Nirodha’s Adversary: Vyutthana
Vyutthana, externalization of the mind, is the predominant characteristic of ordinary consciousness. The temptation might be to characterize nirodha as a mind in meditation and vyutthana as a mind tempted by distractions of the outside world. While this is true, it is not the whole story. The difference between the two mindsets is more comprehensive.
Vyutthana as a mindset, is not necessarily evil or wrong, but it is based on an allegiance to the priorities and values that work against, or that can hinder, Self-realization. The symptoms of vyutthana include:
- Pursuing status
- Nurturing or ignoring craving for happiness or security through material acquisitions
- The need to be acknowledged or praised and resentment when we are not
- Low self-esteem that needs constant affirmation of worth—all these and more are symptoms of vyutthana
When we sit to meditate or find time for quiet self-examination, we most likely encounter what seems like a haphazard assortment of thoughts, habits, images, and emotions. These are not simply a random collection of mental artifacts. Most are aligned with one organizing principle: vyutthana.
Egoism and ignorance may be the bedrock of the self-identity, but vyutthana provides an externalized orientation that easily appeals to the mind. Vyutthana is strengthened by:
- Societal values that measure success, status, and happiness by material gain
- Lack of curiosity regarding the true nature of self and life
- Deeply ingrained habits formed under the influence of ignorance that sustain unwanted attitudes and behaviors
Like Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker or Dracula to Van Helsing, vyutthana is the arch opponent to nirodha.
A mind caught in vyutthana always looks outside itself for satisfaction, for shelter from fear, loneliness, anger, and hatred. It also blames the outside world for its pains, too rarely looking within honestly to see how our own ideas and actions have contributed to our discomfort and unhappiness. In short, force of vyutthana resists probing within for the deep and abiding source of peace and happiness.
In sutra 3.9, we find that nirodha is presented as the remedy for vyutthana. If vyutthana is a centrifugal force ever urging our attention away from our center, then nirodha is the centripetal force, moving the mind toward its source and essence. Every moment of nirodha, or of inward reflection, every mantra repeated, every instant spent clarifying and strengthening our understanding of what is truly precious and worthwhile in life, creates a counterflow, an inwardly directed movement that leads to enlightenment. The movement inward—nirodha—is the journey of all journeys.
Degrees of Nirodha
Think of nirodha as degrees of success in countering vyutthana. Let’s look at the stages of nirodha as outlined in the Yoga Sutras, how they relate to some of the practices included in the text.
You can attain nirodha over vrittis (conceptions and conceptualizing), pratyaya (single thoughts that comprise vrittis), samskaras (subconscious impressions) and complete nirodha over all states of mind. How nirodha is attained over these states of mind is from gross to subtle:
Vritti Nirodha – countered by dharana/concentration
Conceptions, our biases and personal interpretations of reality, begin to unravel.
Pratyaya Nirodha – countered by dhyana/meditation
Vritti activity of creating concepts from combining single thoughts is suspended. The mind experiences its first moments of deep, steady, focused attention. Inner obstacles are reduced, the mind becomes clear and cheerful, and the senses begin to come under control.
Samskara Nirodha – countered by samadhi/absorption
Samadhi is the yogi’s prime investigative tool to explore life, the universe, self, and Self and arises when the mind becomes deeply absorbed in the object of contemplation.
Subconscious impressions gradually diminish in power and number from the first stages of samadhi: samprajnata samadhi. Intuitive insights are attained. One gains full knowledge of gross aspects of the object of meditation, then the subtle factors that brought the object into existence. This is followed by the bliss of a steady mind, and then the experience of the pure ego sense.
A deeper samadhi, asamprajnata, gradually arises in which conscious activity is quieted and only subconscious impressions remain (1.18). In sutra 1.23, asamprajnata samadhi can also be attained through Ishvara pranidhana, devotion to God.
Nirvichara samadhi: Insights into even the most subtle aspects of the object of meditation are completed. The luminous, tranquil clarity of the Self shines forth. This state is truth-bearing, granting intuitive insights into the deepest realities of existence, self-identity, the mind, and the universe. The purpose of this insight is to end false identification with prakriti by discerning the Seer from the seen. The samskaras from this samadhi displace all other samskaras (see sutras 3.9 – 3.12).
When even this samskara is transcended, nirbija samadhi arises — the technical term for Self-realization or liberation.
Sarva nirodha – dharmamegha samadhi/cloud of dharma samadhi
What can be left after attaining nirodha over concepts, thoughts, and subconscious impressions? The subtlest thought of all — the individual ego sense. When all the other facets of the mind are transcended, what’s left is the one thought that binds all mental experiences together, the “I” sense. Continuous discriminative discernment of the highest level — dharmamegha samadhi — is required to reach this stage.
We might also wonder why Patanjali only mentions attaining nirodha over the vrittis. For one, vritti activity and the conceptions it creates comprise the bulk of our conscious life and more importantly, our understanding of realities and experiences. They are a major influence regarding what we consider important, essential, desirable, and undesirable. Another reason why only vrittis are mentioned might be because once mastery over vrittis is attained, self-effort begins to recede as the core of practice. Refer to sutra 3.2, the sutra that defines meditation. Look at the Sanskrit. You will not see the word vritti there. Instead, it describes a state of unbroken attention toward a single thought — a pratyaya. Vritti activity is no longer a factor when the mind reaches the state of meditation proper. Remember that meditation is a state of effortless attention, even though in the beginning, that effortless flow may only continue for only a few seconds.
About the Author:
Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book Patanjali’s Words is a work-in-progress.