by Swami Krishnananda
It is often said that Yoga is control of the mind, and people struggle to restrain their minds in the name of Yoga meditation, and find that it is a difficult task, if not an impossible one. The reason behind this difficulty is that the mind is inseparable from the meditator. And it will not yield to any threat or admonition, if it cannot appreciate, or understand, the significance behind the teaching that it is worthwhile restraining oneself. The mind is not easily convinced that it is good to restrain itself. Why should the mind be controlled at all? Where comes the necessity and why should people struggle to restrain the functions of the mind? Why should Yoga be equated with control of the mind? Why should Yoga not be something else? Unless this point is made clear, the effort at mind-control will not be successful. Without clear thinking, any effort in any direction will be a failure in the end.
Why should we control the mind? Let us put this question to our own selves. We will not easily get an answer. The answer will come forth if we study the structure of the universe, the nature of things. We observed in the last two chapters that the universe is not merely, a vast expanse of inter-related particulars, but a completeness in itself, from which we, as individuals, cannot isolate ourselves. Yet, we see the world as something outside us, though the world is not really outside us. The universe so-called is not an external object. Yet, we persist and contend that the universe is outside us. This contention, this persistence, this self-affirmation in us, which vehemently persuades us to believe that the world is outside, is called the mind. The mind is not a substance. It is not a particle. It is not like a sand particle inside the body, it is not even a jot of any visible substance. It is nothing but a process of self-affirmation. The mind is therefore difficult to understand. The reason why we cannot understand it is that all processes of our understanding are connected with objects external to our understanding. Whenever we exercise our understanding, it is in respect of something external to understanding. We do not try to understand understanding itself. That is not our attempt, and that is beyond even our imagination. Thus, mind cannot be known by the mind, because the mind knows only that which is outside the mind. So, the effort to know one's own mind becomes a failure, because the subject that knows requires an object that is outside it, in order that knowledge may be possible. There is no such thing as the subject knowing itself. We have never come across a situation where the subject knows itself as its own object of study. This is the cause behind our inability to know our own selves.
Our insistence that the world or the universe is outside us is called the mind. It is a kind of conscious insistence. It cannot be called a thing. It is a procedure of the consciousness by which it asserts that the world is outside. This assertion takes the form of an individual, localised existence, called the personality, whose centre of affirmation is called the mind. We may call the mind, also by some other name, such as the psychic organ. The word 'mind', especially in the psychology of the West, is used to signify a general operation of the psyche inside, including understanding, willing and feeling. The word 'mind' is a general term in Western psychology, but in the psychology of Yoga, a more detailed analysis has been made. 'Mind' is not a proper English translation of what the Yoga calls 'Chitta', especially in the system of Patanjali. The entire mind-stuff is called Chitta. It is better to use the word 'psyche' instead of the word 'mind', because the former denotes a larger composite structure than the single function indicated by the word 'mind'. Mind is that which thinks in an indeterminate manner; the intellect is that which thinks in a determinate manner; the ego is that which asserts the individuality of one's own self. There are other functions of the psyche such as memory, often associated with the subconscious level. It is impossible for anyone to be aware that something is outside, unless there is an isolated thinking or an individualising principle, known in the Vedanta psychology as the Antahkarana, and in the Yoga psychology of Patanjali as Chitta. "Antahkarana" is a Sanskrit term, which literally translated into English, would mean, "the internal organ". That is perhaps the best way we can put it in English. The internal organ, by which we cognise or perceive things outside, is the Antahkarana. The same thing is called Chitta in Yoga psychology. We need not pay much attention to the peculiar distinguishing factors or features or connotations associated with these words in the different schools of thought. But, it is important to remember that a psychic function inwardly as an individualising principle is necessary in order to assert that the world is outside or that anything is outside.
We have seen before that really things are not outside. As such, our persistence that things are outside poses a big mystery. Obviously, the functions of the mind are a blunder. What we call the mind is clearly a miscalculated affirmation. A terrible catastrophe has befallen us in the shape of our persisting in an error which is contrary to the truths of the universe. If the universe or the world is not really outside us, and if we are not seeing nothing but seeing externality, we are surely in a world of blunders. We are perpetually committing mistakes after mistakes, with the result that our entire life may be regarded as a heap or a mountain of mistakes, all mistakes being the consequences of our original self-affirmation called variously as the mind, the Chitta, and the Antahkarana. It is easy enough to appreciate why the mind is to be controlled. The mind is to be controlled, because it is the essence of mischief-making, because it is the root cause of all the troubles in life. The mind is the central mischief in the individual personality. It is the great dacoit, as Acharya Sankara calls it, the thief who robs us of all wealth and makes us paupers, looking beggarly in the eyes of all people. Why should the mind be controlled? Why should there be a need felt to restrain the Antahkarana? Because the mind is the principle of mistakenly asserting the existence of an externality which is really not there. The nature of things is such that the mind's functions, as they are being carried on now, are uncalled for, unwarranted, and thoroughly erroneous. We do not see things as they are, and therefore, we cannot act also correctly, inasmuch as action is preceded by thought, and thought is a mistaken movement of ourselves.
