Mind Your Vritti

By Rudra Shivananda

PatanjaliA fundamental concept that all spiritual aspirants seeking to understand and control their minds need to know as much about as possible is that of vritti. Sage Patanjali defined that “yoga is the constraint of the vrittis of the mindstuff.”

The vrittis come from the mind, just like the light rays are emitted from the Sun. The mind sends forth a vritti to perceive an object analogous to removing the veil surrounding the object. In order for the mind to perceive an object that it is concentrating on, it must take the form of the object – an image is formed in the mind-stuff or citta. Think how radar is used to detect distant objects and form images of them as the signals are bounced off the objects.

The mind that is focused outward send outward directed vritti or bahirmukha vritti which tends to increase desires and agitation, while during meditation, the mind is focused inward and therefore send inward facing vritti or antarmukha vritti which increases peace and contentment. Remember that there are three principles that underlie all life – the stasis principle, the active principle and light principle – tamas, rajas, and sattva respectively. An outgoing vritti enhances the active principle while an inward vritti enhances the light principle. Meditation results in a sattvic mind while succumbing to emotions and desires result in a rajasic mind.

The desire and attachment to objects is really our desire and attachment to the corresponding vritti in the mind. In fact, due to the operation of our ego, we identify with the vritti of the body – “I am this body,” and therefore lose touch with our true nature resulting in suffering and death. We say, “I am afraid,” when we identify with the fear vritti and so on and so forth resulting in our binding in this karmic prison. All our emotional ups and downs result from identifying with the vrittis that come and go in the mind-stuff.

One way to further distinguish between vritti is from the source since our mind actually consists of the lower mind or manas based on sensory perception and the higher mind called buddhi. In this way, there is a progression from the manas vritti to the buddhi vritti, from sensory/analytical/errorprone mind function to the intuitive/ discriminative/wisdom mind function.

Higher still is the witness or sakshi vritti when the sadhak enters into the witness state of consciousness in which the sakshi vritti enables the witnessing of the modifications of the manas and buddhi. A fourth state is generated when one focuses on one’s True Self – this is an undifferentiated vritti of unity. In the fifth stage is the vritti that dissolves all vritti and itself as well and consequently, the mind with it – more than even the worm that eats it own tail! There are meditations in the wisdom path that teaches how to progress through these five modes.

Another model that is helpful for yogis is that given by Patanjali who also distinguished five vrittis – correct inference (pramana), mistaken inference (viparyaya), fantasy (vikalpa), sleep (nidra) and memory (smriti). These are not all the mental vrittis that one can distinguish but are considered to be the main ones that are critical to control in order to achieve the yogic Samadhi states. The practices of Patanjali yoga suppress these five vrittis in order to rid one of desires and attachment.

There are innumerable vrittis, some strong and others weak and it requires great patience and strength to destroy the vrittis. The practice of yama prescribed by Patanjali – truthfulness, non-violence, turning towards our True Self, non-stealing and non-attachment are fundamental in destroying negative vrittis. The negative vrittis must be destroyed so that the mind is purified in order for the seeker to make progress in higher meditations.

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