for example, “yoga is believed to be when the senses are firmly under control” (VI.11), while in the karma-yoga (path of action) section of the Bhagavad Gītā, yoga is defined as samatvam, evenness of mind (II.48) and as karmasu kauśalam, skill in action (II.50). Elsewhere, the text defines yoga as duḥkha-saṁyoga-viyogam, separation from union with pain (VI.23), which is essentially the definition given in the Vaiśeṣika Sūtras: duḥkhābhāvaḥ, the absence of pain (V.2.1625), a definition that finds its roots in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (II.12).26 The Nyāya Sūtras associate the practice of yoga with the attainment of liberation (IV.2.46). While his teachings will incorporate all the above definitions, Patañjali here gives his formal definition of yoga for the classical school of Yoga itself: “Yoga is the stilling of all thought.”
The commentators have packed a considerable amount of rather dense information into their commentaries in this sūtra, since Patañjali has basically defined and summarized the entire system of Yoga here, and the commentaries use this sūtra to lay out the infrastructure of the psychology and metaphysics of the yoga process. Although an attempt will be made here to present the information in stages, the unfamiliar reader might well feel alarmed or overwhelmed by the sudden immersion in yogic concepts and Sanskrit terms presented in the commentary to this sūtra. The task is complicated somewhat since the commentators presuppose that their readers are aware of the system of Sāṇkhya, one of the other six schools of orthodox Indian thought with which the Yoga school is typically coupled.
Having said this, there are advantages to the “sudden-immersion” technique into Yoga psychology that follows, since once the basics are grasped, the teachings of Yoga become progressively clearer as one advances through the text. The reader unfamiliar with Hindu metaphysics is reassured that if a clear and coherent picture of Yoga psychology is not gained at this early stage, the material presented in the commentary for this sūtra will be unpacked, explained, reiterated, and elaborated upon repeatedly and in great detail throughout the remainder of the text such that one soon becomes familiar with the system. Additionally, there are a dozen or more technical Sanskrit words that are retained throughout this translation, which do not translate succinctly into English, and a number of them will be introduced here in rapid succession, but, again, readers will become familiar with them by dint of sheer repetition. That said, the commentary for this sūtra remains unavoidably challenging since it presents something of a synopsis of Yoga psychology and practice, and an understanding of these requires a prior discussion of Sāṅkhya and Yoga metaphysics.
The first of the Yoga Sūtras introduced the subject matter of the text, a discussion of yoga, and this second sūtra proceeds to define what this yoga is. According to Patañjali’s definition in this sūtra, yoga is the cessation (nirodha) of the permutations or activities (vṛttis) of the citta. In order to define citta, perhaps the most important entity in yoga practice, one must become familiar with ultimate reality as elaborated upon in the Sāṅkhya (literally, numeration) system. As we know, in Sāṅkhya, ultimate reality is perceived as the product of two distinct ontological categories: prakṛti, or the primordial material matrix of the physical universe, and puruṣa, pure awareness, the innermost conscious self or soul (the terms “consciousness” and “awareness,” although problematic,28 will be used interchangeably in this commentary to refer to the nature of the puruṣa). As a result of the contact between these two distinct entities, prakṛti and puruṣa, the material universe evolves in a sequential fashion.
To reiterate, the first and subtlest evolutes from the material matrix, according to Sāṅkhya, are, in order: buddhi, intelligence; ahaṅkāra, ego; and manas, mind. These layers, which are grouped together under the rubric of the “internal body,” constitute the inner life of an individual, and the puruṣa soul is cloaked in these psychic layers prior to receiving a gross physical body equipped with senses. The term citta (from cit, to think, consider, fix the mind on) is used in this sūtra and throughout the text by Patañjali and the commentators to refer to all three of these cognitive functions combined (the Yoga school differs somewhat from that of Sāṅkhya in conceiving these three as interacting functions of the one citta, mind, rather than as three distinct metaphysical layers), but the main point, as stressed in the last sūtra, is that they are distinct from the soul proper.
