Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thoughts on the Yoga Sutras - 1.6 - 1.11 (the vrttis)

1.6 Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah

They are caused by correct knowledge, illusion, delusion, sleep, and memory.

This sutra shows that all thoughts can create movements of consciousness, although BKS Iyengar and Barbara Miller both state that some can be beneficial to the cause of yoga.

While each of these vrittis are outlined in following sutras, one thing that this sutra can lend us as practitioners is a context in which to bring our thoughts into awareness - a means for classification.

1.7 pratyaksanumanagamah pramanani

Correct knowledge is direct, inferred, or proven as factual. BKS Iyengar

Like other lists in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I believe that the vrittis are organized with pramana listed first, because correct knowledge is the most aklista (non-tormenting, non-harmful) and therefore the vritti most beneficial to our journey as yoga practitioners. As practitioners, however, we do need to be aware that  while correct knowledge comes from direct, inferred or proven information; direct, inferred, or proven information is not always correct knowledge in our citta. There is one more vital piece to find correct knowledge - buddhi (intelligence).

Correct knowledge invites buddhi (intelligence) into the process of perception. This quality (intelligence), BKS Iyengar describes as dormant - a quality that must be opened up, utilized and honed. When wrapped up in the citta vrittis, those vrittis can easily influence direct, inferred, or proven information.

For example: How often have we taken some piece of information (true or untrue) and heighten it to the uppermost level of truth without thinking or applying intelligence? How often have we been wrong? Like asana is intended to spread awareness throughout our bodies, buddhi is intended to spread awareness into our thought processes - allowing us to view thoughts for what they truly are and act with intelligence.

BKS Iyengar states that direct knowledge can lead man beyond the conscious state (amanaskatva).  

1.8 Viparayayo mithyajnanamatadrupapratistham

Illusory or erroneous knowledge is based on non-fact or the non-real. BKS Iyengar

This sutra, I feel, highlights that any type of vritti can be klista or aklista. Error, here, is a misconception, or mistaking one thing for another. So even a vritti based on direct knowledge can be misconstrued.

Have you ever taken something someone said as having a different meaning?

1.9 Sabadajnananupati vastusunyo vikalpah

Verbal knowledge devoid of substance is fancy or imagination. BKS Iyengar

According to this sutra, if there is no substance, this verbal knowledge is imagination. How many statements do we hear or make throughout the day that are devoid of actual substance. How many large claims, small claims never come to fruition or truth? This is important to note - any verbal testimony can be fancy - as long as it doesn’t have substance.

How many times at work have you heard a coworker say, “If this change happens, I will quit.” How about, “If this policy is enacted by the government, there will be anarchy.” Whether these statements come from fear, concern, or joy does not make a difference - they are all statements made in the heat of emotion. Emotions do not always come from a firm foundation of substance.

1.10 abhavapratyayalambana tamovrttirnidra

Deep sleep is when the mind is overcome with heaviness and no other activities are present. Desikichar

In my mind, the idea that no other activities are present is gigantic. This, as BKS Iyengar explains in his commentary, can be a monumental tool for the sadaka. This same state when awake and aware is samadhi. The main difference here, as Edwin Bryant points out, is tamas (intertia - a heaviness). We are too still and without awareness here to actually experience this samadhi-like state.

1.11 anubhuta-visayasampramosah smirtih

Memory is the retention of [images of] sense objects that have been experienced

Each object we experience creates a pratyaya or imprint. A collection of pratyayas create a samaskara. A memory is a samaskara that does not fall away. Some commentators suggest memories that stay can either be easily accessed or are more difficult to access. Similar to rocks in a pond. If the pond is clear (Satvic mind), those rocks can be easy to retrieve. If the pond is murky, they are not as easy to retrieve. The murkiness is related to tamas - a clouded sensation. (Choppy waters being compared to rajas - between clarity and murkiness).

In addition, memories are influenced by the state of the mind at the time of its entry. A memory can be favorable and clear (sattvic), It can be influenced by aversion (rajasic), or it can be murky and ignorant (tamasic).

BKS Iyengar states in his commentary that these memories can resurface correctly if utilizing discrimination. However, each of these memories is a vritti. So it can be a memory based on correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, metaphor, etc. And as Desikachar states, “it is not possible to tell if a memory is true, false, incomplete, or imaginary.”

In addition, it is believed that multiple clusters of samaskaras can be combined, therefore influencing memory incorrectly. Yogis believe that dreams are memories. The more vivid the memory, the more likely it will appear in the dream. The combinations of these memories making it possible to dream that you are an elephant with a human head.

This sutra shows us that discrimination must be applied to memory. Not all memory is based on correct knowledge. And our memories could actually be some conglomeration of samaskaras that can be likened to our elephant body with a human head. So discrimination is not just for incoming information and the processing of it, but needs to be applied to the constant churning of our minds and the memories that are lifted to the surface while it is churning.

The above post is a self-unpacking of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I am not a professional historian, I am only sharing my thoughts on the topic. The Thoughts on the Yoga Sutras postings came about as preparation for a weekly study group that I attend at Karuna Center for Yoga and Healing Arts ( Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

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