by Swami Krishnananda
If a powerful wind blows over a lake and there is a cyclone and tempest, there cannot be any proper reflection of light on the surface of the water, and it becomes worse when the water is muddy. Muddy water shaken up violently cannot adequately reflect the true position of an object, even if the object were very near the surface of the water. If the sun is shining in the sky, and yet the winds are strong and the waters are disturbed, the reflection of the sun cannot be seen properly. Through the power of the light of the sun an observer would note that there is something shining, though one could not easily see what it is that is shining.
Likewise is the process of perception. It involves only a faint hint as to the presence of some light existing somewhere, without which perception would be impossible, but at the same time we cannot see this light which we conclude must be there. A little brightness which seems to be visible on the surface of the water makes us feel that there should be something bright which is reflected in these waters. Yet, we cannot actually see it because of the disturbance on the surface of the water.
In the process of perception, recollection and inference we may come to know that there should be a light, a consciousness and an intelligence behind the process of perception, inference, etc. That we are aware of the world outside is enough proof that there is such a thing called awareness. But we are more conscious of the world than of this awareness, in spite of our concluding that without awareness there could be no cognisance of the world. Awareness is first and the world appears afterwards, but the winds on the surface of perception are so strong and the surface seems to be so turbid that we are able to see only the shaky surface and not the light that is shining through the surface.
We can see our bodies and we can see the objects outside, though it goes without saying that we can neither know ourselves nor others without there being an intelligence relating ourselves to the objects. That which is the very presupposition of all perception and knowledge is hidden beneath the processes of perception. That which is hidden as the being is never an object of our consciousness. Consciousness is so swallowed up in the objects that we appear to be lodged in a physical world of physical objects and located within a physical body. The subjective awareness has practically died in our lives, and we live in bodies more than in intelligence or consciousness. Something seems to be happening which disturbs our being conscious of that which underlies the process of perception.
I mentioned earlier a word called ‘vritti’ in connection with an awareness of perception. A vritti is a mood of the mind, a modification of the mind, a way in which the mind tries to connect itself with an object—a movement of the mind towards an object. A vritti therefore is a transformation, a change and disturbance on the surface of consciousness. A vritti has the capacity to mould itself into the form of an object in perception, and it becomes so identified with the form that we cannot know which is the mind and which is the object.
This identification becomes intense both in extreme love and extreme hatred. In both cases the mind gets identified with the object beyond a certain limit, so that the mind loses itself in the object. The mind and the object become one for all practical purposes and we love a thing as our own selves, or we hate the opposite thing to the utmost. In both these extremes the mind lodges itself positively or negatively in the object with such an intensity that one cannot make a distinction between the mind and the object. In scriptures and yoga texts some analogies are given to explain how this identification takes place between the mind and the object. The example usually given is that when an iron ball is heated red-hot in a fire, the ball of iron is not longer visible at all—we see only a ball of fire. The ball of iron has become a ball of fire through the heat integrated into it, and if we touch the ball we would get burned. It is not the iron ball that burns; it is the fire in it that burns. The identification between the ball and the fire is such that we cannot distinguish the one from the other. For the time being there is no appearance of iron there at all, as it seems to be only fire. Yet we know that there is iron in it, and it is not merely fire. So is the mind’s activity in love and hatred.
Intense love and hatred are such identifications where one cannot know whether there is an object separate from the mind and vice versa. It is just impossible to be without that object in the case of love or be with that object in the case of hatred. The mind can take such extreme shapes in rare occasions and identify itself positively or negatively with an object in this manner. The mind does not always go to extremes like this—the extreme steps of the mind are very rare because it is difficult to conceive of absolute love or absolute hatred. We have only ordinary love or ordinary hatred generally speaking, and in this process there is only a slight contact between the object and the mind, just as there is only a slight heating of the iron ball if the fire is weak.
