To Know Your Citta

By Rudra Shivananda

In my previous articles, I wrote about the vrittis – the mental fluctuations which inflict our normal state of being. In addition to understanding the vrittis, we must also consider the substratum or ground upon which they manifest, that is, the citta.

PatanjaliThe Sanskrit term “citta” is one of those terms that we do not know much about before Patanjali used it in the sutras of his Yoga Darshan and must be understood from that context rather than from later usage. The Vedantists beginning with Shankaracharya seem to have re-interpreted this citta from their philosophical glossary as subconscious mind. This can be misleading if we translate verse 2 of the sutras as “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the sub-conscious mind.”

It is clear from the sutras that Patanjali is using citta is an umbrella term for all types of consciousness, not just sub-consciousness. There are therefore various “cittas” and they are all capable of hosting vrittis and moving us away from the state of yoga and so sutra 2 would be: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations in Consciousness.

What the in this consciousness? Citta is not one of the tattvas or universal evolutes such as the purusha (spirit /soul) or prakriti (matter) but would be of the material substance rather than a characteristic of the spirit. It is of very subtle matter and seems to have been stimulated into existence by the pususha’s interaction with prakriti.

The tattvas which would seem to comprise citta must include manas (the normal mind), ahamkara (“I-ness” or personality) and buddhi (the supernormal mind) – these are all constituents of our consciousness. This rather loose definition makes it possible to distinguish between the citta of someone who is mostly using her buddhi rather than the manas from the citta of someone who has the ahamkara as the primary mode of consciousness.

The constitution of the cittas must also include the subtle substratum which contains the karmic activators or samskaras as well as their active combinations into karmic programs called vasanas. It is these karmic programs which make it possible for the rising and falling of the fluctuations in esponse to sensory input.

It is sufficient at this time to appreciate the grosser distinctions of citta in order to have clarity in our spiritual practice of yoga. The fluctuations that occur in sub-consciousness, normal consciousness and even superconsciousness must be controlled and stopped by the practice of nirodha. Focusing on only one aspect such as the sub-conscious would lead to a state less then that defined by Patanjali.

In the super-conscious states, that is those in dhyana and samadhi, citta is still present and so can be subject to fluctuations. The dhyana cittas are numerous, as are those for the samprajnata samadhi such as the ananda chitta (consciousness of bliss), one level of
the samadhi with object. Only when one has gone beyond the asamprajnati samadhi (samadhi without object) and pierced the dharma-megha, does one become free from chitta. Only when one is completely free from chitta can one be completely free – the state of kaivalya.

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