by Swami Krishnananda
Yoga is Chitta-vritti-nirodhah, restraint of the mind-stuff or the psychological apparatus inside, generally known as the mind. The different ways of controlling the mind or restraining the Chitta constitute the whole procedure of Yoga. We have tried to understand, in the preceding chapters, the reasons why the mind has to be controlled. In the process, we have analysed, in some depth, the whole background of the subject of mind control. This introductory approach to the philosophical background of the practice of Yoga is necessary, because oftentimes we are unable to convince ourselves that control of the mind is the most advantageous of all efforts. We also see that conviction driven into our feelings is of primary importance for the successful building up of the practice of Yoga, just as the firm fixing of pillars in the ground is of vital importance for the raising of an edifice on them. We have to be planted firmly on the ground of unshakeable conviction as to the necessity and the value of Yoga. We should have no vacillating doubt in the mind. Having grounded ourselves firmly enough in this conviction, in this feeling that Yoga is unavoidable in the course of the life of any individual, the methods of practice should now attract our attention in the manner required.
How to control the mind? What is meant by the restraint of the mind-stuff? We saw earlier that the mind is inseparable from its functions, Vrittis as they are called. The way in which our whole being reacts to the atmosphere outside is a Vritti, primarily speaking. We react to the entire world outside with the totality of our being. This reaction is the central Vritti or the psychic operation in us. For the purpose of the practice of Yoga, we have to understand the mind as it is in itself, and not as we find it sometimes inadequately described in various schools of psychology. The mind is not something outside us, nor is it different from us. I am my mind and my mind is I. The body and the mind are not just inter-related, but they are an organic stuff, forming a complete whole. Psychologists have tried to analyse the relationship between the mind and body, under the impression that they are two different things. They are not. To get a clear idea as to what the mind is in its relation to the body, we can only cite an analogy, a comparison. There is an iceberg in the ocean. Its hard crest is visible on the surface. When we go deeper and deeper, the substance looks thinner and thinner. At the base, it is all liquid. But the liquid portion at the base and the solid portion on top cannot be compartmentalised into two separate objects. There can be no watertight separation of the one from the other. There is only a gradual disappearance of the one into the other. Gradually the liquid becomes solid. The other way round, the solid top portion leads us down into the liquid base. In other words, the solid is only a certain density of the liquid, and that too very gradually formed, so that we cannot know where the solid begins and the liquid ends. Somewhat similar is the relationship between the mind and the body. For our practical purposes, we may compare the mind to the liquid, and the body to the solid. The mind that is liquid has become the solid that is the body. And just as there can be no demarcation of a rigid type between the liquid and the solid portions of an iceberg, no distinguishing line can be clearly drawn between the mind and the body. The mind and the body are a total whole that is the individuality, of which the mind is one aspect and the body another.
Now, our reaction to the universe, the world or the atmosphere outside is something very interesting. It is the answer that we, as the total completeness of our personality, give to the great theory of the cosmos from outside. This answer of ours is known through our sense-organs, through which, or in terms of which, we operate as individuals. The operations of the mind are, therefore, our operations. So, to say 'my mind' would not be a proper expression. The mind is not something that the individual possesses, like an object. 'My mind' and 'my body' are mere expressions and incorrect expressions. The individual is not outside the mind. He is the mind. He is just that.
The Vrittis, or the operations of the mind, are the way in which the individual beholds the world, or interprets things in general. The two types of Vrittis, the pain-giving and the non-pain-giving, have been referred to earlier. These Vrittis, whether pain-giving or otherwise, are not only the way in which we look at things, but also the way in which we evaluate or interpret things. The looking is the non-painful Vritti, and the interpreting is the painful Vritti. The interpretation is something like a judgement that we pass on that which we have already beheld in a particular manner. The beholding of the world outside by the individual concerned is in detail, and differs from individual to individual, though in general all human beings may be said to look at things in a similar manner. The general outlook is the non-painful Vritti. The particular outlook is the painful Vritti. A bundle, with a lot of wealth in it, in the form of gold or silver or currency, may be placed in front of many people. And all persons will look at it in the same way, and everybody will know that it is a valuable bundle, that within it is a lot of wealth. This is the general perception. If a thousand-dollar bill is kept in front of a person, everyone will know that it is a thousand-dollar bill. It is a non-painful Vritti. But the painful one is that which proceeds from the person who owns it, or a person who may want to own it, rightly or wrongly. The mere beholding of the value in a generalised manner may be said to be the non-painful Vritti. But a particular interpretation of the object in terms of one's own self with a touch of love or hatred, like or dislike, in respect of it, is the other kind of Vritti, namely, the painful one. Now, Patanjali has made it clear that all these Vrittis are, after all, modifications of the mind in respect of a thing that is regarded as existing outside oneself in space and time, and with which a personal relationship is established.
Here, a very interesting and subtle distinction has to be drawn between the definition of the objects according to the psychology of Yoga and Samkhya, and according to the psychology of a well-known philosophy called the Vedanta. The whole point or crux of the matter is in the interpretation of the meaning of the words. 'subject' and 'object'. The beholder is the subject, and that which is seen or beheld is the object. The definitions of subject and object in the Yoga psychology differ from the corresponding definitions in the metaphysical system of the Vedanta, though ultimately, they land themselves upon a common point of interest. Because, as we proceed further with the aphorisms of Patanjali, we find that he goes on stressing the point, again and again, that the bondage of the individual is in the identification of consciousness with the objects, and liberation lies in the isolation of consciousness from the objects. This is something peculiar that we note in the system of Patanjali, which is based on the classical Samkhya. The whole endeavour in this system of Yoga particularly is towards the achievement of an isolation of the spirit, called the Purusha, from matter, called Prakriti. The philosophy of Samkhya, upon which is based the Yoga of Patanjali, conceives of the existence of spirit and matter as two distinct elements. Spirit and matter are sometimes regarded as even eternal in themselves, independently existing in their own right, with no vital connection between the two. As per this view, consciousness and the object can never be united, because, consciousness is pure subject, and the object is just the opposite of it.
