The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
Part III: The Vibhuti Pada
Chapter 90: Generating the Mood for Yoga
The eight limbs of yoga, beginning with yama and ending with samadhi, have been classified by Patanjali into two groups – the external and the internal. The first five stages are regarded by him as external, and the last three as internal. The sutra goes thus: trayam antaraṅgaṁ pūrvebhyaḥ (III.7). Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara are the external aspects of yoga, whereas dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the internal aspects of yoga. Or, we may say, the first five stages are preparations for the practice, while the last three are the actual practice. The sutra, trayam antaraṅgaṁ pūrvebhyaḥ, means that the three – namely, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – are the internal features of yoga compared to the five which are the external features.
Tadapi bahiraṅgaṁ nirbījasya (III.8), says the next sutra. Even these three, which are the internal aspects of yoga, are really external compared to the last stage of yoga, which is the absorption of the individual in the Universal, called the nirbija state. From the standpoint of nirbija, or the last point of experience, everything is external – even concentration, even meditation, even the attempt of the mind to absorb itself in the object in samyama. All these are processes or approaches to an experience which transcends all processes. The last experience cannot be regarded as a process. It is not a practice, it is not an effort, it is not anything that we do – it is that which we ‘are’. Everything else is of the nature of an effort or an endeavour in the name of practice, or in the form of any other preparatory exercise or discipline. Compared to that, everything becomes external.
All the eight stages may be regarded as external from the point of view of the last thing, which is the final aim of yoga, because the disciplines, which are the stages of the practice, are intended to bring about a kind of experience in oneself. It does not mean that we will be putting forth effort forever. The effort has to cease one day, when the purpose of the effort is fulfilled. We work hard so that we may achieve something. When the achievement is there, the work is over. The effort does not any more continue. It is not required. Likewise, the external practices as well as the internal processes in all the eight stages – the entire practice which is called yoga – is the propelling medium of the individual soul to fix itself in the Infinite. Patanjali tells us that notwithstanding the fact that dharana, dhyana and samadhi are internal and very difficult processes in yoga compared to the other five which are preceding and preparatory, yet, in spite of that, even these three which are internal are external compared to the last spiritual experience.
Now we are told what happens to the mind when it actually enters into meditation, when it reaches the point when samyama is practised. When we are in right earnest with an object, and samyama on that particular object is going on, what is happening to the mind inside? Some changes must be taking place. What are those changes? There are certain transformations which the mind undergoes during the process of samyama. These transformations are called parinamas in the language of Patanjali. There are various types of parinama, or transformation, all which tend towards the final goal which is the aim of yoga. The sutrakara tells us that there are various types of transformations, such as nirodha parinama, samadhi parinama, ekagrata parinama, dharma parinama, lakshana parinama and avastha parinama. These are the terms used by Patanjali to indicate the types or kinds of transformation which the mind passes through in its processes of concentration, meditation and samadhi – which is samyama.
When we fix our mind or the will – the entirety of our being – in the practice of samyama, there is a struggle going on in the mind. This struggle itself is a transformation. This struggle, or the peculiar activity that is going on in the mind, is a kind of modification which is brought about by the mind, within itself, by the reconstitution of its components. When milk becomes curd, there is a reconstitution of the content of milk. There is a rearrangement of the inner essences of the milk, so that the milk becomes curd. Some internal transformation takes place. It is not an external transformation. Nobody comes from outside and interferes with the milk – inwardly something happens. Likewise, here some transformation takes place inwardly.
