Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.5
वृत्तयः पञ्चतय्यः क्लिष्टाक्लिष्टाः ॥५॥
vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭa-akliṣṭāḥ ||5||
The fluctuations are fivefold: afflicted and nonaflicted.
There are five kinds of changing states of the mind, and they are either detrimental or nondetrimental [to the practice of yoga].
Patañjali defined yoga in I.2 as citta-vṛtti-nirodha and now dedicates sūtras I.5–12 to discussing the vṛttis and I.13–16 to discussing nirodha. We here get a sense of the systematic nature of the sūtra traditions, in contrast to the more spontaneous but unsystematic nature of the earlier Upaniṣadic corpus from which a number of knowledge systems stemmed. As has been noted, vṛtti is used frequently throughout the Yoga Sūtras essentially to refer to any sensual impression, thought, idea, cognition, psychic activity, or mental state whatsoever. Since the mind is never static but always active and changing, vṛttis are constantly being produced and thus constantly absorb the consciousness of puruṣa away from its own pure nature, channeling it out into the realm of subtle or gross prakṛti. Vijñānabhikṣu compares vṛttis to flames of a fire or waves of the sea. In other words, if the citta is the sea, the vṛttis are its waves, the never-ending but ever-changing temporary forms and permutations produced by the constant flux of the tides, undercurrents, and eddies of the citta. In I.2, Patañjali defined yoga as the complete cessation of all vṛttis. Here, he addresses the consequent question: What are these vṛttis that must be eliminated? There are five categories, pañcatayyaḥ, of vṛttis (which will be discussed in the following sūtras); Patañjali indicates that these can be either akliṣṭa, conducive (at least initially) to the ultimate goal of yoga, or kliṣṭa, detrimental.
Vyāsa states that the detrimental vṛttis are caused by the five kleśas, the impediments to the practice of yoga, ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life, that will be discussed in II.3. The term for detrimental, kliṣṭa, comes from the same root as kleśa (kliś, to trouble or torment). These types of mental states are detrimental to the goals of yoga because they are the fertile soil from which the seeds of karma sprout; the kliṣṭa-vṛttis culminate in bondage. They are essentially the products of rajas and tamas. Akliṣṭa-vṛttis are sāttvic and have the opposite effect; they are born of insight and culminate in liberation. When under the influence of the detrimental vṛttis, the mind becomes attracted or repelled by sense objects drawing its attention. In its attempt to attain that which attracts it, and avoid that which repels it, the mind provokes action, karma, which initiates a vicious reactive cycle.
Karma, from the root kṛ, to do or make, literally means work, but inherent in the Indic concept of work, or any type of activity, is the notion that every action breeds a reaction. Thus karma refers not only to an initial act, whether benevolent or malicious, but also to the reaction it produces (pleasant or unpleasant in accordance with the original act), which ripens for the actor either in this life or a future one. Hence (as will be seen in II.13–14), people are born into different socioeconomic situations, and pleasant or unpleasant things happen to them throughout life in accordance with their own previous actions.
This cycle of action and reaction, or saṁsāra, is potentially eternal and unlimited since not only does any one single act breed a reaction, but the actor must then react to this reaction, causing a rereaction, which in term fructifies and provokes rerereactions, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, since the vicious cycle of action and reaction for just one solitary momentary act is potentially unlimited, and since one has to act at every moment of one’s life (even blinking or breathing is an act), the storehouse of karma is literally unlimited. Since these reactions and rereactions cannot possibly be fitted into one life, they spill over from one lifetime to the next. It is in an attempt to portray the sheer unlimited and eternal productive power of karma that Indic thinkers, both Hindu and Buddhist, use such metaphors as the ocean of birth and death. Thus, karma, which keeps consciousness bound to the external world and forgetful of its own nature, is generated by the vṛttis, and the vṛttis, in turn, are produced by the kleśas.
The akliṣṭa nondetrimental mental vṛttis, on the other hand, are produced by the sāttvic faculty of discrimination that seeks to control the influence of rajas and tamas and thereby the detrimental vṛttis that they produce. Vyāsa notes that this type of vṛtti is beneficial even if situated in a stream of detrimental vṛttis. In other words, for the novice struggling to control his or her mind, even if the emergence of sattva occurs only periodically, it is always a beneficial occurrence, and it can be gradually increased and strengthened by a yogic lifestyle. The reverse also holds true, adds Vyāsa: Detrimental vṛttis also can surface periodically in a predominantly sāttvic citta (hence the Gītā’s statement in II.60 that the senses can carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination).
