Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah
(Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
Yogah — yoga; chitta — all that is mutable in human beings; thoughts
vritti — thought-wave; mental modification; mental whirlpool; a ripple in the chitta. A vritti alters perception like a misconception, or as waves on the surface of a pond obscure or distort our view of the bottom.
nirodhah— (nom. sg. m. from nirodha) to find tranquility; to control
When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.
Chitta can be compared to a veil worn by an Islamic woman whose every perception is filtered through the veil and for whom the entire world takes on the color of the veil. And if she wears a veil of a different color each day, then for her the world is sometimes one color and sometimes another.
And this is how it always is for our own perceptions, though we may not be aware of it. Our perceptions of the world are skewed. For example, if you’re driving to an appointment and are running late, you’re far more likely to see a world full of red lights and people driving at a ridiculously slow speed. But if you set out for an appointment and you’ve got plenty of time to get there, you’ll probably enjoy the trip. But of course the world hasn’t changed, only your take on it. When you’re running late you see the world through the “veil” of haste, and when you’ve got plenty of time, you see the world through the “veil” of enjoyment.
And the truth you perceive will be conditioned by which of these two types of mindsets you happen to be in. Perceiving the world as it actually is: this is the state that Patañjali refers to as yoga.
The purpose of yoga is to lift this veil – and thus give you the gift of truth. Only when this veil has been lifted, can you begin to genuinely perceive reality and yourself. This is an experience that can totally change your life.
Chitta is often translated as mind or spirit. But in my view chitta encompasses everything that affects our perceptions and by extension is our body. This meaning is illustrated by the vast difference between the way a sick, weakened person and a strong healthy person perceive a staircase. For the sick person a staircase is an insurmountable obstacle, whereas a healthy person can walk up and down a staircase without a second thought.
Our energy level, thoughts and emotions also affect our perceptions of the myriad things that change from day to day over the course of our lives. Only our true being remains unchanged and observes the world and itself through an ever changing veil.
Vritti, which literally means “waves,” refers to all elements that can affect mutable chitta. In terms of the mind, this entails thoughts, and in terms of the body diseases, as well as changes wrought by aging. Vrittis alter perception much as misconceptions do. For example, we tend to reach conclusions concerning a person’s occupation based on their outer appearance, i.e. a person wearing overalls is presumed to be a carpenter, housepainter or the like; and a person in a white coat is presumed to be a doctor, pharmacist or the like. And thus we’re unlikely to pay close attention to a person in overalls if they give us advice on how to deal with diabetes. But this is a mistake, since we have no way of knowing whether this person is really a doctor or not.
We are all ensnared in our misconceptions, like a schizophrenic is in his insanity, and who after all does not realize that he is mad and whose insane imaginings are confirmed at every turn.
Freeing ourselves of the misconceptions that alter our consciousness is a highly complex task that involves our entire being; for misconceptions are literally embedded in our physical, energetic, emotional and mental bodies. Nonetheless, each of us has the capacity to attain this clear state of perception, i.e. the state Patañjali refers to as yoga, and to which he shows us a viable path