From Progressive Yoga Vidya Training, Satsangs 2016, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The first evolute of human existence is ahamkara, ego. It is the first identity of an individual without awareness. From a handful of seeds if you pick one out, the seed is still a seed but you have isolated it. That is ahamkara, selection of one, isolation of one. The moment you isolate one from the other, it is seen as an independent unit. Ahamkara is that: the first separation from our cosmic, transcendental nature. That state is without awareness, without consciousness. There is no cognition in the state of ahamkara, only one identity of being separate. Aham means ‘I’, akara means ‘form’: ‘my form’. It is a general statement; you are not saying ‘my body, which has two eyes and one nose, two nostrils and one mouth’. You are only saying, ‘my form’, which is the total self.

From ahamkara comes chitta, and chitta is the most important subject in yoga. From chitta emerges buddhi: logic, rationality, understanding, knowing, intellect. From buddhi emerges manas: reflective thinking, analysing, deciding. Manas is directly linked with buddhi. If logic is there, then the thinking process will be appropriate, proper and sequential. If logic is not there, then thinking will be disjointed; you will want to travel to the moon one second and become the president of the world the next second. There will be no connection. It is a state of psychosis, where there is no connection between thoughts, events, conditions, actions. Therefore, manas is the reflective and thinking power of buddhi. Buddhi and manas can be clubbed together, while ahamkara and chitta can be clubbed together.

Play of memory

Chitta is described as the storehouse of memories, impressions, samskaras. These impressions and samskaras are memories of past events. There cannot be memory of any future or present event. What you are hearing has become the past already, and you don’t know what you are going to hear in the future. You can only retain the impressions of what has been spoken, as it belongs to the past. Past begins one moment after the present. Thus chitta is the storehouse of memories of past events.

When the Spanish people came to America, they travelled in huge boats. The indigenous Indians who were there saw the boats entering the harbour, but they had no recognition of what they were looking at as they had never before seen boats. They had no memory of what a boat is. They simply saw objects in water and did not feel any threat, as there was no memory on which to rely, no memory to signal danger. The ships came in easily and the Spaniards took over the country. The point is that when they looked at the ships in the waters, they could not link that experience with anything from the past. This memory bank is chitta.

If you have seen even a paper boat, that memory will be there so that when you see a big boat, you will associate it with your memory of the paper boat. If that memory is not there, it means there is no impression in chitta, and you will look at a boat without any association whatsoever.

If you draw a horizontal line and intersect it with a vertical line in the middle, all that is to the right of the vertical line is the future, and all that is to the left is the past. Everything that has happened in the past is not part of your buddhi or manas, it is part of your chitta. Thus, when we say chitta vritti nirodhah, chitta is referring to something specific. At that level, the limitations created and experiences derived from your past become the vrittis. Ten years ago you had a fight with someone. When you see him today, it is that vritti, that memory, which is triggered. That is chitta, not manas, not buddhi.

The five vrittis

There are five vrittis in chitta, as defined by Patanjali. The first is pramana, cognition, and cognition is always dependent on memory. If there is no memory, there is no cognition. However, this cognition is not happening right now through your senses, mind or logic. It is not the present cognition, but past. That is pramana. A child who has put his hand in fire will have that memory even twenty years later when he sees fire: 'In my childhood I burnt my hand.’ That is pramana.

Now, if as a child you were about to put your hand in fire and your brother removed it, you will not have any memory of your hand burning in fire, maybe a vague memory of heat and singeing, but no memory of actual burning. This becomes viparyaya, when you are not aware of the final outcome and you waffle around in the periphery. When you have no association or experience with the final outcome, then it becomes viparyaya: ‘I am not sure.’

The third vritti is vikalpa. You remember something of the past and say, ‘I could have handled that better’; you see the choice that you had before you and begin to curse yourself, ‘Why did I not do that?’ That is vikalpa.

Nidra is the fourth vritti, stopping the flow of information coming to the conscious mind. There is a time when you just block the flow, for you need to remove yourself from the activity in the mind, from the stress and the anxiety. Therefore you stop, relax and rest, to maintain the balance.

The fifth vritti is smriti, which means memory. However, as a vritti the reference is not to long-term memory, as long- term memory has become part of your impressions. The short- term memories are smritis: ‘What did I have for breakfast yesterday?’ You do not remember what breakfast or lunch you had one week ago, but you remember what you had today or yesterday. These short-term smritis have to be revived in order to enter into pratyahara. Thus, smriti as a vritti and as impressions contained in chitta are two different things. The impressions of chitta are carried forward, the smriti is of the moment.

The latent impressions in the consciousness of chitta are not called smritis; they are called pratyaya, which means a seed of information. You have hundreds of pratyayas in your mind, or hundreds of seeds of information. It is like the bytes in the computer; pratyayas are the kilobytes and megabytes in your mental computer. They fill up your hard disk and every week you have to spend time clearing it. The less pratyayas you have, the easier it is to access your files and documents. The impressions in chitta are pratyaya, whereas impressions in manas and buddhi are smriti. That is the difference.

Third level of control

When we say the purpose of yoga is to manage the modifications of chitta, then we are not looking at the first level of manas and buddhi. We are looking at the third level, and from the third to go to the fourth level since the vrittis will also affect ahamkara, the self-awareness: how you perceive yourself, as positive, optimistic, pessimistic, critical. All these perceptions are formed.

Working with chitta vrittis is accessing the third state, the third expression of the mind. To manage the first level of manas, pratyahara is enough. To manage the second level of buddhi, dharana is enough. For chitta, you require dhyana, meditation, as it takes you into your inner psyche. For ahamkara, you need samadhi, for only there the dissolution of the ego can take place.

Chitta vritti is the third level of control that you acquire in your life. This process begins from raja yoga. Prior to this, manas and buddhi have to be dealt with through the practices of hatha yoga. In hatha yoga there are systems of concentration, such as trataka, which allows you to settle down, focus, internalize. The mental chatter, the manasic chatter stops with trataka. The other meditative techniques in hatha yoga also lead you to manage the behaviour of manas and buddhi. Raja yoga is not the subject of the mind; it is the subject of chitta and ahamkara.