The movement of the mind is like a wind that blows on the surface of the true consciousness within us. It is the vritti again. For all practical purposes we may say the mind’s function is the same as a vritti of the mind. Yoga is concerned with vrittis very much, and sometimes yoga is defined as the control of the modifications of the vrittis of the mind. We will learn slowly as to why these modifications have to be controlled.
As I mentioned in the analogy, the winds disturb the water so much that the shaky surface will not allow a true reflection of the light. By an analytical process we have realised that our true nature is one of being and awareness, without which even perception of an object would be impossible. But it seems to be an irony that in spite of our logical deduction that we ought to be Being-Consciousness alone, it is the only thing which we cannot be conscious of. When we are conscious of many other things in the world which we do not seem to really be us, how is it that we cannot know our own selves and get lost in other things which do not reflect our true being?
This is the mystery of the mind. The mind not only prevents the awareness of our own self but also drags the consciousness out to the objects to which it is attracted. In Sanskrit these two processes are called avarana and vikshepa. Avarana means a covering or a veil over consciousness such that we cannot know that the consciousness is there. Due to this veil, we become incapable of knowing our true nature. This is the screening of the consciousness by the potentialities of the vrittis of the mind. These potentialities become thick and dark, and they are often referred to as the unconscious level of our personality.
This unconscious mind is nothing but the unmanifested vrittis which weigh heavily upon us like dark clouds covering the sun. It is not merely that these clouds cover the sun of light within us—a tempest is also created side by side. When there are thick clouds covering the sun, the wind also starts blowing. There is confusion all over—wind, cold, and everything. The darkness created by the thickness of the layer of the vrittis prevents our being conscious of our true nature. Together with this, there is a violent passion for perception of what is not our own true nature, a positive viciousness of the mind that drags it away from itself to other objects. People who are silently sitting for months and months need not necessarily be good people; this may be a preparation for a storm. When the weather is gloomy, dusty, cloudy, and when no breeze blows, we may be sure that a tempest or a storm is going to break out. The torpidity of the mind is a preparation for violence of the mind.
Avarana becomes vikshepa. Avarana is covering and vikshepa is distraction of the mind towards an object. Perception is one kind of vikshepa. The very fact that the mind is eager to see things outside or hear sounds is indicative of its vikshepa or distractedness. All this is because primarily there is no awareness of its true nature. Avarana is the cause, and vikshepa is the effect. We forget ourselves first, and then we become aware of others. We cannot be aware of others unless we first forget ourselves. These two cause and effect processes take place almost simultaneously in us. We do not know when it is that we forget ourselves. We do not know when it is that we become aware of other things. To forget the Self and to become aware of the world is one and the same thing—it is a simultaneous act. Avarana and vikshepa take place then almost at the same time.
We cannot easily handle this inner layer of the potentiality of the vrittis because of getting too involved in the process of perception and various other kinds of distraction. Nevertheless, we have to gradually disentangle the mind from its impetuous identifications with its objects. Yoga is nothing but awareness of the true nature of the Self. Worldly existence or samsara, the cycle of transmigratory life, is another name for this identification of consciousness with the functions of the vrittis in relation to objects. The wind has to stop—only then can the surface of the waters be calm. As long as the winds blow, the waters will be shaking and getting split up in different directions.
Prior to the identification of the Self with itself, prior to the Self-establishment of consciousness, our purpose is to get a glimpse of it, a hint as to its very existence, and visualise at least its reflection through the vrittis. We have to find it first of all and locate its whereabouts; only then can we think of getting attuned with it. Where is this Self or consciousness? We do not know where it is, so how can we search for it? To know its whereabouts, we must at least have some hint as to its existence. For example, we can know the existence of an object in its originality by locating its reflection in water. When we see something reflected, we know very well that there is something which is reflected. The first thing then is to visualise the reflection properly and then to go to the original.