Here comes Yoga with a great message to us. Our life being a movement in the wrong direction, landing us in repeated problems and rebirths, it is necessary to station ourselves in the true position in which we essentially are, and not lose our own selves. Loss of self is the greatest of losses. We have lost ourselves in imagining that we are not the thing that we actually are in relation to the nature of the universe. We have lost ourselves in imagining that we are isolated persons – men, women and children and many other things – in relation to the nature of the universe. In order that we may be freed from this turmoil or sorrow called Samsara, or life in this empirical world, Yoga comes as a rescue, as a message of hope and solace, telling us that there is no hope for humanity, that there is no chance of peace prevailing anywhere, if self-restraint is not going to be the law of life. Self-restraint, in a way, is the same as mind restraint, because we are practically the same as the mind. We do not make much of a difference between self restraint and restraint of the mind. Because, for us Jivas, empirical individuals the mind itself is the sorrow. What we are, as we appear now, is just the mind operating. The need for self-control or control of the mind arises on account of the need for perfection which is the goal of everyone. We do not wish to be suffering like this. Our final ambition, aspiration or desire is redress of grief and attainment of freedom which we have not seen with our eyes in this world. None has seen really what freedom is. Everyone is bound in one way or the other. When we imagine that we have got out of a bondage and entered a state of freedom, actually we have entered into another kind of bondage in the name of freedom, a fact which we will realise sometime later. There is no such thing as real freedom in this world, because freedom is the same as attunement with the state of ultimate perfection, or at least, a degree of perfection. If we are far away from even the least percentage of what perfection can be, and our ideals and ideologies in life pursue a phantasm, we cannot hope to have peace in this world by any amount of technological progress. People today are carried away by gadgets and instruments, and researches in the field of externalised technology. This is not an achievement. If by science is meant the logical knowledge of the nature of things, science is wonderful: it is unavoidable in life. But, if by science is meant technological inventions, setting up of factories and industrial organisation, science is a bane on human life. It will not help us, because it carries us further away from the centre of reality, and compels us to affirm more and more that the world is outside us, rather than the fact that we are inseparable from the world.
The science of Yoga, therefore, is a psychology of a philosophical nature. The very introduction of the system of Yoga by Patanjali is by way of an instruction that the mind has to be controlled – Yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah. Patanjali does not go into the details of the philosophical background of the necessity to control the mind, the background that comes in Samkhya and Vedanta. Yoga is control of the mind, restraint of the mind-stuff. Yoga is Chitta-vritti-nirodhah. The moment we hear this, we begin to get excited. Yoga is control of the mind. Therefore, we have to control ourselves. We begin to close our eyes, hold our nose, and become nervous and tense in our system! That is an unfortunate result that often follows from an over-enthusiasm, emotionally aroused in ourselves by hearing the very word Yoga. We should not be stirred up into an emotion, just because we listen to the word Yoga mentioned by somebody. A calm and sober understanding is Yoga. Yoga is not emotion. It is not stirring oneself into any kind of made-up or artificial individuality. A calm Chief Justice in a court does not get roused up into an emotion; rather, he begins to understand the circumstances. Emotion is not possible where wisdom prevails. The mind has to be controlled. It has to be done intelligently. Emotion has no part in it.
Yoga is Chitta-vritti-nirodhah, and Yoga is indispensable and unavoidable for every person, because everyone is in the same condition. Everyone is a part of the vast creation. Even those who do not know what Yoga is, and do not practise it, and have no idea about it, are essentially intended for this great movement called Yoga, towards the goal that is the goal of everyone. Yoga is control of the mind, and mind is to be controlled because it is the principle of isolation in a false manner. It is the mind, it is the Chitta, it is the Antahkarana or the internal organ, that makes us falsely believe that we are individuals, with a physical independence of our own, isolated from the vast structure of creation. Therefore, control of the mind is necessary; it is unavoidable under the circumstances. If one understands one's position and knows where one stands, he must also know what is the step that he has to take to place himself in the correct position under the system of the universe. Having known something about the nature of things and the structure of the world, and having come to know consequently that the mind is the mischief-maker and the isolating principle in our own so-called individualities, we come to a conclusion that it is absolutely essential to tune the mind back to the structure of things, and abolish this isolatedness of ours as individuals, and that union of the so-called isolated finitude has to be effected with the original infinitude. This union is called Yoga.
