This mini feature in two connected segments, is in continuation to the earlier republished article, ‘Universal Ideas from Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras on Mind & Mental Health: Philosophy and Practice’. Presenting the first segment which builds on ‘Mind’ as an instrument of ‘Human Perception and Experience’, in the ultimate pursuit of ‘Glossing Mind through Yoga5 towards Happiness & Quality-of-Life Enhancement’. In the second segment of this mini feature, we will present the philosophy and the techniques of Yoga that can help us to redirect the outward nature of our mind, turning it inward by channelizing the myriad of the vāsanas, kleśas and vṛttis – bringing us closer to our true nature – ānanda (ultimate happiness).
“Mind has to cease to be mind and become brilliant with something beyond it. Life has to change into a thing vast and calm and intense and powerful that can no longer recognize its old blind eager narrow self of petty impulse and desire. Even the body has to submit to a mutation and be no longer the clamorous animal or the impeding clod it now is, but become instead a conscious servant and radiant instrument and living form of spirit.”
Sri Aurobindo (1948), The Synthesis of Yoga
“..[o]ut of bewildering Yogism must come the most scientific practical psychology – and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it.”
Swami Vivekananda in a letter to his disciple, dated February 17, 1896
Each one of us aspires to live a wholesome life in its entirety; that by and large encompasses being in good physical health, having positive inter and intrapersonal relationships, a secure financial-social state, a sense of overall achievement and well-being etc. Yet, despite all these ‘markers’ that naturally point to endorsing ‘life as picture perfect’ or ‘near picture perfect’, it is an individual’s ‘perception’ that eventually determines how one feels within and thus, sees the same all around.
According to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, the deep rooted saṃskāras1, kleśas2 and vṛttis3 constantly keep the citta4 (collective mind) in states of flux. Depending on the intensity and the directions in which the saṃskāras, kleśas and vṛttis play out, it can lead to dulling of awareness, diluting of attention, clogging of perception – inebriating the mind’s journey outward in search of stability and happiness.
Citta and Quality of Life: A Ponderance
World over, financial status, life expectancy, physical health, etc. have traditionally been considered to be the markers of a complete life. Yet ironically, despite people having more or less what these benchmarks assume, there is no respite to the burgeoning growth of mental ailments in forms of anxiety, depression and misery all around us.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines quality of life as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, values and concerns incorporating physical health, psychological state, level of independence, social relations, personal beliefs and their relationship to salient features of the environment”.
WHO’s definition, though holistic, anchors on ‘perception’ as the cross-cutting dimension in improving the quality of life of a person. This implies that it is not enough that there is upliftment in an individual’s measurable or material quality of life, but that the individual must also ‘perceive’5 an improvement in the same. This therefore leads us to ponder about the instrument of ‘perception and experience’, i.e., the human ‘mind’.
Each one of us understands the world differently according to the quality of our minds. Citta, i.e, the kind of mind-stuff, the kind of saṃskāras we have decides to a large extent our experiences of our world within and around. And this in turn determines the quality-of-life.
The Mind According to Yoga
Nature of the Mind
According to the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā:
The Bhagavadgītā says
According to the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā,
The very nature of the mind is extroverted. It yields to the sense objects through the sense organs thereby creating saṃskāras. These saṃskāras give rise to the episodic experiences of pain and pleasure.
According to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, any perception alters the mind. The alteration is called vṛtti. That due to which the modification takes place is pratyaya6, based on external stimulus from the senses. When a stimulus from the outer world impinges on the senses, a vṛtti or a thought is created in the mind. The ego, through its identification with pleasant thoughts experiences happiness and experiences sadness when it identifies with unpleasant thoughts.
The objects of perception and of thought are innumerable, and therefore so are the vṛttis.
“vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ”
The modifications of the mind are of five types which may either be painful kliṣṭa7 or non painful akliṣṭa8
The vrittis are correct understanding, incorrect understanding, imagination, sleep and memory
Afflictions and States of the Mind
As per the Yoga Sūtras, the sufferance of the mind is due to the following kleśas (mental afflictions):
avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-abhiniveśa kleśas ||2.3||
Ignorance of our true Self, identification of the self with external objects, strong likes; attachment to pleasures, desires, strong dislikes; aversion to pain, hate, fear of losing pleasures/objectives, these are the kleśas. If the kleśas can be pictured as a tree, then avidyā is the root of the tree. Ignorance of the puruṣa, the Self is responsible for the entire tree of kleśas. Rooted in ignorance, avidyā further yields the four-fold afflictions of asmitā, rāga, dvēṣa and abhiniveśa. Asmitā being the false sense of identity leads one to identify immediately with one’s state of mind, with the ego, with all its attachments and aversions (rāga and dveṣa) – responsible for much of our mental activity encompassing strong likes and dislikes.
As per Vyāsa’s Bhāṣya on Patañjali’s Yoga Ssūtras, the states of the mind can be
- mūḍha: one with dullness and indolence. Generated from states of tamas
- kṣipta: distracted or restless states of mind
- vikṣipta: a less scattered or preoccupied mind
- ekāgra: a concentrated mind generating flow
- niruddha: a mastered and restrained mind.
Yoga takes into consideration both the actual state of the mind along with the latent state called saṃskāras or potentialities. When one mental state passes into another it is not altogether lost, an impression remains, which is called saṃskāra, which in turn gives rise to actual states similar to itself. The subconscious mind takes in every firm impression of the conscious mind. Thus, the actual states cause the saṃskāras.Yoga therefore declares that our experience of life depends on the state of our mind, which in turn determines our individual quality of life.
Distortions of the Mind
According to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras,
And the mental distractions can manifest in the following ways
duḥkhadaurmanasyāṅgamejayatvaśvāsapraśvāsā vikṣepasahabhuvaḥ ।। Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, 1.31।।
Pain (physical ), dejection, mental illness or weakness, unsteadiness of limbs, inspiration and expiration are the companions of the distractions.
Maharṣi Caraka9 says
“prajñāparādha (intelligence) prajñāparādho hi mūlaṃ rogāṇām”।
Mistakes due to the carelessness of human intelligence are the root cause of diseases, the cause of mental diseases is definitely prajñāparādha.
“īrṣyāśokabhayakrodhamānadveṣādaśca ye| manovikārāste’pyuktāḥ sarve prajñāparādhajāḥ” । ।
Jealousy, grief, fear, anger, hatred – All these disorders of the mind arise out of prajñāparādha.
The Nirvāna Prakaraṇa of the Laghu Yōga Vasiṣṭha, describes in detail the origin and destruction of both mental and bodily diseases.
śrīvasiṣṭha uvāca |
“ādhayo vyādhayaścaiva dvayaṃ duḥkhasya kāraṇam |
tannivṛttiḥ sukhaṃ vidyāttatkṣayo mokṣa ucyate || 12 ||
dehaduḥkhaṃ vidurvyādhimādhyākhyaṃ vāsanāmayam |
maurkhyamūle hi te vidyāttattvajñāne parikṣayaḥ” || 14 ||
Sage Vasiṣṭha tells Lord Rāma that there are two major classifications of disease. Those that are caused by the mind are primary (adhija vyādhi, the psychosomatic, stress disorders) while those that afflict the body directly are secondary (anadhija vyādhi, infectious disease, accidents etc). Both of them take their rise from our inordinate desires, and it is our ignorance only of the nature of things, that is the source of both.
Modernity is fast witnessing the rise of new crises in forms of anxiety, mental stress, depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc. In spite of experiencing material comfort that has not been enjoyed by previous generations, the present generation seems to be caught up in a paradox. There clearly seems to be a lack in the education system with no clear direction for people to live a harmonious life rooted in happiness and wellbeing.
