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

The aim of our Yoga practice is to, after paying attention to and gaining mastery over our thoughts through discernment and understanding, “whether…[we find that our 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 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].”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra (Threads) or Lessons 6-11: Pramana Viparyaya Vikalpa Nidra Smrtayah [Sutra 6]

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

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 considered to be one of the things/distortions that get in the way of seeing and understanding our true self, and they must, therefore, be removed from our minds at some point in order to attain true enlightenment or self-realization.

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

These 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 we know is true and verifiable either through direct experience, inference through observation and study of natural laws and factual understandings, and also knowledge that have 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). Remember that all knowledge passed on by others is unchanging and based on Love not based on opinions of their pride, vanity, hatred, 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 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, 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.
  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 we aim to ultimately reach our 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 us trapped in the perpetual cycle of misery that we know of from our Four Noble Truths.

Much of what we must eliminate from our being when we practice Yoga, and strive for enlightenment, are our 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 our world and ourselves and hide the true nature of our being.

This week, let us strive to look at the different distortions that are present in our minds.

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 collectively created on this planet. But, ultimately, please note that all of our creations/projects and so forth are irrelevant in the face of our ever-present truth.

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

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?*

*(Please note that we are beginning Week 7’s prompt early this week, in light of its coverage of such a “big” topic)

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