by Jayaram V
The Purpose of yoga and the nature of citta
The purpose of yoga is to prevent the modifications or afflictions
of the citta. These modifications arise because of the outgoing nature of the senses
and our desire for sense objects. The citta which the Yoga speaks about is not the same as the mind we
know in the modern science. Manas is perhaps a more appropriate word for it,
although there are some serious fundamental differences between the two. For
example the mind in Hinduism is a receptacle that does not create thoughts. It
rather receives various thought forms from the universal consciousness
according to its receptivity and transmits them back into it according to its
intentions and inclination.
The citta, which yoga refers, is a complex internal
mechanism, chiefly responsible for our perception, cognition, memory and
intelligence. It is not a product of electric impulses or brain mechanism, but a
luminous substance made up of fine particles of energy and consciousness. It is difficult to
translate the word citta into English because of the complexity of its
structure and functions. Each living being is permeated with the substance of
citta not just in its head region but its entire body and also around it. The citta
as the substratum or support for other agencies of a living being, namely
intellect (buddhi), mind (manas), senses (indriyas), ego (aham) and the five
Together they are often called the internal organ (antahkarana).
Although it is difficult to translate the word "citta" into English we may
loosely translate it as dynamic consciousness formed by the association of the cit
(pure consciousness) with shakti (pure energy). The citta constitutes the waters of life
from which further creation comes forth. It should not be mistaken as an extension of the brain
because it has the ability to travel long distances at unimaginable speeds and
interact with the objects it perceives through the senses and replicates them
exactly in itself. In other words the citta is not just a perceiving mechanism
but an interactive mechanism in which it acts both as the perceiver and the
replicator of the things perceived. All the three qualities or gunas, namely
sattva, rajas and tamas are present in it. Sattva plays an important role by
providing it the luminoisity to perceive things clearly, while the other two keep it in different
states of activity and inertia.
The citta has different states (bhumis) which arise in a being
according to its level of evolution. It has the ability to expand or
contract, depending upon the type of being and its state of evolution. It has a
working component called karyacitta, which dies with the being and a causative
component called karana citta which survives death and becomes a blueprint for
the next life of the soul. The citta is susceptible to five different types of
modifications or whirls known as citta vrittis caused by different types of perception,
namely correct perception, wrong perception, imagination, sleep and memory. The
purpose of yoga is to control the whirls and stabilize the citta so that one is able to perceive things
clearly and find one's own own essence hidden in everything. This is
accomplished through progressive stages of purification in which the quality of sattva in the consciousness is increased while rajas and tamas are
proportionately reduced or suppressed.
The two way process of perception
Modern science affirms that perception is an inward process. That is, outside
objects make their impressions upon the mind through the senses. Various schools
of Hinduism do not think so. They believe that perception is mostly an outward process. The senses are called agents of Indra (Indriyas) because
they serve their master (indra represented by the mind in the human body) as his work horses or spies. They go
out to gather information about the objects they grasp and feed it to the mind. While
the senses are moving among the objects the citta also moves with them
replicating the objects grasped by the senses
internally in itself. This replication is responsible for the modifications
the citta resulting in both perception and cognition.
The citta functions like a multi dimensional copier and recorder
with an ability to absorb itself in the object of its
concentration and become that which it concentrates upon. Thus perception is not
just a reflective process but a truly creative and bidirectional
process in which the world is internalized
in the citta and the citta is externalized in the world. The citta does
not always reflect and recreate the objects of the world
faithfully. It depends upon whether the perception has taken
place correctly or incorrectly.
the mirroring as the modifications of the citta (citta vrittis). He identifies
five types of modifications arising from five types of perception, namely right
perception, (pramana), wrong perception (viparyaya), imagination (vikapla),
unconscious perception (nidra) and perception influenced by memory (smriti). The
citta is attached to the body, but it has the ability to extend itself freely
wherever the senses can go. It actually keeps wandering all the
time in the objective world following the senses and their
activities. This outward movement of the citta and the senses
give rise to suffering, restlessness, attachment and the like,
which yoga aims to resolve through various means.
The problem of suffering and its solution
Classical yoga holds that our suffering (klesa) arises from two sources: from
our present actions and from the latent impressions (samskaras) that are stored in our
consciousness. Suffering is present in every aspect of our existence because of
the instability and impermanence that is weaved into it and the objects we
interact with which in themselves impermanent and destructible. Even the seemingly happy moments are laced with a shadow of
suffering. Our lives vacillate between the extremities of suffering and happiness,
despair and hope and many similar pairs of opposites with which we are familiar.
