The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 63: The Cause of Unhappiness

Pariṇāma tāpa saṁskāra duḥkaiḥ guṇavṛtti virodhṛāt ca duḥkham eva sarvaḥṁ vivekinaḥ (II.15). The happiness that we pursue should be unmixed, if it is genuine. It should not be contaminated by other features, as that would go to prove that there is some defect in the way in which happiness is being pursued. It will be observed that every passing phase of pleasure or joy in life is accompanied by another character altogether which precedes it, comes with it, and also follows it – namely, a kind of sorrow. An immediate consequence that follows the experience of contacting a pleasure is a feeling of having lost it, because it has not continuously become a part of one’s experience. There is no such thing as a continuous, unbroken experience of happiness, because the happiness was caused by certain efforts and certain conditions. When the efforts cease or the conditions disperse, the effect also must vanish; therefore, there is the consequence of an unhappiness of having lost the happiness that was once there. This peculiar character of unhappiness following a temporary experience of happiness will continue in spite of our pursuing it again and again.

Moreover, the repetition of an enjoyment increases the thirst for it due to a memory which is retained on account of that pleasure. Memory of unhappiness becomes an urge, a goad to drive the mind onward once again towards continuing the same process which it followed earlier. The fact that there was no satiation in an earlier experience of a similar character should show that there was some defect in the procedure adopted. Nevertheless, the same procedure is adopted again, and there is no improvement whatsoever in the modus operandi. The result is, once again, a recurring feature: there is unhappiness; there is thirst. The quenching of a thirst does not end the matter – it creates further thirst – so the attempt at quenching the thirst is only a new effort that we are putting forth at creating a new thirst and a greater longing for the experience that passed away. How is it possible that a quenching of a thirst can create more thirst? The attempt is for one thing, and what happens is something else.

A desire, when it is fulfilled, should not create a greater desire. If that is the case, the very purpose of the fulfilment of the desire is defeated. What is the intention of our efforts at fulfilling desires? It is so that they do not, once again, come and trouble us. The satisfaction should be there. That is the purpose of the attempt of the mind to gain pleasure of any kind. But, the satisfaction does not come. What comes is a greater desire. How is it possible that the flames of desire get fanned more and more rather than extinguished in a large measure, in spite of hard effort? Whatever be the effort, whatever be the manner adopted, whatever be the kind of object one contacts – we may move earth and heaven – yet, the result is the same.

There is a parinama, or a consequence of unhappiness, that follows happiness. This is something very strange. How can unhappiness follow happiness? How is it possible that something contrary to the nature of the cause can follow as the effect? If the cause is happiness, how can the effect be unhappiness? But, the effect is unhappiness. This shows that the cause was not happiness. There was something very mysterious about that experience which appeared as happiness. It was really unhappiness. It was not happiness – otherwise, how could it produce unhappiness? There was a mix-up of values and a confusion of mind, on account of which a peculiar passing phase of tension called unhappiness looked like happiness, for different reasons altogether.

In the sutra we are told that the consequence of happiness is unhappiness. Therefore, it should be concluded that the happiness was unhappiness only. There was no happiness. Also, there is an anxiety that follows the experience of pleasure – that having lost it, it should be pursued and attempted once again. There is an anguish in the heart on account of having been dispossessed of the enjoyment, and this anguish will continue for any length of time. The attempt at happiness is repeated. Whatever be the number of times we attempt to contact the mind with objects for pleasure, so many times we will be unhappy.

Hence, this anguish of the heart cannot subside. There is anxiety even at the time of the enjoyment of a pleasure. It is very strange that even at the time of enjoying the pleasure, there is an anxiety that it is going to be lost and there is unhappiness. Further, the imagination that it will end in itself becomes an eviscerating factor, even at the current moment. This is the tapa that follows, the agony that is inherent in the very process of enjoyment of the pleasure. Earlier there was anguish because it was not there, and now when it comes, there is anguish that it is going to be lost. And when it is actually lost – well, the heart burns with great sorrow. Thus, in the beginning, in the middle and in the end it is all a kind of tension, though it looks as if a great satisfaction has come. This is the thing for which one is working.