The bondage of consciousness is the object of our study. What is this bondage? According to Yoga psychology, bondage is the illusory assumption, or imagination rather, on the part of spirit or consciousness, that it has the characteristics of the object, of Prakriti or matter or something which is just the opposite of itself. All movements in nature belong to Prakriti, and not to Purusha. We may call it evolution, we may call it externality, we may call it name and form. These are but different nomenclatures that we may adopt in the defining of a thing that is sensed or even thought by the mind. These constitute the whole world panorama, or, in modern philosophical language, we may say matter-stuff. This matter-stuff is the area of operation of Prakriti. And this matter-stuff is different from consciousness. Somehow, in an unintelligible manner, Prakriti and Purusha come together. There is a juxtaposition of matter and consciousness. This juxtaposition is the source of perception, and everything follows from it. How does this union of the object with the subject that is consciousness take place? This is explained by an example in the Samkhya philosophy, the example of the crystal and the flower. A pure crystal has no colour of its own, but when a coloured object such as a red flower is brought near this pure crystal; it gets reflected in the crystal, and it can be so reflected that the whole crystal may appear red. When that happens, we may not even know that there is a crystal at all. The crystalhood of the crystal has ceased for the time being, and it appears like a red object. This is on account of the absorption of the colour of the flower by the crystal which is; in itself, in its pristine purity, colourless. Now, is there a real connection between the crystal and the flower? There is absolutely no connection. The colour has not affected the crystal in any manner. The crystal has not become impure, even a little bit, by the appearance of the colour within itself. It can regain its appearance of purity also the moment the flower is taken away from the crystal. The crystal never was contaminated or affected or infected in any manner. But, when the reflection takes place, it appears as if the subject has ceased to exist for the time being; there is only the redness, the flower. Such is the situation of world-perception, says Samkhya. In the above instance, the bondage of the crystal is nothing but the false imagination that it is the flower. It never became the flower. It never really acquired even the colour of the flower. Because of the reflection, it imagines that it has become the flower. What is freedom for the crystal? The crystal regains its freedom when it is again separated from the flower. Then it assumes its pristine purity of colourless transparency and establishes its consciousness in its own self, not allowing it to project itself externally in the form of the imagination that it is something other than itself, in this case, the object flower. So, what is Yoga? It is the isolation of consciousness from matter, the subject from the object.
In the metaphysics of the Vedanta, the same phenomenon is explained in a slightly different manner. The Vedanta accepts this analysis of the Samkhya as perfectly right, but affirms that the individual is only an assumed form of consciousness, and not the real essence thereof. While it is true that there is a necessity to differentiate the externality that has crept into the subjectivity of consciousness, the object can never become the subject. This is the opening sentence in Sankara's great commentary on the Brahma Sutras. The subject can never become the object; the object can never become the subject. Sankara starts saying this at the very commencement of this commentary on the Brahma Sutras. Yet, there is an insistence in the Vedanta philosophy that the subject is the same as the object ultimately, and in their union lies the freedom of the soul. This assertion is made from a different angle of vision altogether, from a different perspective of the very same circumstance or situation. While the subject can never become the object, and therefore, they have to be separated – in this, the Yoga is right, and Vedanta also accepts this – there is something else, in addition, for Vedanta to say. And that additional assertion is this, namely, that the subject is basically the same as the object. It is not essentially different. This similarity between the subject and the object, or the essentiality of both in their core, is the reason why there is such an attraction between the two. The infinite is present in the subjects, and it is the very same infinite that appears in all the objects of the world. So, the infinite calls the infinite, as it were, when one pulls the other.
Thus, whatever be the philosophical or metaphysical background of Yoga or Vedanta, both the systems of philosophy agree that the mind has to be controlled, for a reason which is obvious to every person. The mind is the externalised activity of consciousness, the empirical movement of the individual, the spatio-temporal involvement of individuality. This is a great sorrow for everyone, for everything, for consciousness proper which is the stuff of all things. Now, how to withdraw the mind from the objects, or rather, how to educate the mind so that it may understand its true relationship with things outside? There is a famous saying in the Yoga-Vasishtha, which is an instruction given by the great sage Vasishtha to his student Rama: "Dvau krumuu chitta nasasya, yoga jnanam cha Raghav." The sage says: "There are two ways of controlling the mind. Either sever its connection with all things, or establish a connection of it with everything". These are the two ways by which one can control the mind. It is easy to understand something about the benefits that would follow from the withdrawal of the mind from all things. But, it is not so easy to know the advantage of connecting the mind to everything. The result, however is the same in either case.
áThere is an anecdote about Acharya Sankara which is relevant here. It is said that Acharya Sankara was in his Kutir, and the door was bolted from within. One of his disciples came and knocked. "Who is that?" asked the Master. "I" was the answer. "Oh I! Either reduce it to zero or expand it to infinity!" retorted the Master from within. This 'I' in every individual should either be reduced to zero or expanded to infinity. Either way it is good. In the one method, the modifications of the mind are restrained by a negative withdrawal of its operations from everything that appears as external. The other method involves the philosophical visualisation of the mind's basic identity with all things. The earlier method, namely, the restraint of the mind-stuff is the main instruction according to Patanjali.