According to the Yogasutra, for a discerning yogi (vivekin) everything
appears to be suffering , because of the evolving and transforming nature of
the things of the world, the ever changing composition of the qualities of
Nature (gunas) and the modifications arising in the citta due to various
kinds of perception. Ordinary people with untrained minds, may not even notice
the suffering underlying what we consider normal and daily
routine, because a great deal of our suffering happens in the
unconscious and subconscious layers of our consciousness. But a
discerning yogi finds it everywhere and knows its true significance.
Dukha is another word used in yoga to denote suffering. Dukha
means bad (du) axle hole (kha). Etymologically dukha means any
suffering that arises from the various apertures and weaknesses
present in the body and the mind. Indian schools of philosophy
recognize three forms of human suffering:
- suffering caused by
- suffering caused by others and
- suffering caused by gods.
suffering for himself thorough his own egoism, ignorance, vices,
weaknesses, desires, thinking and actions. This is suffering caused by oneself. Some
times suffering is brought upon us by other people, such as our
friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members, strangers
and government authorities and creatures like poisonous
snakes, insects, dogs, tigers, lions and elephants. This is
suffering caused by others. Finally, we also suffer from the
actions of gods when they
intervene in our lives in the form of fate, planetary influences,
accidents, death and natural calamities. When in His unbound
love God bestows favors upon evil characters like Ravana
Desires as the root cause of our suffering
Long ago our ancient thinkers identified desires as the root of our suffering.
Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are unanimous on this point, although they differ
in their interpretation of its nature and cure. According to classical yoga, desires arise from the activity of
the senses and the outgoing nature of citta, which result in passion (raga).
Passion leads to the preponderance of rajas and rajas which lead to the five
common problems of human existence, namely sexual desire (kama), anger (krodha), pride (mada),
matsarya (envy) and greed (lobha). They in turn give rise to ignorance (avidya), delusion
(moha) egoism (asmita) and bondage to the cycle of births and deaths.
citta and the
senses are primarily responsible for our suffering, a person can alleviate his
suffering by withdrawing them from the objects and moving them in the
direction of his inner self inwardly. The eightfold practice of yoga and
the self-purification that arises from it in the form of increase in the quality
of sattva results in equanimity, which is the
foundation to achieve more stable states (bhumis) of citta and experience
Establishing equanimity in the citta, however, is not an easy
process. Distractions (citta vikshepas) arise in the
consciousness in the form of suffering and mental disturbances, as
a yogi strives to control
his mind and body.
Sometimes it leads to more acute problems like sickness, mental
turmoil, negative thoughts, nightmares and the like, which
require the intervention of his guru or a divinity. Except for a few blessed souls who have achieved
progress on the path of yoga in their previous lives, many who
practice yoga have to be perseverant, follow years of discipline
and practice (abhyasa) intense methods of self-purification to change the habitual
modes of their minds and
bodies to become stabilized in themselves. For them Patanjali
- study (svadhyaya),
- discrimination (viveka),
- devotion to self (Isvara),
- detachment (vairagya), self-purification
- constant muttering (japa) of the sound Aum (pranava).
Even after all this
effort their suffering may not
cease, because the latent impressions (samskaras) present in their cittas have to work themselves out in their own
time and space.
Samkhya and Yoga - their ancient connection
Classical yoga shares many metaphysical concepts of the ancient
Samkhya school (800 BC-300 BC), which seems to have its roots both in the
speculative theistic thought of the early upanishads as well the realistic and
materialistic schools of the later Vedic period. According to both Samkhya and
Yoga school, the world is inhabited by two primary components: Purusha,
the individual Soul and Prakriti the primeval Nature. They are the the two facets
of our existential reality, hidden in all animate and inanimate objects.
Purusha and Prakriti
is the first principle. It is an absolutely independent and eternally free
entity, which is neither created nor creates, which is neither cause nor effect
and which has neither "before" nor "after". There is not one but innumerable souls (purushas)
floating in the universe. Purusha is described in Hindu theistic schools as the single
principle (eka tattva), soul, space (akasa), emptiness (sunya), light,
consciousness, pure, knowledge, eternal, indivisible, indestructible, Lord or
God (Isvara), immutable, real,, the knower and One.