Buddhi, intelligence, is the aspect of citta that produces, among other things, the functions of thought connected to judgment, discrimination, knowledge, ascertainment, and will (from budh, to wake up, be aware of). It is the most important aspect of the citta as it is from its function of discrimination that liberation is achieved. Additionally, it is buddhi that molds itself into the forms of the data funneled to it by manas, below, and presents these images to the puruṣa soul, to which it is immediately adjacent. Buddhi is thus the liaison between puruṣa as pure awareness, and the objects, whether physical or psychic, of which puruṣa can be aware.
Ahaṅkāra, or ego, produces the function of thought related to self-awareness, self-identity, and self-conceit (the personal pronoun aham means I, and kāra, the doer). This is the aspect of citta that causes notions of I-ness and my-ness: “I know,” “I am a man,” “I am happy,” “This is mine.” It also delimits awareness, which is potentially omnipresent, and refracts it to fit into the contours of the particular body and mind within which it finds itself. It is because of ego that the awareness of an ant is limited to the range of the ant’s senses and the conceptual structure of its mind, while the awareness of an elephant has a larger range, and that of a human an even larger range. This restructuring of the lens of ahaṅkāra, so to speak, is the result of specific sets of saṁskāras (imprints from present and past lives, which will be discussed in I.5), relevant to any particular form—bug, dog, or human—activating at the appropriate time.
Manas, the mind, is the aspect of citta that engages in the functions of thought especially related to organizing sensory input and directing the senses; it imposes a conceptual structure on the chaotic field of raw sensations, recognizing and identifying sensual impetuses and categorizing them (from man, to think, believe). It exhibits attraction to some sensory possibilities and aversion to others—in other words, the functions of feeling, emotion, and desiring. It is the bridge connecting the world of the sense objects as accessed through the sense organs; the ego, which appropriates this under the notion of I; and the intelligence, which judges, evaluates, and strategizes over the input to determine what its duty (dharma) is in relation to the data it is receiving from the mind and senses (that is, what to do about it, how to respond or act). In his commentary to the Sāṅkhya Kārikā (36), Vācaspati Miśra says:
“As the village chief collects rent from the heads of the families and presents it to the district chief, who delivers it to the chief superintendent, who delivers it to the king, so the sense organs, having perceived an external object, deliver it to the mind, who considers it and delivers it to the ego, who appropriates it and delivers it to the intelligence, the chief superintendent of all. Thus it is said “they present it to intelligence, [thereby] illuminating the purpose of the puruṣa.“
I will gloss the Sanskrit word citta throughout this discussion with the term mind for ease of reference, since this is how it is usually translated, but it should be noted that the term encapsulates all of the the functions of thought outlined above, and not just that of manas, which is also usually translated as mind (when I use mind in the latter sense, I will qualify it by the Sanskrit term manas). Vijñānabhikṣu states that the citta is the one unified internal organ, and this becomes manifest in the various functions of intelligence, ego, and mind because of vṛttis.
The vṛttis indicated by Patañjali in this sūtra will be categorized into five basic types in I.5 and discussed thereafter, and so we will simply note at this point that they ultimately refer to any permutation or activity of the mind, in other words, any sequence of thought, ideas, mental imaging, or cognitive act performed by either the mind, intellect, or ego as defined above, or any state of the mind at all including deep sleep. The verbal root vṛt means to revolve, turn, proceed, move, and underscores the always active, sequential, rambling aspect of the mind. The mind is a physical substance in Hindu thought in general and assumes the forms of the sense data presented to it. The ensuing sense impressions, thoughts, or states are products made of that mental substance, just as a gold statue is a form made from the substance gold, or a clay pot is a form from the substance clay. These constantly moving mental images, states, or formations in the citta are vṛttis. If citta is the sea, the vṛttis are its waves, the specific forms it takes. (They will be defined in I.5 below.) I will gloss the term vṛtti with states or activities of mind or fluctuations of thought, and I will refer to puruṣa as pure consciousness or pure awareness. The essential point Patañjali is making here is that since all forms or activities of the mind are products of prakṛti, matter, and completely distinct from the soul or true self, puruṣa, they must all be restrained in order for the soul to be realized by the yogī as an autonomous entity distinct from the mind.
