I.2 yogas chitta-vrtti-nirodhah
All that we perceive in the phenomenal world appears to be in a movement of continuity. One thing begets another as also one thought begets another. All phenomena appear to be part of a net of occurrences that are intricately conjoined and co-dependent. As small children when we reach the age where we are able to be self-conscious and look at our situation, we appear to be embedded within this net as an integral part of it. It is as if we are born onto a fast-turning merry-go-round that is not always so merry. When on the merry-go-round it is very difficult to see what is happening because we ourselves, as our center of phenomenal perception, are moving just as fast as the phenomena around us. Thus everything seems to be a spinning blur.
Another way to look at this is to use the metaphor of the spider’s web: only when at the center of the web does the structure of the whole web become clear. From any other point of view it appears rather chaotic. That is why seers throughout the ages up to modern seers such as Eckhart Tolle tell us we must “stop” in order to gain a true perspective of our life and of life itself.
When we suddenly enter into the stream of consciousness that presents itself to us when “stopping” happens, we discover an entirely new dimension. This new dimension includes our former perceptions of all phenomena with all of our inter-personal interactions, but there is a marked shift and a new quality. This shift becomes our new view from that place of “cessation,” which is free of the compulsive movements of the mind.
This new dimension is a movement of discontinuity. We discover that which all wisdom teachings speak of: each moment is unique and absolutely free of all residue from former moments of NOW. It is only our capacity to re-member that creates a connection between each pristine moment. When we see that it is our mind that holds on to a sense of causality and interdependence of phenomena, we are free of the past.
Not that we no longer experience things as connected or that we do not sense the total interconnectedness of all things, but that we realize this whole dimension of phenomena is part of the conditioned mind-flow and that we are not bound by it. Each moment is then a world, a universe, of its own. We are free to be with it in its fullness, no longer distracted by the compulsion to include it in a complex frame of reference of “past” and “future”.
Enough words. I now leave it to you, the reader, to continue this exploration on your own.
The following excerpt from my favorite book on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras speaks to this process termed: “stop”. I am presently deepening my understanding/inner-standing of this process and it is a central part of my inner momentum. After many years of experimenting with the pointers from the Yoga Sutras I find myself now getting stabilized in this movement of discontinuity that is citta-vrtti.
I hope these comments will encourage you to enter into this author’s stream of consciousness and that you may find this text as helpful as I do.
The Authentic Yoga – excerpt:
“In Sutra 2, Yoga is equated with three words: citta, vrtti and nirodha. None of these words are defined or explained in the Sutras. In such a case one has to find out the right meanings of these words that are consistent with the central theme of Yoga.
“The word citta is derived from the root cit which means to ‘to see, observe, perceive’. Citta is the past passive participle of the verb cit. It, therefore, means ‘the seen, the observed, the perceived’ – that is, that which has been experienced in the past.
“The word vrtti is derived from the root vrt which means ‘to choose, like’. Vritti thus means the form which one’s choosing takes.
“The word nirodha is a compound of rodha with the prefix ni. The word rodha is derived from the root rudh which means ‘to obstruct, arrest, stop’. And the prefix ni means ‘slowing down’. Nirodha therefore means the slowing down of the choice-making movement of the mind (cittavrtti) and its eventual stopping by itself.
“None of the commentators have cared to find out the root meanings of the words citta, vrtti and nirodha. They have followed Vyasa, who in his turn, followed the traditional or conventional meanings. But the fact is that Yoga rejects words with traditional or conventional meanings. It even rejects past experiences and their verbalizations (I-15). Therefore, not conventional but root meanings have to prevail so far as these words are concerned which are used in the Sutras but not defined or explained in them.
“Since the word Yoga is equated with citta–vrtti–nirodha, the precise in which these words have to be understood becomes a matter of supreme importance. This cannot be left to the sweet mercies of any commentator.
“The Yoga Sutras use the roots vr and vrt, both of which means ‘to choose’. The word vrtti also means choosing, along with other meanings not relevant to Yoga. In Sutra 3 of Part IV the word varana is used which also means ‘choosing’. Choosing necessarily implies freedom. But to choose and then get identified with choices is to confine freedom to an activity triggered by past impregnations on the mind or the brain cells. Freedom, to be real and meaningful, must not be determined by the past.
“Freedom from the already known, the past, is the third requirement for right understanding of the discipline of Yoga. Freedom from the known, the past, implies freedom from ideational choice-making. To choose is to indulge in ideation. Choosing presupposes a selection between two or more alternatives presented by the factual situation. Actually, the factual situation presents nothing but facts. Not ‘alternatives’ but only ‘facts’. It is the mind (citta) conditioned by past and structured with build-in likes and dislikes, that wavers when confronted with a new situation.