Prakriti is the second principle. It is the primeval
energy, which is also uncreated, eternal and indestructible. It
is not created but it creates. It is independent, but for the
purpose of manifestation it has to depend upon the souls. As the
cause it is invisible, but its presence can be inferred through
the effects it produces. Prakriti is described as Nature,
matter, energy, force, movement, life, intelligence, eternal,
mechanical, divisible, indestructible, mutable, real, divided
and the known. All the causes are hidden in Prakriti and all the
effects in turn are latent in their respective causes. In other
words, technically, Prakriti does not create anything new. In
reality, its creation is an unfolding process, which results in
the evolution and transformation of its energy and its various
components and aggregations. Their permutations and combinations
manifest as the animate and inanimate objects of the world.
When they both come into contact with each other, Prakriti creates the embodied souls
or Jivas with the help of its 24 principles or evolutes (tattvas). At the core
of Prakriti are its three principles known as qualities (gunas) namely sattva,
rajas and tamas. They are the primordial qualities of Nature, which impart
specificity and properties to the objects and their movements by their presence.
They play an important role in the evolution and transformation of Prakriti
What's Self? Is it space, consciousness or mere emptiness?
Imagine an empty space. Some one builds a house around it. Now that empty
space becomes the house. When you look at a house you usually think of the
building, the walls, the windows and the rooms, but not the empty space around
which and in which it is built. Apparently a house is recognized by its location, form and shape. But
the truth is it could not have existed physically and
perceived at all, without the space which holds it and which is also present in
Preoccupied as we are with the things of the world, we hardly pay attention
to the space and its value in our existence. When we think of an object we think
of its form or shape, but not the space hidden in it. We either take the space for
granted or simply ignore its silent but persistent presence in every moment and
aspect of our lives.
Something similar to it happens to the Soul (Purusha), as
Nature (Prarktiti) builds a house (body) around it, using its own material
called the principles (tattvas). We call this
house a living being (jiva) and recognize it by its name, appearance or form. In
reality, Purusha is the space and Prakriti is its outer
covering. Purusha is the real stuff and Prakriti is a mere
package. It is our tendency to identify ourselves with our
names, looks, features and possessions, but not the space with
in us, because we can neither distinguish the space nor give it
a proper name. In truth, forms and things cannot exist without
the space. The space is the bearer, the upholder of the entire
universe and everything that exists in it. Nothing can exist
outside the space, even from a scientific point of view. It is a
universal truth which neither science nor religion can dispute.
Is it Self or Not-Self? Is it everything or nothing?
Now for centuries Indian scholars have debated, discussed,
argued and quarreled among themselves what this space might be.
Is it mere nothingness, emptiness, pure consciousness, a self
aware intelligence, an individual entity of unimaginable
dimensions or simply the universal space? The seekers of Truth
wondered for centuries in this manner in the ancient world of
India, offering different explanations and interpretations.
Unfortunately, no commonly acceptable solution has ever come out
With regard to the nature of soul, there are mainly two basic arguments.
One holds it to be mere nothingness or emptiness and
the other believes it to be a spacious and endless
consciousness. The Buddhist believe that there is nothing that is stable and
subject to no change inside a living being except perhaps mere
emptiness or nothingness.
Everything is in a state of flux and subject to change. Every
living being, without exception, is a formation of compound elements.
Formation and decomposition, this is the order of life. The theory of origination (pratitya samutpada),
propounded in Buddhism, visualizes this process happening through 12 stages.
Starting with ignorance (avidya), it passes through phases like activity (samskara), consciousness
(vijnana), name and form (nama rupa), contact (sparsha), feeling
(samvega), craving (trshna), grasping (udapana, becoming (bhava),
and ends with aging and death (jara marana). Individuality,
thus, is a mere illusion caused by the play of the
senses and the ignorance of our consciousness with no external
agency like a Creator involved. As is evident by now, the
Buddhists do not
believe in the existence of an eternal and unchangeable self and call
that nothingness as
Jainism and some schools of Hinduism including classical yoga
consider the inner space (akasa) to be the absolute,
indivisible, indestructible, eternal and absolute Self, limited
when held by Nature in the body and detached, self-absorbed,
blissful and unlimited when it is completely free from Nature.