A third difficulty is that this experience of pleasure produces an impression in the mind; it creates a groove. A vasana is produced, and these vasanas, these grooves formed in the mind, will remain there latent for all time to come. They are permanent copperplates produced in the mind, and we can manufacture any number of gramophone records so that there is an urge for repetition of these experiences, manifest or unmanifest. If the conditions are favourable, they will manifest immediately. If conditions are not favourable, they will keep quiet, and when conditions become favourable – even after years, even after births – they will again motivate the mind towards that enjoyment. Thus, the samskaras produced by a particular experience of pleasure are going to be sorrows in the future.

There is another danger about this: if the samskaras are very strong, if the impressions or grooves formed are very marked, then what will happen is that they may take effect even in future lives. And, when these impressions take effect in a future life and direct the mind towards the very same type of objects with which they are connected, as it happened in an earlier life at the originating time, the desire of the mind might have changed. So, when we come in contact with a particular condition on account of the motivation of these impressions, we do not want that experience any more. Then it comes as a pain, and we wonder why we experience pain. What has happened to us? Why is nature punishing us? Nature is not punishing us; it is only giving what we asked for. But, unfortunately, time has elapsed to such an extent that we have completely forgotten that we wanted those things, and now when those things are given to us, they are not the wanted ones. The needs of the mind change according to the vehicle which it enlivens – the body-mind complex. The body which the mind enters in a new birth is constituted in a fashion which conforms to the type of desires which are going to be fulfilled in that particular life according to the prarabdha karma. So, naturally, it does not mean that the desires of this life will be the same as the desires of the next life. They will be changing in their form and shape.

The impressions formed by experiences in this life will produce effects of a similar character at a time when they come as pain rather than as pleasure. Thus, pains and pleasures are both things which we have asked for. They have not been thrust upon us by anybody. When our individual constitution is in harmony with those external conditions, objects, etc. which come in contact with us or with which we come in contact, we call that experience a pleasure. But if that relationship between ourselves and the external circumstances is disharmonious for any reason whatsoever, then that experience becomes unhappiness. Well, this is a very strange thing which the mind at the present moment cannot understand. It is sowing the seeds of its future sorrow now, by pursuing pleasures of sense which it thinks are desirable at present, but later on they will come like pricking thorns. This is the sorrow of samskaras. 

Also, the gunas of prakriti are the cause of all experience:guṇavṛtti virodhāt ca duḥkham eva sarvaṁ vivekinaḥ (II.15). These gunas are called sattva, rajas and tamas. It is the rajas that is present in the mind which creates desire. The purpose or function of rajas is distraction, externalisation, or driving the mind towards objects; so as long as rajas functions, there must be unhappiness. The reason is that when the mind is urged against its own self and towards the objects of sense, it is in a state of tension. Therefore, there is unhappiness until the moment of the enjoyment of pleasure, which is all caused by rajas. The cessation of this function of rajas at the time of the contact one has with an object is the cause of pleasure. Sattva is the cause of pleasure; rajas is the cause of pain.

The temporary manifestation of sattva at the time of the cessation of the activity of rajas, on account of the contact of the senses with objects, is what we call pleasure. But, inasmuch as the gunas of prakriti oppose each other and react upon one another, there is no stability of the three gunas. They always rotate like a wheel that is moving, and we cannot say that we can be in any given particular experience of one quality or property of prakriti. One may predominate at this point in time; at another time, another may be predominant, and according to the predominance of the intensity of the manifestation of a particular property of prakriti, there is a particular corresponding experience. Therefore, on account of the movement of the gunas, it is not possible that we can choose only one quality. On account of the opposition among the gunas, or the rotation of the wheel of the gunas of prakriti, it is not possible to have permanent happiness. For all these reasons, it is all duḥkham eva sarvaṁ vivekinaḥ. This is the meaning of this sutra: pariṇāma tāpa saṁskāra duḥkaiḥ guṇavṛtti virodhāt ca duḥkham eva sarvaḥṁ vivekinaḥ (II.15).