“It is this wavering of the mind that triggers ideation, which refers back to build-in likes and dislikes. And it is this ideational choice-making tendency that indulges in selecting such aspects of the whole factual situation as correspond with its build-in likes, and in rejecting or ignoring those which correspond with build-in dislikes. And it is this ideational choice-making tendency that indulges in selecting such aspects of the whole factual situation as correspond with its built-in likes and in rejecting or ignoring those which correspond with built-in dislikes. This preference for the most likeable and rejection of the unlikeable constitutes the choice-making activity of the mind. It is always based on memory or the remembered past.
“Freedom, therefore, means nothing else than freedom from ideational choice-making. Choice-making itself presupposes freedom to choose. But this freedom gets vitiated by the remembered past which holds the mind in bondage – the bondage of built-in likes and dislikes. Therefore, freedom to be real, existential and meaningful must necessarily imply not only freedom to choose but also freedom ‘not to choose’
“The action of freedom imprisoned in perpetual choice-making is actin gone wrong. It is an action that negates freedom, which initially gave birth to it. And freedom is the very breath of life. Caught up in perpetual choice-making, modifying it, from time to time to pamper to his petty likes and dislikes, man finds himself imprisoned in a self-made predicament from which he finds no escape.
“Modern man is painfully aware that every actin based on choice negates itself, every profound idea give s rise to another refuting it, and that every revolution leads to inevitable counter-revolution. The question is: is there any action with will not negate itself? Yes, says Yoga. It is a negative action of not-choosing. If there is freedom which enables man to choose, this very freedom must also enable him ‘not to choose’. Freedom would be meaningless if it is to remain imprisoned in choices adinfinitum, landing man inevitably in conflict, chaos and misery.
“Therefore, says Yoga, cease to choose and see what happens. Just as a wooden wheel keeps moving on so long as it continues to receive pushes from behind, so also the ideational choice-making movement of the wheel that is mind will keep on moving so long as the choices of man continue to operate as pushes from behind. On the other hand, just as a wooden wheel in motion will begin to slow down and eventually will come to a halt by itself if the pushing is halted, so also if man ceases to choose, the wheel of the mind will naturally slow down and come to a stop.
“This is what the word nirodha implies. It does not mean and imply wilful control of vrittis, or their suppression or repression. Wilful control, suppression or repression must necessarily result in a derangement, if not the destruction of the psyche. Because any egocentric act of man, already caught up in vrttisarupya, which has conditioned his mind, will be tantamount to exercising his freedom in the same old way, that is, choosing.
“This can never bring about nirodha, but only the death of the psyche if the pressure of wilful control, suppression or repression is persisted in beyond the point of endurance. Consequently, as the root of the word vrtti suggests, the only alternative open to man is to exercise his freedom for a change, in not-choosing. After this action of not-choosing, the past propelled wheel of the mind will begin to slow down and naturally come to a stop. That is nirodha in the Yogic sense.
“What happens when man sees the truth and falsehood involved in choice-making, and decides not to choose in the light of this new perception? Says Sutra 3, ‘the seer gets established in his existential identity’. What is this existential identity (svarupa–pratistha, indicated by svarupe–vastanam in Sutra 3)? Man, according to Yoga, is no more than a seeing entity (II-20). But, conditioned by the past he tends to see through experiences. Experience is always of the past. When confronted with a factual situation, man turns the pure act of seeing into an egocentric act of experiencing, triggered by the remembered past.
“He must place what he sees, here and now, in the pattern of recognition built up by past experiences, painful and pleasurable. This placing of what is being seen, here and now, into the pattern of recognition, which is always structured by the past, is to see through the colored and curved glasses of past experiences. This is a distortion of ‘pure seeing’ and hence alienation of man from his existential identity (svarupa). It is distortion and degradation of the existential in favor of the ideational.
“Sutra 4 sums up this distortion and degradation of the ‘human’ in man in one word, vrttisarupya. When man slips from existential seeing into ideational choosing he lands himself in vrttisarupya, generating tensions, conflict, misery and chaos. On the other hand, realizing in all humility that he knows nothing about life and reality opts for non-choosing, he tends to remain established in his existential identity, flowering of itself into total freedom and creativity. In either case it is, initially, exercise of freedom.
“To exercise freedom in the direction of choice-making is to be experience-oriented and remain imprisoned in the past. On the other hand, to exercise freedom in the direction of not-choosing is to be seeing-oriented, or perception oriented, and this tends towards getting one established in a timeless dimension. In either case it is, initially, a cittavrtti. The only difference is that in choice-making triggered by the past, the movement of vrttis invariably results in tensions, ending up in endless misery; whereas in opting for not making choices, the movement of vrttis tends to slow down and get liberated from all tensions, and eventually dissolves itself in a quietude of total freedom and perceptive action, which is creation.
“Basically, it is all a question of identity getting alienated from itself, or getting established in itself. Yoga points the way to the latter. Yoga, as it were, seems to whisper in the ears of man: Opt freely for the discipline of Yoga, or get finished as Homo sapiens from this beautiful earth.”
– – End of excerpt from The Authentic Yoga, P.Y. Deshpande, 1978, p. 20 – 24
Related Yoga Sutra Posts: