The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in my opinion act as a practical guide to the mind. This ancient Indian text interprets the yoga sutras in a relatively easy to understand format.
The yoga sutras are split into 4 chapters:
- Know the mind (Samadi pada)
- Refine the mind (Sadhana pada)
- Direct the mind (Vibhuti pada)
- Go beyond the mind (Kaivalya pada)
Patanjali tells us that the purpose of yoga is “the ability to control the fluctuations of the mind”. Yoga in the west is perceived as physical movements and breath and not typically associated with the mind. Patanjali tells us the purpose of yoga is solely on the mind, through the practice of yoga we enable spiritual practice. Every aspect of yoga “is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions”.
Sri Swami Satchidananda tells us how the mind is made up of three levels; ahamkara, bhuddi and manas.
These three levels of the mind can be simplified to the following:
This is our ego or sense of “being me”. This is essentially what makes us who we are and individual. Through our interpretation of the world is what we determine that we see, hear and touch.
Known as our intellect, our higher intuitive mind. Through the mind we interpret these from our intelligence.
Our “lower mind”, this links with our senses. The link with our senses feeds the other two levels of the mind with our physical senses.
Although there are 3 layers of the mind the mind has 5 activities. They aren’t good nor bad but our use of these can cause positive or negative outcomes. T.K.V. Desikachar describes these as comprehension, misapprehension, imagination, deep sleep and memory. In varying ways they are all used at each of the 3 levels of the mind.
Our comprehension (pratyaksa) comes from our senses of objects (seen) which our mind interprets into something we can try to understand. Our interpretation of said object may come from our memories in which we form a conclusion, if we cannot do this we may research sources to form a conclusion to understand the object. But our memory may deceive us. The yoga Sutras of Patanjali lists 3 sources of correct understanding. These are a) correct use of the sense of perception (I saw it with my own eyes). B) Correct use of logic or inference (There is smoke so there must be a fire somewhere) c) reference to reliable sources (e.g. what Patanjali says about yoga)
Misapprehension (viparyayah) is errors in our judgement or interpretation of something. Our errors aren’t necessarily bad, in fact they can lead us through the realisation of our error to obtain a deep correct understanding. Though this we can form prejudices.
Imagination (sabda) is forming a conclusion without a direct reference. Ie. an object may be described to us but we have not seen it so our imagination forms an understanding or picture of this object. This is a literal example but this also applies to non physical things and can influence our feelings or opinions.
Deep Sleep (abhava) which translates to “nothingness”. In this state it’s said our mind disengages from what we know. Whilst mental activity never stops, in deep sleep its not something we’re aware of or can monitor in ourselves because we’re essentially not there.
Desikachar describes memory (smrtih) as “mental retention of a conscious experience”. While this is true in some instances memory can also be something imagined. Our memories are linked to our emotions and can be influenced by the other 4 activities of the mind.
Although describing the mind as made up of 3 layers which carry out 5 activities. Everything is part of our one mind. Each separate function or layer mentioned can influence one another in many different ways producing different outcomes each time we go through the process. Through the practice of yoga we become able to see these aspects individually.
Patanjali tells us in these sutras the purpose of yoga is enlightenment of the mind. Through our practice we become aware of ourselves See(YS 1.3) , our mind becoming whole. We can become aware of our consciousness seeing our pure selves, through this we become our “true self”.
This is only the first part of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, stay tuned for more!