Thus, it has been pointed out that the klesasavidya, asmita, raga, dvesa, abhinivesa – are sources of unending trouble. They are made up of trouble itself. There is nothing else of which they are made; and, unfortunately, everyone and everything is made up of these complexes called the klesas. They have also motivated another peculiar law, which is called the law of karma – all of which is a different way of describing the manner in which desires function and the reactions that are produced by the desires. The one mistake that has been committed in the form of error of perception – namely, affirmation of the individuality, asmita – has caused us so much trouble.

These conditions cannot be overcome merely by an action in an ordinary sense. There should be an overall transformation brought about for the purpose of dealing with these vrittis, because any one-sided approach to it will not succeed. If we touch any one aspect of these vrittis, other aspects will revolt. They will support, in affiliation, the particular vritti that has been encountered for the purpose of control. When we attack the vrittis or try to control them, they have to be taken in a group and not individually, because they are connected, one with the other. What we call these kleshas, or vrittis of the mind, are a group. They are intertwined in a bundle, one inside the other; and so when any aspect of it is faced and suppressed with the force of will, the other aspects gain strength – the very same strength which we have withdrawn from the particular aspect which we have suppressed.

Thus, it is not wisdom on the part of any seeker to look at only a single side of this issue, or even at a few aspects of this issue. We should take the total issue in one stroke. This means to say that we have to have a proper understanding of the nature of our mind in its comprehensiveness. We should not study ourselves only as we appear to ourselves today. “What am I today? This is not what I am really, because what I look like today is only one phase of my real nature, and what I am is much more than what I appear today. Every day my mood changes, the desires change, the way of the thinking of my mind changes, and so on and so forth, on account of a certain predominance of the vrittis in the mind.”

If we take an average, for instance, of the various experiences that we passed through for the last one year, we will have a fair idea of what we are made of. We may take an average of even three years, if we like. What sort of attitudes did we develop continuously, for days and days, for the last three years, for instance? This is a difficult thing to remember, but a cautious student will keep a note of all these things. Many of the things can be remembered; we cannot forget them. What are the moods through which we passed? What are the desires that appeared in our mind? What are the things that attracted our attention? What are those things that repelled us? What are the things that annoyed us? What are the things that distressed us? – and so on. Taking an average of all these conditions through which we passed during the last few years will give a fair idea, though not a complete idea, of the stuff of which we are made.

Now, this is an indication of what is to be done. We have suffered from various diseases for the last ten years. What are the kinds of disease that attacked us? We can find out the predominance of these illnesses and the peculiar characters of the diseases to which we are susceptible – the major problems of our life as illness. Likewise, the major or predominant character of the vrittis of the mind can be discovered by a careful analysis of an average taken in this manner. Everyone has desires; everyone has vrittis; everyone has distresses, anguishes, etc., but they vary in tones of expression.

The way in which one reacts to the external conditions of life, normally speaking, is the nature of one’s person – and it is this that has to be subdued. This is the essence of yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2). It is not one vritti that we are subduing; it is the entire tendency of the mind to manifest as vrittis. It may manifest itself as many vrittis, many types of vrittis, but whatever be the types or the ways in which it manifests itself, it has a general character. The general character is the indication of the difficulties that are likely to be faced by us in the future. The past will give an indication of the kind of future that we have to face. Though details may vary, the general features may be the same. We have lived for so many years in this world and we can understand what sort of experiences we had. Similar types of experience are likely to be repeated.

This general feature of the mind, the total character of the vrittis, should be taken into consideration at one stroke at the time of the practice of meditation in yoga. This cannot easily be done by a casual look at the mind or a desultory analysis of the ways in which our mind manifests itself. Many a time we forget various aspects of the mind and take into consideration only certain aspects. Also, it is unlikely that we may agree that the vrittis of the mind are all defects of the mind. Many of us will be under the impression that they are certain justifiable moods that the mind manifests for certain benefits. But it is not so. Every vritti is a defect. It cannot be regarded as a benefit in any manner whatsoever because a vritti – whatever be the nature of that vritti – is an urge within to drive us away from ourselves to a condition which is external.