There is also no unanimity on whether the Self in its
absolute state exercises any will of its own. Some believe it has no will of its own while some
hold the opposite view. Some describe the individual soul in its absolute state
as either the creator God (Isvara) or a personal God. Some
even contend that there is no such phenomena as God but just individual souls
existing in different states of freedom or bondage. They are
either free from Prakriti for ever or free after they became
liberated or still bound by it. Here Prakriti is the encroacher, who trespasses into the space of the
passive soul and builds her nest around it.
Some theistic traditions describe the Self as both the Universal
Self (God or Brahman) and individual Self (Soul or Atman). They
explain that the One Creator God becomes many to support His
manifestation and enjoy the myriad objects of His own creation.
They describe Prakriti as the dynamic energy of God and God as the
Enjoyer of His creation. Shankara upheld the belief that the only reality
ever existed was Brahman or the Universal Self and that the diversity
which we would experience through our senses was mere illusion. He considered the individual soul also as an illusion
because in reality everything was Brahman.
perspective, the space inside a house or body was not different
from the space outside of it or anywhere else. So when the
barriers that isolated and created a distinct form in the
universal space disappeared, the notion of individuality
disappeared with it forever and the space alone remained. Shankara's space was however not mere nothingness. It was
permeated with the presence of Isvara, the Supreme Lord and
Truth consciousness. Modern Hinduism generally accepts the theory that the individual self is
stable and unchangeable, while Prakriti envelops the souls and builds itself
around it undergoing transformation and evolution, using the soul as the
support, just like a bird which builds its nest on a tree or a support for
Classical yoga of Patanjali holds that the inner space is both the witnessing
Self (purusha) and the absolute Self (Isvara), the latter having the ability, as
a personal God, to free the former from the cycle of births and deaths as a
result of the practice of yoga. The purpose of yoga is described to be to unwind the evolution of Nature,
through purification, and
set the soul free from the cycle of births and deaths. Yoga considers the body, the mind
and other constituents of Nature that are formed around the soul as the
impurities. They veil the soul and prevent it from being free.
Classical yoga aims to
remove the impurities through a prolonged process of purification and
transformation of the mind and the body. To achieve this end, it recommends the eightfold
approach, popularly known in the yoga circles as the eight the limbs of yoga. Hence
classical yoga also goes by the name Ashtanga Yoga (eight limbed yoga).
Not all yogas, however, follow this approach.
There are many types of yoga like
Jain yoga, Buddhist yoga, hatha yoga,
karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, mantra yoga, tantra yoga and so on. In
each of these categories there are many further subdivisions. But eightfold yoga is called classical yoga because it is
based on the Yogasutra of Patanjali, which is by far the most ancient text
available on yoga, composed around 200 BC, as a source book of
a popular tradition that was already in practice several
centuries before Patanjali.
The eightfold Practice
The eightfold practice of yoga consists of yamas (restraints
or don'ts), niyamas (observations or dos), asanas (postures),
pranayama (regulated breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of the
senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation or
contemplation) and samadhi (higher states of self absorption). Patanjali suggests that through regular practice (abhyasa), detachment (vairagya),
constant muttering of Aum (japa), inwardness of the mind (pratyak cetana) and
purification of the citta one can make progress on the path of yoga and achieve
From Patanjali's Yogasutras and scriptures of Tantra we learn that an embodied soul is
a prisoner of its own body and mind. It is subject to the
limitations of space (niyati), time (kaala), knowledge (vidya),
passion (raga) and power or skill (kala). Its spiritual journey
begins when it realizes the distinction between the Self (Purusha)
and the Nature (Prakriti) and identifies itself with the
imperishable space or the consciousness or the nothingness that
exists in it and around it rather than the mind and body. In
other words what is needed is an out of the box thinking
(thinking of the space instead of the form) and a new paradigm
(that one is the pure soul not the mind and the body) to break
through centuries of old habits and deluded thinking to look at
oneself anew and
experience oneself as an eternal and radiant being.
Yoga is all
about identifying yourself with your inmost Self (Isvara),
concentrating and contemplating upon it constantly to become
absorbed in it with the help of a guru. From the eightfold
practice of yoga arises equanimity of the mind and detachment
from the worldly objects. It will lead to purification of the
mind and body, culminating in the highest state of Samadhi in
which all distinctions and duality will disappear forever
resulting in your liberation.
Suggested Further Reading