The Patanjala Yoga philosophy, which is one of the six systems constituting Vedic philosophy, is also known as Ashtanga Yoga (the yoga of eight parts or limbs) and is closely related to Sankhya and Vedantic philosophy. Ashtanga Yoga is the practical manifestation of both these philosophies. This practical system attempts to understand the nature of the elusive element we know as 'mind'—its different states of being, impediments to growth, afflictions and the methods of harnessing it for the achievement of absolute self realization.
While Sankhya philosophy assigns three functions to the mental body—mind (mana), intelligence (buddhi) and false knowledge (mithya jnana)—Vedanta adds a fourth element to this—chitta or conditioned consciousness. But ancient yoga teachers collapse the category of the mental body with the mind and assigns intelligence and false ego as aspects of that mind with the chitta denoting the various states of the mana or mind. Yoga likens mana and chitta with a lake, which is essentially calm and peaceful but whose basic tranquility is obscured by various insubstantial surface waves. According to the philosophy, there are only two ways of disturbing this serenity and engendering patterns of thought—through sense perceptions (pramana) and when our memory (smriti) gets triggered off.
All other sources of mental activity lead to false knowledge. To quote the most venerable among yoga teachers, Sage Patanjali, who said in his Yoga Sutra: "...when the persons possessing a body mistake by their erring intellect, this very body for the soul (atman), this kind of bondage is wrought by ignorance (avidya); its annihilation is emancipation (moksha)."
The central doctrine of Yoga philosophy is that nothing exists beyond the mind and its consciousness, which is the only ultimate reality. The objective of this philosophy is to uproot misconceptions about the existence of external 'realities' from the minds of men. It believes that it is possible to reach this stage of self realization through regular practice of certain yogic meditative processes that bring a complete withdrawal or detachment from all false sources of knowledge and inculcates an inner sense of balanced calm and tranquility.
Five States of Mind
Depending on the degree of distraction, Yoga philosophy categorizes the mind under five stages of being:
• Kshipta or disturbed,
• Mudha or stupefied,
• Vikshipta or distracted,
• Ekagra or concentrated and
• Niruddha or the absolutely balanced state of mind.
While the first three stages are negative and cause impediments to the healthy growth of the mind and its horizons, the following two are the desired states of being. When the mind is in its earliest stage of disturbance, it lacks judgment and is generally hyperactive, unable to ignore external stimuli. The next stage of the mudha or stupefied state of mind is distinguished by inertia, lethargy, sluggishness, vice, ignorance and sleep. The state of vikshipta is an advanced stage of the kshipta mind, when it still lacks consistency and is unable to quieten down or reflect.
Ekagra and niruddha are the mental levels at which, the mind almost ceases to be affected by the pains and miseries of mortal existence. They are the calmest and most peaceful states of mind. Ekagra or the tranquil state of mind is as near to inner stillness as one is ever likely to get. This state of mind is highly conducive to concentration and meditation, which is why the yoga system aims at maintaining and developing it as consistently as possible through various yogic meditational practices.
The last stage or niruddha is that rare state of being, where the mind is totally undisturbed and purified by the flow of positive energy. Niruddha is the ultimate desired mental stage in yogic practices. It is at this pristine state alone that we are able to realize the true nature of our souls. These last two states of mind are positive and conducive to meditation. Various yogic practices such as certain yogasanas, pranayama, dhyana, dharana and samadhi are designed for achieving the niruddha state of mind.
Five Modifications of the Mind
The yoga system categorizes the vrittis or forms of thought into five sections:
• Comprehension or Pramana,
• Misapprehension or Viparyaya,
• Conceptualization or Vikalpa,
• Deep Sleep or Nidra and
• Memory or Smriti.
All our thoughts, emotions and psychological states fall within either of these sections. These five are again further subdivided into two mental types:
• Klista and
While the first type causes afflictions, the next does not. Misapprehension, conceptualization and deep sleep are considered to be the three main causes of various afflictions while the categories of comprehension and memory (of certain kinds) are viewed more positively. These two categories of pramana and smriti are also conducive to meditation and the attainment of kaivalya or detachment from the material world.
Pramana or comprehension is the awareness of one's true state of existence. The three epistemologies or valid means of knowledge for this category are:
• Pratyaksha or Direct Perception,
• Anumana or Inference and •Shabda Pramana or Verbal Testimony. The knowledge gained from either sensory or inner perception, inference and verbal authority are all considered to be true knowledge according to yoga.
Viparyaya or misapprehension is equivalent to ignorance (avidya) in Yoga philosophy. And knowledge borne out of misconceptions such as mistaking a rope for a snake and vice versa are false, leading to afflictions of the greatest kind. Viparyaya gives rise to the following klesas or obstacles to meditation:
• Avidya or Ignorance,
• Asmita or Egoism,
• Raga or Attachment,
•Dvesa or Hatred and
• Abhinivesa or the or the sense of self-preservation.
The viparyaya category of comprehension is taken to be correct until more favorable conditions reveal the actual nature of the object of comprehension.
Vikalpa or conceptualization is also considered to be a source of avidya or ignorance because it is the comprehension of an object based only on words and expressions, even though the object is absent. This includes beliefs such as the existence of horned rabbits or winged fairies. It is possible to conceive of such imaginary and purely linguistic categories but nevertheless they are all erroneous knowledge and does not correspond with anything in existence.
Deep sleep or nidra is also thought to be a negative modification of the mind. During this mental state the mind is overcome with heaviness and no other activities are present. This state is virtually a withdrawal from the external world, when one is left without any control over one's consciousness. It is important to note at this point that the dream state and the conscious state are not modifications because while dreaming, our minds are occupied with vikalpa and while awake, the mind is concerned with the categories of pramana and viparyaya.
Smriti or memory is concerned with the evocation of stored impressions, or rather the mental retention of conscious experiences. All these categories are present in the kshipta, mudha and vikshipta states of mind. Ekagra and niruddha are above all such modifications.
The above modifications are primarily caused by the nine impediments to a healthy growth and development of the mind. These are:
• Lack of perseverance and
These nine conditions are the greatest causes of all sorrows, miseries and pain, which disturb the mind and result in distractions and loss of mental tranquility. All these interruptions produce symptoms such as, mental discomfort, negative thinking, the inability to be at ease in different body postures, and difficulty in controlling one's breath. The yoga of Patanjali prescribes abhyasa or regular practice and vairagya or detachment as the sole means of conquering such impediments and achieving kaivalya (absoluteness) or self realization. Abhyasa in this case is basically the correct effort required to move toward, reach, and maintain the state of yoga.
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