Evolution of Consciousness (Extracts)

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Let us remember the great Rishi Patanjali, and by remembering him let us also remember the purpose for which we have incarnated. Patanjali conducted tremendous research throughout his life and finally uncovered a great secret, which was the discovery of consciousness or chitta as it is known in Sanskrit. All the practices of yoga advocated by Rishi Patanjali, termed as 'ashtanga' or 'raja yoga', are aimed at taming this great power, this great force in every individual.

Mind versus vritti

Most people beginning to tread the spiritual path regard the mind as the aim of their sadhana, but unfortunately they are not able to analyse or interpret the word 'mind' correctly. Most of us engaged in spiritual practices of any type and dimension regard visions, thoughts or fluctuations of the thought patterns as the mind. According to Patanjali, however, that which is mistaken for the mind is simply a vritti, a pattern, ripple or modification; it is not the actual consciousness. An emotion is not the definition of consciousness, nor is a memory of the past or an anxiety about the future. All these feelings which we have been experiencing during our sadhana or at any other time of our life are not chitta, or mind, they are the vrittis or modifications of the mind.

Yoga means control over the patterns and modes of consciousness, but not over consciousness itself. Whether it is the practice of dhyana yoga or even the experience of sabija, nirbija, savikalpa or nirvikalpa samadhi, it is not the consciousness or the mind that we are withdrawing. It is the modifications, patterns and structures of consciousness that are suppressed, blocked, withdrawn or annihilated.

The consciousness is not withdrawn in meditation or in samadhi, as consciousness is an abstract force. It is the basis for the experience of the individual in relation to time and space. The homogeneity of our awareness, knowledge and relationship with the world of diverse names and forms is based on what we call consciousness.

Fantastic stuff

This consciousness has two different areas of manifestation. When it is in the form of movement and activity, it has a definite pattern and structure known as chitta. When it is free from modification and any kind of pattern or structure, it is known as chit. Chit represents consciousness with a capital 'C' which we call atman, and chitta represents consciousness with a small 'c' which we call mind. When consciousness or atman identifies itself with the world of names and forms, and is able to express itself in certain patterns and modifications, then it is chitta.

In yoga we follow this process in reverse order by the practice of pratyahara, sense withdrawal; dharana, concentration; dhyana, meditation; and samadhi, super conscious state.

Spiritual development is a slow process of transformation. Chitta is the most fantastic stuff, the ultimate form of which is chit; just as nuclear energy is the ultimate form of fissionable matter. During the process of transformation we must be prepared to face ourselves. Before reaching chit or atman, a lot of unpleasantness has to be worked through. A lot of effort has to be made in spiritual life, as well as in our day-to-day life. This applies to everyone, whether householder or renunciate. Chitta shuddhi, or purification of mind, is not necessarily a pleasant or sweet process, but it is definitely a beneficial process. Through purification the mind becomes effulgent, and with this cleansed mind we are able to perceive our true nature.

—7 March 1978, Lecture at Tata Hall, Mumbai, India