Week 7: The 5 Types Of Mental Distortions According To Patanjali (Sutras 6-11)

“They are right knowledge, misconceptions, verbal delusion, sleep and memory.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Pramana Viparyaya Vikalpa Nidra Smrtayah

Pramana: correct or right knowledge | Viparyaya: misconception, incorrect knowledge | Vikalpa: verbal delusion, imagination | Nidra: sleep | Smrtayah: memory (grouping all 5)

The aim of Yoga practice is to, after paying attention to and gaining mastery over your thoughts through discernment and understanding, “whether…[you find that your thoughts are] valid or invalid…ultimately…set aside [these mental modifications/distortions/vrittis in order]…to find [true] peace [beyond these thoughts” (which is different from the peace that comes from Sutra 5]

But, according to Sri Swami Satchidananda “before we push out all thoughts[, our next Sutras remind us that], we [must] try to analyze…[our thoughts] and eliminate one set after another…[since] [w]e can’t just throw everything into one garbage pail [or out all at once].”

Some thoughts are nice, some are terrifying, others are truthful, beautiful, sweet (and a number of other descriptions), many are incorrect, but, no matter what form they show up in, all thoughts are still the things/distortions that get in the way of seeing and understanding your true self, and they must, therefore, be removed from your mind at some point in order to attain true enlightenment or self-realization. This point, of course, will be after moving up the Eightfold Path progressively to Meditation.

Always remember that your goal (if you wish to go all the way on your Eightfold Path), after mind-mastery with limbs 5 and 6 (Pratyahara and Dharana), is to concentrate your clear mind on your true nature in limb 7 through meditation/Dhyana, so that you can reach your final state of Samadhi, or freedom from human consciousness and connection with your divine expression.

Sutras 6-11 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali focus on the 5 types of thoughts or mental modifications/distortions/vrittis that get in the way of your enlightenment and Self-Realization.

The 5 Mental Distortions Are As Follows:

  1. Pramana [Sutra 7] | Pratyaksanumanagamah pramanani/Pratyakda-direct perception; Anumana-inference; Agamah-scriptural testimony (correct or right knowledge): This is the knowledge that you know is true and verifiable either through direct experience, inference through direct observation and study of natural laws and factual understandings, and also knowledge that has been passed down as verified from thousands of years of being tested by numerous teachers and sages/practitioners throughout history. Always remember, however, not to fall for the trap of being exploited by those who will use your belief systems and the foundations of your ideologies, biases, predispositions, and so forth to spread misinformation, hateful perspectives, and outright lies (which has been common throughout human history and led to both murders and sexual abuses). Remember that all True knowledge passed on by others is unchanging and based on Love not based on opinions of pride, vanity, hatred, ego-gratification and so forth.
  2. Viparyaya [Sutra 8] | Viparyayo Mithyajnanam Atrafrupa Pratistham/Viparyayah-misconception; Mithya-false, mistaken; Jnanam-knowledge; Atad-not on that; Rupa-form; Pratistham-based (misconception, incorrect knowledge): These are thoughts that are simply just false or wrong and have no basis in factual/actual Reality.
  3. Vikalpa [Sutra 9] | Sabdajnananupati Vastu Sunyo Vikalpah/Sadba-word/sound; Jnana-knowledge; Anupati-arises; Vastu-reality; Sunyah-without any; Vikalpah-verbal delusion (verbal delusion, imagination): This is a thought or story that one imagines from hearing only words or sounds (through a wall for example), and these thoughts are therefore considered to be verbal delusions. It is when one has a reaction to, or forms an opinion about, something or someone based on only what they heard about the thing or person, not based on truth, facts, or direct experience/understanding (for example rumors and gossip).
  4. Nidra [Sutra 10] | Abhava Pratyayalambana Vrttir Nidra/Abhava-nothingness; Pratyaya-cognition; Alambana-support; Vrttih-modification of the mind; Nidra-sleep (sleep): This is the thought/illusion upon awakening from physical sleep that there was an experience of emptiness, or that thoughts were suspended during sleep.
  5. Smrtayah [Sutra 11] | Anubhuta Visayasampramososah Smrtih/Anubhata-experienced; Visaya-objects; Asampramosah-not forgotten (memory-grouping all 5): This is when an impression is created in the mind and one pulls it back into consciousness at a later date, either by choice or by mental intrusion, for one reason or another. In this Sutra, memories are said to come back in the form of dreams during sleep or during the day in the form of daydreams.

