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What is yoga?

by Swami Sivananda

Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind-stuff.


The term 'Yoga' comes from the root 'Yuj', which means 'to join.' In its spiritual sense, it is the process by which the identity of the Jivatma and Paramatma is realised by the Yogin. The Jivatma is united with Paramatma by the practice of Yoga. Yoga means union with the Lord. This is the goal of human life. It is the be-all and end-all of human existence. It is the summum bonum. Yoga also means 'addition.' When Jivatma is added to Paramatma, the restless Jivatma finds eternal rest and supreme satisfaction. The science that teaches us the way of acquiring this occult knowledge is called Yoga Sastra.

Yoga is the Adhyatmic science that teaches the method of joining the human spirit with God. Yoga is the Divine science which disentangles the Jiva from the phenomenal world of sense-objects and links him with the Absolute, whose inherent attributes are Ananta Ananda, Parama Santi, infinite knowledge, unbroken joy and eternal life.

Yoga in a generic sense refers to Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga. In a restricted sense it means the Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga of Patanjali Maharshi.

The word Yoga is also applicable in a secondary sense to all those factors that go to constitute Yoga that are conducive to the final achievement or fulfilment of Yoga, and as such indirectly lead to final freedom or perfection. A Yogi is one who has reached the final Asamprajnata Samadhi. One who is attempting to get perfection in Yoga is also called a Yogi. How this Yoga is attained, is given in the subsequent pages. Now we shall see the next word 'Chitta Vritti.'

'Chitta' means 'mind-stuff' or subconscious mind. It takes forms or shapes. These forms constitute Vrittis. It gets transformed or modified (Parinama). These transformations or modifications are the thought-waves, whirlpools or Vrittis. If the Chitta thinks of a mango, the Vritti of a mango is formed in the lake of the Chitta at once, then and there. This will subside and another Vritti will be formed when it thinks of milk. Countless such Vrittis are rising and subsiding in the ocean of the Chitta. These Vrittis are the cause of the restlessness of the mind.

Here, 'Chitta' corresponds to Antahkarana of Vedanta. It is a separate faculty or category in Vedanta. In Vedanta, when the mind does the function of Smriti, Anusandhana and Dharana (memory, enquiry and concentration), it assumes the name Chitta. The functions of Chitta are Smriti or Smarana, Anusandhana and Dharana. When you repeat the Mantra during Japa, it is the Chitta that does the Smarana. It does a lot of work. Much of your subconsciousness consists of submerged experiences, memories thrown into the background but easily recoverable.

Sometimes, you go to sleep at 10 p.m. with the thought: I must get up at 2 a.m. to catch the train. This message is taken up by the subconscious mind and it is this subconscious mind that wakes you up unfailingly at the exact hour. Subconscious mind is your constant companion and sincere friend. You repeatedly fail at night to get a solution in Arithmetic or Geometry. In the morning when you wake up, you get a clear answer. This comes like a flash from the subconscious mind. Even in sleep it works without any rest. It arranges, classifies, compares, sorts all facts and works out a proper satisfactory solution.

With the help of the subconscious mind you can change your vicious nature by cultivating healthy, virtuous qualities that are opposed to the undesirable ones. If you want to overcome fear, mentally deny that you have fear and concentrate your attention upon the ideal of courage. When courage is developed, fear vanishes away by itself. The positive always overpowers the negative. This is an infallible law of nature. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana of Raja Yogis. You can establish new habits, new ideals, new ideas, new tastes and new character in the subconscious mind by changing the old ones. The Pratipaksha Bhavana method is dealt with in the subsequent Sutras.

The term 'memory' is used in two senses. We say: Mr. John has got a good memory. Here, it means, that Mr. John's capacity of the mind to store up its past experiences is very good. Sometimes we say: I have no memory of that incident. Here you cannot bring up to the surface of the conscious mind the incident in its original form that took place some years ago: It is an act of remembering. If the experience is fresh you can have a complete recall of your past experience through memory. You do not get any new knowledge through memory. It is only a reproduction.

Suppose, you have received a nice fan from your amiable friend. When you use the fan, it sometimes reminds you of your friend. You think of him for a short time. This fan serves as Udbhodaka or Smriti-hetu (cause for memory). If your brother is a tall man, the sight of a similar man in another place will bring to your mind the memory of your brother. This is memory due to the similarity of objects (Sadrisyata).

Suppose, you have seen a dwarf at Madras. When you see a very tall man or Patagonian, this will remind you of the dwarf whom you saw at Madras. The sight of a big palace will remind you of a peasant's hut or a Sannyasin's grass-hut on the banks of the Ganga. This memory is due to dissimilarity in objects (Vipareetata).

The following are the four good characteristics of good memory: (1) If you read a passage once and if you can repeat the same nicely, it is a sign to indicate that you have a good memory. This is termed Sugamata. (2) If you can reproduce the same thing without increase or decrease, it is called Araihalya. (3) If you can preserve a fact or passage or anything in your mind for a considerable period, it is called Dharana (retentive memory). (4) If you can repeat a passage at once without any difficulty, when it is needed, it is called Upaharaha.