The vrittis of the mind are unceasingly active and prevent the establishment of consciousness in itself, continuously throughout one’s life, so that we can never at any moment be aware of our true nature. The vrittis are like a perpetual wind that blows without cessation, and they move in different directions, taking different shapes and intensities. The vrittis do not move towards objects like a uniform wind that blows. The vrittis blow like winds no doubt, but the winds take different directions of movement. One time they come from the right, another time from the left, and sometimes they start blowing from all directions. Sometimes they will move circularly, sometimes linearly, and so on. Many times they carry dust with them and many other things which blind our eyes, so that we can see nothing.
This is the tempestuousness of the working of the mind. The mind’s movement, which is a vritti, can be ordinary or special. When it is ordinary we call it distraction, which is the incapacity to concentrate, the absence of memory and so on. When it is intense we call it a passion—something that is uncontrolled. A vritti gone out of control is called a passion, whereas a vritti which is mild, of which we are aware, is a distraction or a vacillation. “I am very distracted,” we sometimes say, which means that we are aware that we are disturbed. But when we are in a state of passion, we will not say, “I am in a state of passion,” because we get lost in it so much that we cannot be different from the vritti which has taken that form. Mild aberrations can be known, but intense aberrations cannot be known.
The mind has various intensities of self-identification with objects -sometimes it is slightly distracted, but sometimes it seems to be at a standstill without functions at all. Its condition of ‘standstill-ness’ is also a kind of vritti. It is a potential preparation for movement in a particular direction. Sometimes it stands confounded without knowing what to do. In these three conditions of the vritti the consciousness that is our true nature gets blurred completely, and whether we are in a state of confusion or in a state of preparedness for an action, or in a state of action, it makes no difference in the sense that we are not aware of ourselves at that time. Yoga is not possible when we are just in a state of preparation for action, or involved in a state of action, or in a confused state. When self-consciousness has been completely extinguished by the blowing of the ‘winds’ of the vrittis, any attempt at yoga is impossible.
We may be wondering how to still this violence of the mind. We will realise later on that in yoga we do not achieve anything special which is not already in us; we will merely become aware of what is already in us. Yoga is not a gaining of something that we do not have. It is only becoming aware of what we really have, or strictly speaking, what we really are. That we seem to be involved in what we are not is the mystery of the mind. As we analysed the mental situation previously, we came to know that our being, which is inseparable from consciousness, extends itself to infinitude because this consciousness is indivisible. We cannot cut our divine consciousness into parts. It seems to be extending itself out into a state of infinitude and eternity. Such a consciousness, which is implied in both the object and the subject, the adhibhuta and the adhyatma, is what we are not able to recollect, remember and be conscious of.
To recollect it, to remember it and to be conscious of it is our yoga, and the nearer we approach it through our minds, the more powerful we become, and also the happier we are. The more distant we are from the true nature of our being, the weaker we feel and the more disturbed we are in our lives. This is in terms of the theology of God-realisation—we may call it by any name we like. The powers of yoga are nothing but the vibrations of the Self which the mind receives when it approximates more and more in nearness to the Self. The powers that truly sustain and support us do not come from outside, for we only become more powerful when we go nearer to our own inner selves. The further we are psychologically from ourselves, the weaker we are physically and mentally. The nearer we are psychologically to our own true nature, the stronger we are and also the happier we are. This is the secret of yoga.
What makes us be distant from ourselves, and what makes us aware of our true nature? It looks very strange indeed that we can be away from our own self, or that we can be identified with ourselves. How is it possible? What does it mean to be identified with one’s own self, and what does it mean to be away from one’s own self? Does it make any sense? How can you be away from yourself? No one can be in actual fact, but we can psychologically be away from ourselves. Truly we cannot be away from ourselves, but we can imagine ourselves to be something else other than what we are. This happens to us in dreams, for example. We cannot be away from ourselves truly, but yet we think ourselves to be something else in a dream. A king may think that he is a beggar. Sleeping in a bed in a room, a person may imagine that he has travelled thousands of miles. One who has gone to bed with a heavy meal may dream that he is intensely hungry or starved.