What is yoga except the prevention of this tendency of the mind and an attempt of a counteracting nature, enabling it to rest in its own self? The vrittis of the mind, to which reference has been made in the sutra, yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2), are summed up in the single word ‘citta’. What is to be suppressed or eliminated is not any one vritti, but the citta-stuff. Citta is not merely the conscious mind or the mentation process, but the stuff of the mind. “The modification of the mind-stuff” are the words used. The stuff of the mind is the substance out of which the entire internal organ is constituted – what we call thinking, feeling, willing, memory or remembrance, etc. Various functions are there, including even ego.

These functions all put together are the citta, the stuff of the mind. This stuff it is that reveals itself as various functions, though it is true that the stuff itself cannot be discovered and we can know its nature only from the functions that it performs. Nevertheless, we can know something about this stuff by the nature of this function. As I mentioned, we should take an average of the types of functions which the citta has been performing for the last several years, and we can know what stuff it is made of and what is it that is in store, inside it. When the task on hand is taken up, as it was mentioned, we have to strike the iron while it is hot, as they say. The total mind has to rise up to the occasion in a comprehensiveness that would be necessary to deal with the problem, just as when there is a national war, the whole nation girds up its loins. It is not only a few people that start thinking about it; the forces constituting the entire nation get stirred up into a single energy of action for the purpose that is on hand. Likewise, the energy of the total system is to be harnessed for the purpose of encountering this total situation that is called the citta.

When we get into trouble, we will find that we get trouble from every side; it will not be only from one side. When people start disliking us, everyone will start disliking us, and not one will like us afterwards. So is the nature of the mind. When it likes a particular thing, the whole of the mind will pounce upon that object which it likes and the entire resources of the mind will be there to back it up in the execution of this deed; and when it dislikes a thing, there will be a wholesale dislike. This is the peculiar way in which the mind works. In yoga we have to note this feature of the mind and act on it in the manner in which it acts in respect of objects. A wholesale view has to be taken. It is the total man that rises to the occasion for the purpose of subduing the total mind. It is not a partial aspect of ours that is functioning in yoga. It is a movement of the whole, towards the whole. So, we have to keep a cautious eye on every direction – externally, as well as internally.

The circumstances which may aggravate the desires of the mind should be avoided, though the aggravation has not taken place. It is not that the mind is always thinking of an object of sense, but it is likely that it can fix itself upon an object when conditions become favourable for it. Therefore, knowing that such and such conditions may aggravate a particular desire of the mind in respect of a particular object, it should be wisdom on the part of a seeker not to place oneself under those circumstances which are likely to aggravate the desires of the mind even in the future. This is because even a single desire, when it takes action, will be difficult to control since other desires which are there will also back it up. Wisdom consists in knowing what can happen in the future, though it has not taken place. We should not try to understand a situation only when it has taken place, because then it has gone out of hand. We should try to read the indications of the future by the present conditions, using a process of logical deduction.

Therefore, conditions which are likely to stir up the activity of desire should be avoided now itself. Anyone with a little bit of understanding will know what are those conditions, inasmuch as we know what are the predominant desires in our mind. So, avoid the conditions – external first, and internal afterwards. This is called vairagya, really speaking: an avoidance of all those factors and conditions which are likely to stimulate the mind towards enjoyment of sense. And, simultaneously, there should be practice; this is abhyasa, which we mentioned earlier. Together with this withdrawal of the mind from conditions which are likely to aggravate it in respect of fulfilment of desire, there should be practice of meditation on the ideal that has been chosen – namely, salvation of the soul.

The practice of yoga is an attempt of the mind to direct itself to the salvation of the soul, ultimately – the moksha, or the ultimate freedom which it is aiming at – so that it is doubly guarded in the practice. On one side, it has wrenched itself away from all those aggravating conditions, and on the other side, it has fortified itself further by an intensified concentration of itself on the great, glorious, magnificent goal which is going to be its destination.