Since, as Vyāsa notes, the soul in its pure state is considered to be free of content and changeless—it does not transform and undergo permutations in the way the mind constantly does—Vijñānabhikṣu raises the issue of how it can be aware of objects at all in the first place. Awareness of objects is brought is brought about by means of buddhi, the intellect. The intelligence is the first interface between the soul and the external world. The sense objects provide images that are received through the senses, sorted by the manas, the thinking and organizing aspect of citta, and presented to the intellect. Although inanimate, the intellect molds itself into the form and shape of these objects of experience, thoughts, and ideas. Vijñānabhikṣu compares this process to liquid copper being poured into a mold and taking the exact shape of the mold, although the forms into which buddhi is molded are extremely subtle and psychic in nature. This molding of the citta into these thoughts and ideas is the vṛttis referred to by Patañjali in this sūtra.
This process can be compared to dull, opaque external objects being captured as photographic images on film, which is both translucent and representational, or to geometric patterns on a stained-glass window (Schweitzer 1993, 853), which are again both translucent and representational. That is to say, images on film or in stained glass are translucent enough to allow the light to filter through them, which, on account of the opaqueness of matter, is not the case with the original external gross objects they represent (due to the greater tāmasic component).38 But they are also representational, insofar as these external objects are still indirectly represented as images on the film or forms in the stained-glass windows, becoming visible when pervaded by light. Due to adjacency, the pure consciousness of the soul shines onto the intellect and animates it with consciousness, like a lamp illuminates the film or stained glass with light and makes it appear luminous. Because the pure highly translucent sattva element is maximized in buddhi, it is able to absorb and reflect the soul’s power of consciousness. Enveloped in the soul’s consciousness, the workings of the citta mind appear to be themselves conscious, but they are in reality unconscious, just as the film or stained glass appears illuminated in their own right but are in actuality dependent on light external to themselves for their illumination and visibility. The awareness of the pure soul permeates the citta, animating the churnings of thought, citta-vṛttis, but due to ignorance, this animated citta considers consciousness to be inherent within itself, rather than an entity outside and separate from itself. It is this ignorance that is the ultimate cause of bondage and saṁsāra.
According to some commentators (most notably, Vijñānabhikṣu), just as light bounces off an object back to its source, the consciousness of the soul is reflected off this animated intellect and back to the soul. From this perspective, the intellect also functions like a mirror, the soul becoming conscious of its reflection in the animated intellect, just as one becomes conscious of one’s appearance in a mirror. However, since the intellect is constantly being transformed into the images presented to it by the mind and senses, this reflection presented back to the puruṣa soul is constantly obscured and distorted by vṛttis, just as one’s reflection in a mirror is distorted if the mirror is dirty or warped. When this distorted reflection is considered to be inherent within the actual puruṣa, rather than the product of the citta, an entity outside of and separate from it, the soul becomes misidentified with the world of change, through the changing states of mind, the vṛttis noted in this sūtra, just as one may look at one’s reflection in a dirty mirror and mistakenly think that it is oneself who is dirty. Consider a young child looking at herself in one of those “crazy mirrors” that make one appear grotesquely fat or thin (or, in the premodern analogy used by Śaṅkara, a face reflected in a long sword, making the face appear elongated, III.35). If the child does not realize that her deformed appearance in the mirror is merely a distorted reflection and not her actual self, she may experience fear or panic.
The soul, in short, is neither the physical body in which it is encased nor the mind that exhibits psychic functions. It is pure autonomous consciousness. The Sāṅkhya Sūtras refer to a quaint traditional story to illustrate this point:
A certain king’s son, due to being born under an afflicted astrological constellation, is expelled from the city and raised by a member of the forest dwelling Śabara tribe. He thus thinks: “I am a Śabara!” Upon finding him to be still alive, one of the king’s ministers informs him: “You are not a Śabara, you are a king’s son.” Thereupon, the son gives up the idea that he is a Śabara, accepts his true royal identity, and thinks: “I am a king’s son.” In the same way, the soul, by means of the instruction of a kind soul [the guru], is informed: “You are manifest from the first Soul [Brahman], who is made of pure consciousness.” Thereupon, giving up the idea of being made of prakṛti, the soul thinks: “Because I am the son of Brahman,40 I am Brahman, not a product of saṁsāra.” (IV.1)
Thus, the soul appears to undergo the experiences of the body and mind—birth, death, disease, old age, happiness, distress, peacefulness, anxiety, etc., but these are mere transformations of the body and mind. In other words, they are the permutations of gross and subtle matter external to the soul that are pervaded by the soul’s awareness. The mind misidentifies the pure self with these permutations and considers the pure self to be subject to birth and death, happiness and distress, etc. This misidentification, or ignorance, is therefore the root of bondage to the world, as will be discussed in the beginning of Chapter II. As stated in this sūtra by Patañjali, yoga involves preventing the mind from being molded into these permutations, the vṛttis, the impressions and thoughts of the objects of the world.
An understanding of the process underpinning the workings of the mind—the citta-vṛttis noted here—requires the introduction of a further set of categories: the three guṇas, strands or qualities. They are sattva, lucidity; rajas, action; and tamas, inertia. Vyāsa and the commentators waste no time discussing these guṇas here and continue to do so continuously in their commentaries throughout the text. Since they are pivotal to an understanding of yoga meditation and practice, they require some attention.
The guṇas are inherent in prakṛti, matter, and are the catalysts in the evolution of the mind and all manifest reality from primordial prakṛti. Just as threads are inherent in the production of a rope, says Vijñānabhikṣu, so the guṇas underpin and permeate the material matrix of prakṛti. Prakṛti is constituted by the three guṇas. Therefore, since everything evolves from this material matrix, the guṇas are present in varying proportions in all manifest reality, just as the three primary colors are present in all other colors produced from them. As one can create an unlimited variety of hues by simply manipulating the relative proportions of red, yellow, and blue, so the unlimited forms of this world, as well as psychological dispositions of all beings, are the product of the interaction and intermixture of the guṇas. The Mahābhārata states that as one can light thousands of lamps from one lamp, so prakṛti can produce hundreds of thousands of transformations of the guṇas (XII, 301, 15–16). For our present purposes, the citta, as a product of matter, also consists of the three guṇas: sattva, rajas, and tamas.
Although all of prakṛti, including the cosmological and physical aspect of the universe, is also a product of the three guṇas, the Yoga tradition is interested in their psychic aspect. The guṇas are usually portrayed, and perhaps best understood in the context of Yoga, by their psychological manifestations (indeed Dasgupta translates them as “feelings”42). Sattva, the purest of the guṇas when manifested in the citta, is typically characterized, among a number of things, by lucidity, tranquillity, wisdom, discrimination, detachment, happiness, and peacefulness; rajas, by hankering, energetic endeavor, power, restlessness, and all forms of movement and creative activity; and tamas, the guṇa least favorable for yoga, by ignorance, delusion, disinterest, lethargy, sleep, and disinclination toward constructive activity. The Bhagavad Gītā (XIV, XVII, and XVIII) presents a wide range of symptoms connected with each of the guṇas. Kṛṣṇa makes the useful observation that the guṇas are in continual tension with each other, one guṇa becoming prominent in an individual for a while and suppressing the others, only to be dominated in turn by the emergence of one of the other guṇas (Bhagavad Gītā XIV.10).
One of the goals of yoga meditation, as discussed repeatedly in the traditional literature, is to maximize the presence of the guṇa of sattva in the mind and minimize those of rajas and tamas. According to Sāṅkhya metaphysics, all three guṇas are inherently present in all the material by-products of prakṛti including the citta, so rajas and tamas can never be eliminated, merely minimized or, at best, reduced to a latent and unmanifest potential. Clearly, sattva is the guṇa most conducive—indeed, indispensable—to the yogic enterprise, but while rajas and tamas are universally depicted as obstacles to yoga, a certain amount of each guṇa is indispensable to embodied existence. Without tamas, for example, there would be no sleep; without rajas, no digestion or even the energy to blink an eye. Nonetheless, yoga is overwhelmingly about cultivating or maximizing sattva. Another way of putting this is that sattva should control whatever degree of rajas and tamas are indispensable to healthy survival—sleeping for six or seven hours, for example, rather than ten, eating a modest amount of food, rather than gorging, etc.
The etymological meaning of sattva is the nature of being. This indicates material reality in its purest state, and is characterized by the desirable qualities of discrimination, lucidity, and illumination, since it is sattva that can reveal matter for what it is before rajas and tamas cause it to transform. On the other hand, rajas and tamas are the active influences in the production of the changing states of the mind and fluctuations of thought, the vṛttis mentioned in this sūtra, by disrupting the citta’s placid and lucid aspect of sattva. Vyāsa states that when rajas and tamas become activated, the mind is attracted to thoughts of the sense objects. But both direct the consciousness of the soul, the pure puruṣa self, outward, drawing it into the external world and thus into awareness of action and reaction, the cycle of birth and death, in short, saṁsāra. When all trace of tamas and rajas is stilled, however, the mind attains the highest potential of its nature, which is sattva, illumination, peacefulness, and discernment.
When the citta mind attains the state of sattva, the distinction between the ultimate conscious principle, the puruṣa soul, and even the purest and most subtle (but nonetheless unconscious) states of prakṛti, matter, become revealed. Buddhi, intelligence (the subtlest product of prakṛti), is the aspect of the mind that produces such discrimination when manifesting its highest potential of sattva and suppressing its inherent potential of rajas and tamas. When freed from the obscuration of these other two debilitating guṇas, which divert consciousness from its source, puruṣa, and into the external world of objects and internal world of thought, the pure sattva nature of the mind redirects consciousness inward toward this inner self. It is like a mirror that, freed from the coverings of dirt, can now reflect things clearly, say the commentators, and can ultimately reflect the true nature of the soul back to itself as it is without distortion. The ensuing state of contemplation is known as samprajñāta-samādhi, which, while not the ultimate level of samādhi, is the highest level of discriminative thought. In short, the goal of yoga is to eliminate, that is, still, the potential of rajas and tamas, and allow the potential sattva nature of the mind to manifest. This is another way of conceptualizing the citta-vṛtti-nirodha of this verse.
The means prescribed by Patañjali to still the states of mind or fluctuations of thought is meditative concentration, defined as keeping the mind fixed on any particular object of choice without distraction. By concentration, the distracting influences of rajas and tamas are suppressed, and the sattva aspect of the mind can manifest to its full potential. Since sattva is by nature discriminating, it recognizes the distinction between puruṣa and prakṛti, the soul and matter, when not distracted by the other two guṇas. But, since sattva is also by nature luminous and lucid, it is able to reflect the soul in an undistorted way, once the disruptive presences of rajas and tamas have been stilled, and thus the soul becomes aware of itself in the mirror of the mind, so to speak. Once the dust has been removed, a person can see his or her true face in the mirror. One of the goals of yoga is for the mind to develop such discrimination and to reflect the true image of the soul to itself.