The first that is mentioned is what is known as nirodha parinama, the transformation of the mind in respect of the inhibition of the vrittis, or the repression of all the psychoses or modifications in respect of the objects of sense. The first thing that the mind does when it practises samyama is to put down all the vrittis concerning the objects of sense. For this purpose it has to generate within itself another vritti. That vritti, which has the power to subjugate the other vrittis in regard to objects of sense, undergoes a transformation within itself, and that particular condition of the mind where it is actively busy putting down all the other vrittis except the vritti of samyama is called nirodha parinama. Vyutthāna nirodha saṁskārayoḥ abhibhava prādurbhāvau nirodhakṣaṇa cittānvayaḥ nirodhapariṇāmaḥ (III.9) is an aphorism of Patanjali. It means, literally, just this: vyutthana is the rising of the vrittis in respect of objects, nirodha is the suppression of those vrittis, and the impressions produced in the mind during the process of this opposition of the two types of vrittis is the samskara mentioned in this sutra. Nirodha is also a samskara.
Vyutthāna nirodha saṁskārayoḥ abhibhava prādurbhāvau (III.9). Abhibhava is putting down, subjugating, controlling or repressing; pradurbhavau is the rising, coming up to the surface of active consciousness. There is a repeated activity going on in the mind in the form of an opposition between these two types of vrittis in the mind. On one side there is an attempt by external or objective vrittis to enter the mind. On the other side there is an activity of the mind which tries to drive away all these vrittis. At that time, the mind identifies itself with a particular condition. That condition with which the mind identifies itself at that particular moment of internal transformation, when it puts down the vrittis in respect of the objects of sense, is called nirodha parinama. Or, to put it in more plain language, we may say the rajasic and the tamasic vrittis are put down, and the sattvic vrittis come to the surface.
The vrittis which try to prevent the entry of those vrittis connected with the objects outside are the sattvic vrittis. The vrittis which are trying to enter the mind and disturb this concentration are the rajasic and tamasic vrittis. There is a repeated opposition going on between these two kinds of vrittis. We are perpetually at war with a part of the mind; it is the mind itself which is at war within itself – between two aspects of itself. The concentrating aspect, or the sattvic aspect – the integrating aspect, the samyama aspect, or the yoga aspect – is one thing. The sensory aspect, the objective aspect, the external aspect, the contact aspect, the pleasure aspect – these are the other vrittis.
Thus, there is this conflict going on inside when we start yoga practice. And nobody will know what is happening; only we ourselves will know it. It is practically impossible for an ordinary mind to prevent the entry of external impressions in respect of objects because years and years have been lived in a way which is in harmony with the objects of sense; therefore, the impressions created by the past experiences in respect of objects repeat themselves again and again, and seek entry into the mind. In yoga, we try to do the opposite of it. The concentration aspect of the mind, which is sattvic, tries to gain an upper hand over the rajasic and tamasic vrittis. What feelings arise at that time, in the mind, are the contents of the experience of the yogi himself. There is oftentimes a feeling of pleasure or joy; at other times there is a feeling of depression and falling down. It depends upon which vritti is strong. If there is a duel between two wrestlers, we cannot say at the very beginning itself who is going to win because the duel will go on for a long time, for hours together – one falling down and then getting up, and so on – so that we will be witnessing the duel without being able to make a judgement as to what is going to happen finally. Though it may look that someone is gaining, suddenly that one which appeared to be gaining will fall down, and that one which fell down will rise up, etc. This kind of thing will happen in the mind.
The sensuous vrittis may gain strength and put down the vritti of samyama, and then there is distraction, agitation – an impossibility to concentrate. Then, after a time, the sensuous vrittis will be put down and the concentration vritti may come, and there is a feeling of strength, a mood of elevation and buoyancy of spirit. Then, after some time, that may go down. This process will continue for a long time, according to the nature of the mind, the case on hand – therefore, the sutra: vyutthāna nirodha saṁskārayoḥ abhibhava prādurbhāvau (III.9). There is a coming in and going out of the different kinds of vrittis in the mind. Thus samyama is not, as one may imagine, a very happy, continuous, spontaneous process of a uniform fixing of the mind.