When you walk along the road on a stormy day, and happen to see a fallen tree, you conclude that the tree has fallen owing to the storm. In this case, the memory is due to the relation between cause and effect (Karya-karana-smbandha).

When you show symptoms of losing your memory, as you grow old, the first symptom is that you find it difficult to remember the names of persons. The reason is not far to seek. All the names are arbitrary. They are like labels. There is no association along with the names. The mind generally remembers through association, as the impressions become deep thereby. You can remember well in old age, some passages that you have studied in schools and colleges. But, you find it difficult to remember in the evening a new passage you have read in the morning. The reason is that the mind has lost its Dharana Sakti (power of grasping ideas). The brain cells have been degenerated. Those who overwork mentally, who do not observe the rules of Brahmacharya and who are afflicted with much cares, worries and anxieties lose their power of memory soon.

The mental processes are not limited to the field of consciousness alone. The field of subconscious mentation is of a much greater extent than that of conscious mentation. Messages when ready, come out like a flash from the subconscious mind to the surface of the conscious mind through the trap door in the subconscious mind or Chitta. Only 10 per cent of mental activities comes into the field of consciousness. At least ninety percent of our mental life is subconscious. We sit and try to solve a problem and fail. We walk around, try again and again fail. When the subconscious processes are at work, suddenly an idea dawns, that leads to the solution of the problem.

When you desire to remember a thing, you will have to make a psychic exertion. You will have to go up and down into the depths of the different levels of subconsciousness and then pick up the right thing from a curious mixture of multifarious, irrelevant matter. Just as the Railway sorter in the Railway Mail Service takes up the right letter by moving his hands up and down along the different pigeon holes, so also the sorter - subconscious mind, goes up and down along the pigeon holes in the subconscious mind and brings the right thing to the level of normal consciousness. The subconscious mind can pick up the right thing from a heap of various matters.

It is obvious, of course, that the powers of remembering from one birth to another, might be a great importance historically, as regards both character and action, but it is difficult to acquire, and when acquired, is not essential for Self-realisation. A close study and thorough knowledge of the functions of Chitta is of immense help to the students of Raja Yoga. The chapter on Mind will throw much light on this subject.
'Vritti' means literally a 'whirlpool'. It is a thought-wave in the lake of Chitta. Modification of the mind is known as 'Parinama.' When milk is changed into curd, it is a Parinama. Even so, the mind gets modified into a Vritti by assuming actually the form of the object it perceives. Knowledge of objects or perception is a kind of transformation (Parinama) of the mind.

Why do Vrittis arise from the Chitta? Because of the Samskaras or Vasanas. If you annihilate all Vasanas or desires, all Vrittis will subside by themselves. If all the Vrittis subside, the mind becomes calm, serene and silent. Then alone you will enjoy peace and bliss. Therefore all happiness lies within. You will have to get it through control of mind and not through money, women, children, name and fame, or rank and power.

When the Vritti subsides, it leaves a definite impression in the sub-conscious mind. It is known as Samskara or latent impression. The sum total of all Samskaras is known as Karmasaya (receptacle of works) or Sanchita Karma (accumulated works). When the soul leaves the physical body it carries with it the astral body of seventeen Tattvas and the Karmasaya as well to the mental plane. This Karmasaya is burnt in toto by the highest knowledge obtained through Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

A Samskara of an experience is formed or developed in the Chitta at the very moment that the mind is experiencing something. There is no gap between the present experience and the formation of a Samskara in the subconscious mind.

All actions, enjoyments and experiences leave the impressions in the subconscious mind in the form of subtle impressions or residual potencies. The Samskaras are the roots for causing again Jati (species), life and experiences of pleasure and pain. Revival of Samskaras induce memory. The Yogi dives deep inside and comes in direct contact with these Samskaras. He directly perceives them.

The thinking principle (Chitta) is a comprehensive expression equivalent to the Sanskrit term Antahkarana. Antahkarana means inner instrument. Antahkarana is a broad term used in Vedanta. It includes Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara.

Manas is Sankalpa-vikalpatmaka (willing and doubting). It thinks: whether to go to a place or not; whether to do this or not; whether this is good or bad. The mind is of doubting nature. It is the Buddhi or the light that determines one way or other. Buddhi is Nischayatmaka. It is the determining faculty. The mind, intellect and egoism are various process in the mind-stuff. Ahamkara is the self-asserting principle. It does the function of Abhimana. It creates Mamata or mineness. This is the root cause for all human sufferings. All Vrittis hang on this one Vritti, Aham Vritti. It is the root cause for human ignorance.

Now comes the word Nirodha. It means restraint or suppression. By suppressing the modifications of the mind-stuff or restraining of the thought-waves, a man obtains Yoga. Patanjali Maharshi has given the whole Raja Yoga in this one Sutra. Different methods of Sadhana are intended to achieve the highest stage of Yoga, Asamprajnata Samadhi by the suppression of the thought-wave. The Yogi tries to stop all the Vrittis. He tries to make the mind blank. He tries to stop thinking. He practises thoughtlessness. He stops the mind from assuming various forms. This is called Chitta Vritti Nirodha. This is the path of Raja Yoga. Suppression of thought waves is easily said. But it is very difficult indeed to practice. How this is being successfully done is explained in the rest of the pages.

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