Sri Swami Satchidananda was one of the earliest teachers of Raja Yoga in the West. On November 21, 1966, in New York, he lectured on this topic and answered these questions about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The second sutra gives the aim of Yoga in a nutshell: “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.” Just four words. Yoga means the control of the thought forms, the vrittis, that are formed in the mind, or chitta. Chitta is the sum total of the mind. It can be compared to a lake, and the vrittis are the waves on the surface of the lake. When the mind is compared to a lake, every thought that arises in the mind is compared to a wave, and the purpose of Yoga is to control those waves of the mind.
The question here is “Why? Why should we control the thoughts? What is our aim in controlling?” Take the same example again, the mental lake. The lake can have clear water or muddy water. It can be any way. So, if the mind is compared to a lake, the bottom of the lake is compared to the real Self or the real you, which, according to Patanjali, gets the name Purusha. Patanjali calls the Self Purusha. Mostly, the other scriptures, like the Upanishads, or Bhagavad Gita, call the Purusha the Self or Atma. They are only different in name; but, in essence, they are one and the same. So, the bottom of the lake is the Atma or the Purusha. And having the bottom as the support, you have the water, the mind and the waves on the surface.
If the waves (vrittis) are more turbulent, the lake (chitta) is more muddy. It is harder to see the bottom of the lake (the Purusha, the True Self). The more calm and controlled the vrittis, the more still and clear the lake; then, soon we easily see and experience our own True Self.
“Control” is the essential word, the secret word, the secret formula of Yoga. There should be control in everything. Everything must have its own limit; everything must be within a boundary. Once it goes out of bounds, then it becomes useless. This is true even with electricity. It is stored in a big battery or a charging station, or in a generator, or in a transformer; then, because it is controlled through a wire properly filtered, properly reduced, it works through your gadgets. If not controlled appropriately, the same electricity would be a dreadful thing to us, or useless to us. Even a car can be a nice wonderful car, made with a well-polished powerful engine, 100, 150 or 200 horsepower engine. But, as they increase the horsepower, they increase the brake power also.
So you see, without control, nothing is possible. If anything goes beyond control it becomes useless; it becomes dangerous. More than anything, the mind is the most powerful instrument. Nothing can be compared with the mind. Even the so-called atomic forces, hydrogen forces and so on are just nothing before the power of the mind; because even such powers are being controlled by the mind now. They have been invented by the mind, controlled by the mind, used by the mind. It is only with the mind that they made all the satellites and they are trying to explore space. So, the mind is the most powerful instrument; it is God-made; and it is up to us to bring it under control, and to use it properly.
Once the mind is controlled fully, then it can become a very nice instrument. Then, you realize the glory of your own Self—the Purusha or the Atma. But before such control is possible, and before purification is possible, we should know the condition of the mind. It is something like the diagnosis of a case. The doctor should know where the problem lies, where all the places are that have been fractured. The doctor x-rays them, and then he or she remedies the situation. So, to control the mind, we must “x-ray” it.
Q: You’ve said, “The mind is like a monkey.” Who controls the mind if not the mind itself?
Swami Satchidananda: Yes, it is the mind. A section of the mind that wants to achieve the goal of Yoga tries to control the other major part of the mind.
Q: Could you say those are the layers that are nearer to the spiritual plane, that want to control the lower?
Swami Satchidananda: You can say they are nearer because, otherwise, why should they have that interest? They have tasted a little bit of that light and they want it to be permanent. So, they find this other side of the mind is rather disturbing to their goal of experiencing more light. They want to control the disturbing section of the mind. Once those parts are controlled, even the higher layers, also will have to say good-bye. Because once the lower layers are controlled, you will find that even the more spiritual layers themselves will leave a modification in the mind. It is something like when you want complete silence. First you say, “I want complete silence; please everybody keep quiet.” And, when they keep quiet, what should you do? Should you go on telling them “Please keep quiet.” No. You should also keep quiet yourself; otherwise, there won’t be silence. If you go on talking, everybody will say, “What is it that you are doing now? You asked us to keep quiet, but you are still talking now!” So when one quiets the others, when he sees the quietness there, he also keeps quiet. Then the real light shines.
Q: When you mention disciplining and controlling the mind, that is not to say suppressing it, is it?
Swami Satchidananda: No, not suppressing. Suppressing is the opposite of what we want; because anything you try to suppress will gain more strength. It’s something like a steel spring. If I want to suppress the spring, I keep it down. Suppose I take my hand off. It won’t come back to its normal place; it will go higher. So, that means by suppressing it, I am kindling it up. I could have just left it as it was and then it wouldn’t be a big problem. But, just because in the name of controlling it I suppressed it, it started forcing my hand back and jumping up. So, there is always a great danger in suppressing. Temporarily you might see that it is controlled, but how long can you keep it like that? So you analyze the spring and learn how it operates. You slowly remove the temper of the spring. When we reduce our temper, then we won’t spring out too much; we won’t jump up too much. As the temper is reduced, you slowly go down. When it’s controlled in the proper way-not suppressed-you need not press it and keep it there. It just goes by itself. That is the annihilation of the problem. First, you analyze it. “Why are you so tempered? What makes you tempered?”
If you heat the steel and just leave it there, it loses its temper. You heat it. That is tapasya, Yoga practice. Tapas means heating or burning. Nature itself burns us in a way, but, if we want to lose the temper quickly, we have to invite burning more and more. Anything burned out will be purified. The more you fire gold, for example, the more pure it becomes. How can this burning process be affected with our mental impurities? By accepting all the pain that comes to us, even though the nature of the mind is to run after pleasure. Such acceptance makes the mind steady and strong because, although it is easy to give pain to others, it is hard to accept pain without returning it. Accept suffering as purification. By suffering we reduce our temper; we regain our original position. That is, the mind goes back to its source. The mind is not really destroyed as such. Once the mind is clean and still, the Atmic light reflects on it and it becomes the Self. It is just absorbed into that.