Sample from the Fall 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

Inside the Yoga Sutras

With Rev. Jaganath Carrera

Vritti: The Mind’s Incessant Whirling

Rev. Jaganath Carrera author of the forthcoming book, Inside the Yoga Sutras, shares his reflections on specific sutras and help us to delve deeper into the timeless wisdom contained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the foundational textbook of Raja Yoga. In the second installment of this new column, Rev. Jaganath analyzes sutra 1.2. and says: “I caught a glimpse of a different way of viewing and especially describing vritti as a behavior more than as a ‘thing.'”

Pada One–Samadhi Pada: Portion on Absorption

Sutra 1.2: The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

This is the heart of Raja Yoga. This sutra alone could form the basis of a lifetime of contemplation and practice. The four words that comprise this sutra are, in Sanskrit: Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. In this issue, we will take a deeper look at the meaning of “vritti,” or modification.

Vritti: literally to whirl, turn, revolve, to go on. It’s a colorful term that suggests incessant and maybe dizzying movement. It is the word that Sri Patanjali uses to describe the primary activity of the mind. A vritti is not simply a thought; it is the activity of forming conceptions from individual thoughts that arise in the mind. It is activity that takes place both on the conscious and subconscious levels of the mind. Vritti activity is the mind’s attempt at making sense of the experiences it encounters. It impacts our mental landscape by largely determining our perceptions of who we are and the world we live in.

Let’s examine how vrittis are born and the way they develop… The mind takes a solitary thought (pratyaya) and begins a tornado-like dance, rapidly weaving together webs of thoughts in a frenetic search for other related thoughts. Through a process of comparing, contrasting and categorizing, individual thoughts cease their existence as isolated bits of information and become part of a complex web of ideas, self-constructed conceptions of “reality” that build self-identity and our understanding of the world.

What this means is that our experience of life is largely determined by the nature of the webs we have woven. In a real sense, vritti activity is the practice of constructing and deducing concepts of reality from mental impressions.

Vritti activity acts like filters that can distort perception, selectively admitting and rejecting information. Our understanding of the world is limited and skewed by the biases and limitations that are built into and result from vritti activity. In other words, we project our conception of reality onto the screen that is Reality. When vritti activity ceases, when all thought processes are stilled, then every filter is removed from our vision and we perceive Reality in its entirety. In perhaps the most colossal “aha” moment a human being can have, we realize that we have been staring into the eyes and heart of Truth–almost assaulted by omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence all along–but have been only allowing bits and pieces of it into our minds.

Vrittis Encourage Identification

The obscuring power of whirling vrittis is only half the story. The real trouble comes when we identify with the “realities” our mind has woven. Identification with vritti activity obscures our experience of our True Self (see sutra 1.3 and 1.4). It takes us away from the objective truth of pure experience and involves us in the drama of the mind; the dance of light and shadows that is vritti activity.

In order for identification to take place, several factors are required:

  • Ignorance: To be unaware or forget that our True Identity
    is the Purusha (Spirit).
  • Egoism: The belief that we are the body-mind.
  • Vritti activity: The habitual behavior of the mind
    to form or find relationships…
Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine