[This is a series of commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a classical text compiling yogic wisdom. The author may be a single figure (the sage Patanjali), or may be various sages using the same title. Claims date the writing anywhere from 5000 BCE to 300 CE. It is often regarded as a core text of yogic philosophy.]
Yogas citta vritti nirodha
“Yoga, the cessation/restraint (nirodha) of the modifications/fluctuations (vritti) in the mind/consciousness (citta).”
As mentioned in the commentary on 1.1, the first two sutras don’t contain any verbs. Yoga is a state of being, an awareness that ideally we can carry with us.
The first section of the Yoga Sutras is traditionally called Pada-Samedhi, “Portion on Contemplation” (pada = chapter/part, samadhi = contemplation/enlightenment). Note that ‘contemplation’, here, is deeper than the mental engagement used on choosing from menu items at lunch. This contemplation is full engagement of one’s attention (okay, sure, depending on the restaurant…). We are encouraged us to bring that level of focus to each sutra.
You can see how volumes might be drawn from each sutra, even parsing the translation could fill a book. With the second sutra, this is especially true because it pretty much sums up the goal of the whole. Here we get the thesis. Essentially for 1.2 we have: “Yoga is the stilling of the ripples of the mind”.
All the other sutras extrapolate from there, explaining all the ways the mind gets distracted from mindfulness and giving tools as to how to come back to mindfulness.
Stilling the pool of the mind–that seems simple enough, right? Conservative figures estimate that we experience 20 thousand thoughts per day. That’s about twenty-one thoughts per minute. That’s quite a tidal wave to contain.
Fluctuations of the mind can come from without or within. Life will challenge us at every turn, and circumstance will knock us out of serenity time and again–but that’s not something to avoid. Distraction is not an evil. Distraction is like overload for the muscles. It can strengthen us if we approach it as such or it can toss and devastate us.
The vritti excite the mind. True, everybody enjoys excitement, but constant excitement depletes our physical and mental energies. The more we strive after stimulation, the harder it becomes to find our way back to genuine stillness. We forget what it’s like for our minds to be still, clear pools. We get frustrated with the effort. In reaction to that impatience, we turn our attention to grappling after the next distraction. We come to ignore our real needs, the things that would sustain us, and instead look for more stimulation outside ourselves to keep from facing… what? That we don’t know how to find our way back to our actual selves? That it’s a waste of time? That knowing–really knowing–that we aren’t merely a collection of memories and desires and fears and habits and personality traits would destroy us?
Ego tricks. The ego doesn’t want anything messing up the status quo. Once we start coming from a wise, compassionate, expansive place instead from the narrow spit of our little self-involved “I”, the ego is threatened. Any type of introspective practice will run into ego-resistance. Usually after the honeymoon phase, when the practice has lost its novelty, there will be reasons not to participate any longer: too busy, not fun anymore, not working for me.
Like our bodies, the ego (with all the wants, hopes, fears, etc.) is another layer of our being, another ripple on the pool. As with life challenges, there is nothing evil or bad about ripples. They’re beautiful, we can enjoy them. We are not seeking to destroy the ego–it would be pointless if not impossible–but it shouldn’t have sole control of our behavior and decisions. Everything has its place. We can enjoy the ripples of ego without being a butterfly on the surface caught and drowned by them.
The aim of yoga in the sutras is to help us cultivate pathways to our essential selves and abide there.