In order to “make the mind void and to allow the inner peace to shine through,” these 5 distortions must be controlled, which our Sutras go on to remind us, is not an easy thing to do, but is required if one aim’s to ultimately reach the goal of enlightenment.

Mind mastery requires diligence, brutal self-honesty, and a lot of hard work before one can be free of the mental distortions that keep humans trapped in the perpetual cycle of misery that we know of from the Four Noble Truths.

Much of what you must eliminate from your being when you practice Yoga, and strive for enlightenment, are your own delusions and false understandings that have been picked up from living life and interacting in the world. These distortions, whether they come in the form of social conditioning, superstitions, false learnings/ideologies, weak thinking, lack of morals and values, and so forth, shape your world and your sense of self and hide the true nature of your being.

This week, strive to look at the different distortions that are present in your mind.

Observe them neutrally as there is no one to judge you except your ego-self (others’ ego-selves might judge you as well, but their opinions are worth nothing ultimately and are irrelevant).

Understand that these distortions (which are present in everyone who has not done all of the work to identify and eliminate them) often help humans to survive in the warped and insane societies that we have all collectively created on this planet (to different extents). But, ultimately, please note that all of your creations/projects and so forth are irrelevant in the face of your ever-present truth.

You, of course, always want to strive to, as a service/honor to your and others’ physical expressions/lives, create the best thoughts and conditions that you can in order to make the world a safe and healthy place to gain connection to your spirit in your lifetime on Earth, but once you have mastered this part of your experience, you must let go of your creations in maya (illusion) in order to get to the truth of who you are as an enlightened being.

When working to eliminate distortions from your ego-self (which is simply a useful tool for existing in society; a tool that if it is well-adjusted and kept in check without too much delusional and distorted over-identification with it is not a bad thing at all since it preserves your physical life, limb, and well-being so that you can ultimately attain connection with your higher expression while in physical form-refer to limbs 3 and 4 of our practice), please remember that, in order to lighten/purify yourself for connection with your spirit, desire/devotion (without attachment) is the gateway.

All you have to do in order to connect to your higher expression is to surrender, let go, and put down your clinging to illusions and false identifications. Since your spirit is ever-present and unaltered by any distortions, know that you are never so far away from it that you cannot find your way back. Simply make a choice, and a commitment, to connect, and get on the path. You only need to remove everything (within yourself) that prevents you from full seeing this/your truth.

It might be worth starting with letting go of the thoughts/ideas that do not serve you and others any good to begin with when you start your process of purification, but, as you progress, also look at the thoughts/ideas that you are most attached to as well, those seemingly good-feeling and good producing ones that you find hard to give up. Let these thoughts go as well as your greatest immolation of devotion to your true expression since the sacrifice of these cherished thoughts is often the greatest offering that you can make to your truth on this path.

You have to come to your true self empty, naked, and completely free in order to fully fill yourself up with the light of this truth.

When you let go of the things that you are most attached to, and find the most difficult to let go of (when it is time to let go of them of course), you will gain the most freedom/space within yourself to invite in greater Love and more of your true self.

With this in mind: What distortions are you attached to in this life, starting with the ones that serve neither you, nor anyone else? Which distortions/vrittis will you release this week in order to lighten your load of delusion a bit more and to clear your vision (even slightly) in order to see and express more of your True Self?

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