The commentators point out, however, that the very faculty of discrimination—even its ability to distinguish between matter and spirit—is nonetheless a feature of the guṇa of sattva, and sattva itself is still an aspect of prakṛti matter. The point is that discrimination is not a function of the soul, the innermost conscious self. The soul, notes Vyāsa, the pure and eternal power of consciousness, never changes—a fundamental axiom of Indic thought in general; it does not transform when in contact with states of mind. Rather, consciousness passively pervades and illuminates objects, whether in the form of gross external sense objects or subtle internal thoughts including the higher stage of discrimination, just as light passively reveals gross and subtle objects in a dark room and yet is not affected by them. Hariharānanda points out that the consciousness of the soul, citi-śakti, is pure, infinite, immutable, detached, and illuminating. Therefore, as Vijñānabhikṣu outlined in the last sūtra, discriminative intelligence, even the ultimate pure sāttvic act of discrimination, which is recognition of the distinction between the soul and the subtlest aspect of matter, although indispensable in the yogī’s progress, still connects the soul to matter albeit in its subtlest aspect. It, too must eventually be transcended for full liberation to manifest. As Śaṅkara puts it, the mind sees the limitation in its own nature and deconstructs itself. When lead is burned with gold, says Bhoja Rāja, it not only burns away the impurities in gold, but burns itself away too; discrimination discerns that it itself is not the final aspect of being and pushes the citta to dissolve itself and transcend discerning thought altogether so as to reveal the ultimate consciousness beyond. There is thus a still higher goal in yoga beyond discrimination.
When the mind restrains even the ability to discriminate, continues Vyāsa, and exists in an inactive state where all thoughts remain only in potential but not active form, in other words, when all thoughts have been stilled (nirodha), one has reached a state of mind where nothing is cognized—all cognition, after all, is connected to some external reality (since cognition requires a subject, the cognizer, and an object of cognition distinct from or external to this subject). With no further distractions including discrimination and even the reflection of itself in the mirror of the sāttvic buddhi intelligence, consciousness can now abide in its own autonomous nature, the actual soul itself, puruṣa. This is the samādhi called asamprajñāta, the state of awareness in which nothing can be discerned except the pure self. In this stage, the mind, which is ultimately an interface between the puruṣa and the external world, becomes redundant and can be discarded by the yogī upon attaining full liberation.4 This is the ultimate goal of yoga and thus of human existence. This stage, however, must be preceded by samprajñāta-samādhi, uninterrupted meditation, that is, concentration on an external object (which, by definition is a product of matter) so that the states of mind and fluctuations of thought mentioned in this sūtra can first be fully stilled.
Bhoja Rāja raises a possible objection to the existence of puruṣa, the soul, which is most likely an implicit reference to Buddhism (although it could in principle apply to the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools). If the soul, or pure consciousness, has no object of consciousness, then would it not cease to exist altogether, like fire ceases to exist when the wood upholding it is destroyed? In other words, if the vṛttis, fluctuations of thought, are eliminated, then what would consciousness be conscious of? Buddhists hold that the human
“persona consists of five sheaths, skandhas,47 one of which is consciousness itself, but none of these are eternal or autonomous as almost all Hindu philosophical thought considers the puruṣa, or conscious self, to be. There is thus a fundamental and intractable difference between Buddhism and Hindu and Jain philosophies on this point.
For Buddhists, when the objects of consciousness are removed, so is consciousness. There is thus no ultimate, eternal, essential entity such as a puruṣa, soul, that is separable from an object of consciousness; indeed, clinging to such notions of an autonomous self is the very cause of saṁsāra. Buddhist theologians used the analogy of the wood and fire mentioned by Bhoja Rāja to argue that consciousness is generated by an object. It is not an entity sui generis with an independent existence—one cannot have consciousness that is not conscious of some object, any more than one can have fire without a substratum such as wood. Even the orthodox Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools, which do accept the existence of an autonomous puruṣa, hold that when the puruṣa becomes liberated and uncoupled from the mind and the objects of the senses, it ceases to be conscious. They, too, hold that consciousness requires contact with the mind as an external object in order to manifest in the ātman; it does not manifest independently. To answer such objections, says Bhoja Rāja, Patañjali offers the next sūtra.
yogaḥ (m. nom. sg.) union, connection, joining; from √yuj
citta (n.) mind, reason, intelligence; from √cit (perceive, observe, know)
vṛtti (f.) modification, turning, fluctuations; from √vṛi (turn, revolved, roll, move) [end of TP6 cpd.]
nirodhaḥ (m. nom. sg.) restraint, control, suppression; ni (down, into) +rodh, from √rudh (obstruct, arrest, avert) [end of TP6 cpd.]