We have heard that Yoga is union, but many a time, we do not know the objects which are to be united. Now we know what 'union' actually means in the language of Yoga proper. It is a complete transcendence of our finitude. A separatist tendency persists in us, and Yoga is nothing but overcoming the barriers of this individuality by entering into the oceanic expanse of our true nature, which is also the nature of everybody. When the mind is restrained in this manner, Chitta-vritti-nirodhah is effected. This false feeling that we are different from others, that things are constituted of isolated particularities, leaves us; and we get established in our essential nature, which is the community of existence in all things, and not an isolated individuality. This establishment of one's own self in one's own true nature, in universal character, is the aim of Yoga.
Yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah. Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam. In two verses, in two Sutras, Patanjali gives the whole of Yoga. What is Yoga? Yoga is Chitta-vritti-nirodhah – the restraint of the mind-stuff. What happens when the mind-stuff is restrained? Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam. The seer establishes himself in his own Self. The seer means the conscious subjectivity in us. This so-called subjectivity of consciousness ceases to be a subjectivity any more, because the subject has no meaning if there is no object outside. Subject and object are co-related terms, one hanging on the other for their subsistence. If the outside does not exist, there is no inside, and vice versa. So, when the person who has restrained the mind-stuff has realised that the things are not outside himself, the object ceases to be, and with it, the inside also goes. So, no more is there such a thing as subjectivity or individuality for that person. It does not exist any more. Thus from the restraint of the mind or the control of the mind follows a re-installation of one's own self in one's own true nature.
Here again, we have to strike a note of caution as to what is "one's own true nature". Many a time we are likely to mistake the meaning of this phrase, "establishment of one's self in one's own Self". We have an inveterate habit of thinking that we are sons and daughters of some parents. We cannot forget this. We are also inveterately affirming that we are men and women, that we are in a body. We cannot forget this also, whatever be the Yoga we might practise. So, what is the sort of establishment in one's Self that one is going to achieve or attain with this sort of a persisting malady in one's own thinking? If one is a man or a woman, a son or a daughter, a rich man or a poor man, he cannot get out of the corresponding idea which limits his vision. What sort of Yoga can anybody practise in such a situation? A little bit of brushing of the brain is necessary to free ourselves from at least the grosser misconceptions in which we are involved. There are subtler misconceptions and grosser misconceptions. While the subtler ones are the more powerful ones, and they have to be tackled at the appropriate time, the grosser ones at least should be given up initially. But, we are prepared for neither. We are hard-boiled persons, persisting somehow or the other in our own preconceived notions, and set attitudes and relationships. We are friends to some, and enemies to others; we are related to some in some ways, to others in other ways. This is most unfortunate, because such wrong attitudes come in the way of our regarding ourselves as real students of Yoga.
The grosser problems of ours, and the lesser or the subtler ones, are classified in the psychology of Yoga, especially in the Sutras of Patanjali. Because of the fact that these great men are used to thinking in lofty terms, they use philosophical expressions to designate the problems of life. Patanjali, in his Sutras, uses a very pertinent term, significant in psychology, to make a distinction between the subtler problems and the grosser problems of the individuals in general. These problems of ours are all mental problems. All our difficulties are psychological, finally; and what is psychology, but a study of the functions of the mind. And the functions of the mind are called Vrittis in Yoga psychology. So, Patanjali tells us that our problems are only Vrittis, functions of the mind. The grosser Vrittis are to be distinguished from the subtler ones, which are more philosophical and metaphysical in their nature. So, Patanjali classifies all Vrittis into two categories – the Klishta Vrittis and the Aklishta Vrittis. Klishta is that which gives pain; Aklishta is that which does not give pain. Klishta is a word meaning pain, suffering, sorrow. A Klishta Vritti is a function of the mind which gives perpetual sorrow everyday, and an Aklishta Vritti is a function of the mind which does not directly pain, but is there like a chronic illness. There is a clear distinction between acute illness and chronic illness. An acute disease suddenly jumps upon a person bringing with it an intense pain or high fever. Whereas, a chronic illness is like eczema. It is there all the time troubling the person, but the person does not mind it, because he is now accustomed to it. Constipation, eczema, and certain other chronic illnesses persist in many people; and yet, it is the acute diseases like intense temperature or splitting headache that are immediately attended to, because the latter are highly agonising. Likewise, we have acute psychological problems and chronic psychological problems – the Klishta Vrittis and the Aklishta Vrittis respectively.