Over the past two decades, development economists have started looking at a new constituent in the “quality of life which is ‘happiness”. World Happiness Report (2012) hints that there is more to ‘happiness’ than previously thought, that it is intricately linked to the ‘quality of life’ than the object itself. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines quality of life as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, values and concerns, incorporating physical health, psychological state, level of independence, social relations, personal beliefs and their relationship to salient features of the environment”.
This therefore leads us to ponder on the instrument of ‘perception and experience’ i.e. the human ‘mind’ and its key role in improving the quality of life.
Happiness is generally connected with the states of our mind – wherein the mind correlates itself with a sense of good mood and general well-being. This then implies that each one of us understands and experiences happiness a little differently, according to the quality of our minds. Therefore, studying the mind is vital because one’s happiness is the interpretation of one’s mind. The kind of mind, the kind of saṃskāra we have decides to a large extent our experiences of happiness. The perennial philosophies of India are a treasure trove of knowledge that can help us understand the mind, beyond the mind, and eternal happiness towards enriching the quality of life. The ancient Indian wisdom passed on from generations to generations, provides brilliant insights into how the interdependent and interconnected life can be lived and how harmony within an individual can manifest as harmony within the society.
“mano mātraṁ jagat, mano kalpitaṁ jagat”
The world is as the mind perceives it.
The world is as the mind thinks of it feels it.
Central to Indian psychological thought is the cognizance of a person, understood as a conglomeration of consciousness, mind and body. The mainstay of Indian psychology is enabling humans to rise to higher levels of being by virtue of perfection in knowing, feeling and doing. This implies consciously moving away from body centredness to the subtler aspects of one’s Self. Thus, the ‘mind’ holds a mesial and critical position serving as a bridge between the ‘consciousness’ and the body. The study of the ‘mind’ in Indian psychology is the core for it assumes itself as the source of existential anguish that we as humans experience and is also the necessary resource towards liberation and the realization of the Self.
The term for the functional and collective mind in Yoga is citta. The citta is a composite of the various cognitive processes, the ego, instinctual tendencies inherited from previous lives and the effects of past actions in this life, called vāsanā and saṃskāra. They tend to colour one’s perceptions and other cognitive processes, predisposing oneself to patterned ways of behaving. The citta has its latent power, śakti, that when harnessed guides and controls the course of actions one takes. This śakti enables the citta to ‘reflect and react back upon itself and change the passivity of its transformations into active states associated with will and effort’ (Dasgupta, 1930, pp 286-287).
The functioning of the citta is distinguished through three levels– buddhi, ahaṅkāra and manas. The functions or processes of the citta are described by Vācaspati Misra thus; “Everyone who deals with an object first intuits it, then reflects upon it, then appropriates it, then resolves, ‘this is to be done by me’, and then proceeds to act.” (quoted from Sinha 1934/1958 vol.1. p 121).
Yoga recognizes buddhi, ahaṃkāra, manas not as distinct entities of faculties but simply as the functional aspects of the citta collectively referred to as the internal organ (antaḥkaraṇa) which undergoes its own fluctuations and modifications.
There is this remarkable thing about Indian philosophy – understanding the Subject (Self, the experiencer), tapping into the powers of the Subject, by exploring deep within one self. This is how Yoga has penetrated into the science of happiness. The philosophy of Yoga says “Happiness is built right within us, right now.” It is our very nature. The Yogic experience of Happiness is when an individual transforms and transcends one’s saṃskāra. And the practice of Yoga is all about enabling our body-mind complex to express our inner happy nature.
The content of our mind, the nature of thoughts, mental impressions, habits, the ways of changing our habitual thought currents and the difficulties encountered in pausing thought – all of this has been deftly handled in Yoga in a practical manner. The groundwork of Yoga lies in recognizing them and identifying their hold over our minds. Consciously built habits can awaken us to great goals of human life. Compulsive habits can unsettle life beyond repair. Yoga helps us to bring this consciously. Thus, Glossing Mind through Yoga – Towards Happiness and Quality-of-Life Enhancement.