In the beginning there is a hard tussle. The moment we think of concentration, the mind will not go and sit there. It may appear as if it is going and alighting itself on the object, but there will be repulsion immediately, and it will come back. So we have to go once again and put it back upon the point. Yato yato niścalati manaś cañcalam asthiram, tatas tato niyamyaitad ātmany eva vaśaṁ nayet (B.G. VI.26). A corresponding sloka from the Bhagavadgita tells us almost the same thing: when the mind moves away from the centre of concentration and directs itself to the objects outside, then and there, at that particular moment, gradually it has to be brought back to the point of concentration. This is exactly what the sutra of Patanjali also tells us in a different language: nirodhakṣaṇa cittānvayaḥ nirodhapariṇāmaḥ (III.9). The involvement of the mind at the moment of the interception of the vrittis – at the time it gains an upper hand and puts down the vrittis of rajas and tamas – that moment of interception with which the mind identifies itself is called nirodha parinama.
Nirodha parinama is that parinama, or transformation, which is equivalent to the suppression of the vrittis which are distracting in nature. This requires continuous practice. It is not a question of a few days, because the mind of an ordinary person is not constituted of the concentration aspect, or the sattvic aspect. It is made up of the rajasic and the tamasic aspects. This can be seen by the nature of the experiences we usually pass through in life, the moods that arise in the mind, and the desires we have in ordinary external life. Do we ever have a mood of concentration at any time from morning to night? Never! Always the mind is agitated. Though we may be thinking of some particular object or a work on hand, or of a function to perform, it cannot be called concentration of mind in the yogic sense. It is a temporary movement of the mind to that particular function, work or duty, due to the compulsive effort exercised upon the mind by circumstances. Circumstantial pressure compels the mind to fix itself on a particular work, whether one likes it or not. That kind of thing is not concentration. We work hard in a jail. Can we call it concentration when we are forced to work against our will? And, every work that we do is mostly against our will. It is not that we are happy about it. If possible, we would like to avoid it. But we cannot avoid it for reasons which are very peculiar in each individual case.
We are in a rajasic type of fixation of mind in certain activities, which should not be mistaken for a sattvic concentration of mind. The desire of the mind to withdraw itself into its original condition of sense contact is present even at the time of a function that we are performing in an apparent concentration of mind, whereas in yogic concentration, that is not the case. The desire to go back to the objects of sense is not allowed to rise. The purpose of yoga is quite different from the purposes of ordinary life. Quite different are the courses of the mind in the concentration of a mechanic in fitting a part of a machine, and the concentration of a yogi in samyama. They are two different things altogether. That other type, the phenomenal type of concentration, is a rajasic ambivalence of attitude, not a sattvic attention of the mind – whereas in yoga, it is a sattvic concentration.
The point made out in this sutra is that we have to put forth repeated effort to be able to bring the sattvic aspect of the mind to the surface again and again, until the rajasic and tamasic vrittis are sublimated completely. They are to be transformed by a kind of ‘boiling’. They are hammered upon, again and again, by the sattvic vrittis. The substantiality and the concrete opposition, which the rajasic and tamasic vrittis present, will slowly vanish by the effort of the sattvic vrittis. The power of sattva is much more than the power of rajas and tamas. Thus, the sutra means to tell us that by continuous endeavour on the part of the mind to maintain a flow of that particular vritti alone which is conducive to samyama, and eliminating all other vrittis in respect of externality of objects, one enters the mood of yoga.
In the Katha Upanishad also, we have a similar mention. The condition of yoga is not fixed; it is oscillating. Apramattas tadā bhavati yogo hi prabhavāpyayau (K.U. II.3.11). A careless person cannot be a yogi. Here ‘care’ or ‘freedom from carelessness’ means the strength of the mind required to practise yoga daily, for a protracted period, in spite of obstacles of every kind. The hata, or the obstinacy of the yogi, is supposed to be an example by itself. We cannot compare this obstinacy of a yogi to any other obstinacy. He is bent upon doing it, and he will do it, whatever obstacles may come. Otherwise, we have a hundred excuses not to do it, such as: It is so hot; who will meditate? It is so cold; who will meditate? It is raining; it is not possible. So, we cannot do it at any time.