Vācaspati Miśra mentions activities such as the practice of yoga and the cultivation of desirelessness born from the study of scripture as nondetrimental, that is, mental activities beneficial to the goal of yoga. These actions, like any actions, produce seeds of reactions and create saṁskāras (discussed further below), but these seeds are sāttvic and beneficial to the path of yoga and the ultimate goal of samādhi. In time, and with practice, these seeds accumulate such that they eventually transform the nature of the mind. The mind then becomes more and more sāttvic, or illuminated and contemplative, such that the beneficial vṛttis eventually automatically suppress any stirrings of rajas and tamas—the detrimental vṛttis—until the latter remain only as inactive potencies. When the citta manifests its pure sattva potential, it becomes “like” the ātman, says Vyāsa. He means that, becoming aware of the true nature of reality, it no longer distracts the puruṣa with permutations of prakṛti, the world of saṁsāra, but provides it insight into its true nature and reflects puruṣa undistorted, allowing it to contemplate its true nature as per the mirror analogy.
Rāmānanda Sarasvatī notes here that, essentially, the citta mind is nothing but saṁskāras, mental imprints or impressions (not to be confused with saṁsāra, the cycle of birth and death). Saṁskāras are a very important feature of Yoga psychology: Every sensual experience or mental thought that has ever been experienced forms a saṁskāra, an imprint, in the citta mind. Essentially, any vṛtti leaves its copy on the citta before fading away, like a sound is imprinted on a tape recorder or an image on film. The mind is thus a storehouse of these recorded saṁskāras, deposited and accumulated in the citta over countless lifetimes. However, it is important to note that these saṁskāras are not just passive imprints but vibrant latent impulses that can activate under conducive circumstances and exert influence on a person’s thoughts and behaviors. Vyāsa notes that there is thus a cycle of vṛttis and saṁskāras. Vṛttis, that is, sense experiences and thoughts, etc. (and their consequent actions), are recorded in the citta as saṁskāras, and these saṁskāras eventually activate consciously or subliminally, producing further vṛttis. These vṛttis then provoke action with its corresponding reaction, which in turn are recorded as saṁskāras, and the cycle continues.
Memories in Hindu psychology, as we will see in I.11, are considered to be vivid saṁskāras from this lifetime, which are retrievable, while the notion of the subconscious in Western psychology corresponds to other less retrievable saṁskāras (accumulated, in Hinduism, primarily in previous lives), which remain latent as subliminal impressions. Saṁskāras also account for such things as personality traits, habits, compulsive and addictive behaviors, etc. For example, a particular type of experience, say smoking a cigarette, is imprinted in the citta as a saṁskāra, which then activates as a desirable memory or impulse, provoking a repetition of this activity, which is likewise recorded, and so on until a cluster or grove of saṁskāras of an identical or similar sort is produced in the citta, gaining strength with each repetition. The stronger or more dominant such a cluster of saṁskāras becomes, the more it activates and imposes itself upon the consciousness of the individual, demanding indulgence and perpetuating a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break. The reverse, of course, also holds true with benevolent akliṣṭa-vṛttis: One can become addicted, so to speak, to benevolent yogic activities and lifestyle by constant repetition. Kleśas, vṛttis, saṁskāras, and karma are thus all interconnected links in the chain of saṁsāra.
Through the practice of yoga, the yogī attempts to supplant all the rājasic and tāmasic saṁskāras with sāttvic ones until these, too, are restricted in the higher states of meditative concentration. This is because while sāttvic saṁskāras, the nondetrimental vṛttis, mentioned by Patañjali in this sūtra, are conducive to liberation, they nonetheless are still vṛttis and thus an external distraction to the pure consciousness of the ātman. Of course, as Vijñānabhikṣu points out, all vṛttis, including sāttvic ones, are ultimately detrimental from the absolute perspective of the puruṣa, as they bind consciousness to the world of matter, so the notions of detrimental and nondetrimental are from the relative perspective of saṁsāra; the detrimental (rājasic and tāmasic) vṛttis cause pain, and the nondetrimental (sāttvic) ones at least lead in the direction of liberation, even though they too must eventually be given up. Vijñānabhikṣu quotes the Bhāgavata Purāṇa here to make the point: “Other things [the obstacles to yoga] must be eliminated by sattva, and [then] sattva is eliminated by sattva” (XI.25.20). Also, vṛttis that are truly and literally akliṣṭa, not subject to any ignorance at all, can point only to the state of jīvanmukta, liberated while still embodied. This verse thus gives a clear indication that it is possible to act in the world in one’s prākṛtic body and mind from an enlightened perspective free from ignorance.
(jeezus Edwin, what body is not prakritic? dude, use your brain)
vṛttayaḥ (f. nom. pl.)
pañcatayyaḥ (m. nom. sg) fivefold, having five parts; from pañca (five)
kliṣṭa (m.) afflicted, painful, troubling; from √kliś (torment, distress)
akliṣṭāḥ (m. or f. nom. pl.) not afflicted, untroubled, undisturbed; a (not) +kliṣṭā (see above)