These are the pleasant moods of the mind in respect of objects, which will not allow the mind to concentrate. Thus, we have to generate within ourselves a mood of yoga instead a mood of activity, of contact with people and things and a mood of restlessness. To generate a mood of yoga is very difficult. This is exactly the meaning of nirodha parinama. The transformation of the mind in respect of the inhibition of the restlessness, or the external vrittis, is the mood of yoga. We should be always in a tendency to meditate, just as there are people who are in a tendency to sleep. Wherever they sit, they are in a mood to sleep. Whether they are in the office, or in the kitchen, or in satsanga, they will be nodding their heads a little; that is a mood to sleep.
Likewise, we must be in a mood for yoga, always. At the very first opportunity provided to us, we should be in a mood of concentration, just as if we have a very delightful hobby or something which we like very much, we will resort to it immediately when the impediments to it are lifted. There are people who knit clothes – sweaters, etc. Wherever they go – whether it is a temple or it is a kitchen, it doesn’t matter – they will be knitting. They will be knitting everywhere because that is the mood of the mind, and they like to do it. It is a hobby, and it gives satisfaction. We are not able to do it only when there is an impediment or obstacle. The moment the impediment is lifted, we go to the natural mood. What the yoga requires of us is that our natural mood should be of yoga. We should not bring the mood of yoga with great effort and compulsion; that is not yoga. Yoga is spontaneous. A yogi is one who is spontaneously a yogi, not compulsively a yogi. We are not forced to practise yoga by anybody; that will not be successful.
The nirodha parinama mentioned in this sutra is, really speaking, a mood of yoga that is generated within the mind by repeated practice – for days and months and years together. For this purpose we have to take very great care that we do not make mistakes, because even the least mistake that we make will be enough for the mind to find a loophole and see that the practice is not completed. The caution that one has to exercise mostly in this practice, if we want early success and real success, is that we should sit for yoga meditation every day. We should not miss it even for one day, because if we miss one day, the next day it will not come; the mood has gone. Also, if possible, we must sit at the same time every day. We should not go on changing the time of sitting – not morning today, evening tomorrow, etc. – because the mood will not come at other times. Just as hunger comes at a particular time and is not there always, throughout the day, because there is a mood of the organism to generate the requisite enzymes for the purpose of digestion which is called hunger, likewise there is a peculiar mood of the mind which comes up at a particular time of the day due to repeated practice. So, keep up the practice daily at the same time, not changing the time; and if we can maintain the same place also, that is still better. But more than place, time is very important. And the same method of concentration should be adopted – this is also very important.
We should not go on changing the ways of thinking. We should not experiment with different types of concentration. Then, the little bit of concentration that we have gained yesterday, in respect of a particular type of concentration, will not come today, because we are trying a new method. It is something like trying to hit a nail on different place, instead of hitting it on the same place. The caution that is usually expected to be exercised for the purpose of success in yoga, to bring about a mood of yoga in one’s mind always, perpetually, is to maintain regularity of practice, continuity of practice with intensity of will and ardour of feeling, maintaining the same mood for an equal length of time – not diminishing it or even extending it beyond certain limits – at the same place, and at the same hour, so that it becomes our regular profession and we have no other work. Even if we have some other profession, some other duty or work, it becomes secondary to our practice. This becomes primary; all that we do throughout our life, throughout the day, from morning to evening, becomes a contributory factor to bring about this mood of yoga so that there is nothing impeding our progress. We can adjust and arrange our activities and the vocational habits of the day in such a manner that they will not seriously obstruct the mood of yoga that we are trying to generate, which is nirodha parinama. This is one of the important transformations that the mind deliberately undergoes in the practice of samyama. There are many others. We shall look to it later.