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 or basically just gibberish nonsense, 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 clarity/purity/enlightenment (Self-Realization) that leads to Liberation from the ongoing cycle of ignorance and suffering that plagues humanity. This point, of course, will be after moving up the Eightfold Path progressively to Meditation (since your main work is essentially working to get your body-mind-ego regulated enough to settle into your undistorted Self in the world…and not simply expressing yourself as a neurotic ego-identified individual who believes that she/he is his/her body-mind modifications/roles defined by things, thoughts, experiences, and so forth).
Always remember that your goal (if you wish to go all the way on your Eightfold Path), after sense and mind-mastery with limbs 5 and 6 (Pratyahara and Dharana), is to concentrate your clear mind on/into your True Nature in limb 7 through meditation/Dhyana, so that you can reach the state of Samadhi, or freedom from conditioned/warped human consciousness, and merge into your divine expression.
Sutras 6-11 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali focus on the 5 types of thoughts or mental modifications/distortions/vrittis (tied together by ignorance and imagination that you will create all sorts of Karmas–words, beliefs, feelings, and actions–around) that get in the way of your enlightenment and Self-Realization, and keep you bound to the perpetual cycle of suffering in the world with dysregulated and ignorant people and societies.
The 5 Mental Distortions Are As Follows:
- 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 is 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 by passing off misinformation as the Truth (which has been common throughout human history and has led to a number of different atrocities from murders to sexual abuses). Remember, please, that all True knowledge passed on/down by others (or that is seen/observed by you) is unchanging and based on undistorted/uncolored Absolute understanding. True knowledge is not based on fleeting/fluctuating/changing or “evolving” vrittis like opinions guided by pride, vanity, hatred, ego-gratification and so forth. Seek to always verify knowledge by directly coming to know it for yourself through practice and lived experience (if knowledge is True then nothing will change over any span of time) especially when it has to do with knowledge of your Self, which you cannot gain from hearing from any other person/people. Right knowledge represents Truth, that is eternal and never personal, but can be personally verified, nonetheless, because it is applicable to all and applicable at all times.
- 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/Reality. These include “shaky,” “shady,” and/or “colored” judgements/conclusions based on the delusion of fear, bias, emotions, and or ignorance, and include thoughts that are based on barely any information or on faulty information. These types of vrittis manifest as making incorrect inferences, fabricating stories based on cognitive error, believing in lies, having wrong perceptions of reality/Reality, possessing a lack of discernment between the real/Real and unreal, and holding on to weak thinking that leads to believing in or spreading/maintaining illusions that warp one’s, or other’s, perception of realty/Reality–ultimately blocking the beauty and freedom of Truth, and instead leading to further destructive thoughts, words, and actions that create bondage, entanglement, suffering, and destruction in the world, etc.
- Vikalpa [Sutra 9] | Sabdajnananupati Vastu Sunyo Vikalpah/Sadba-word/sound; Jnana-knowledge; Anupati-arises; Vastu-reality; Sunyah-without any; Vikalpah-verbal delusion (overactive, warped, imagination grounded in hearsay or auditory misinterpretation): This is a thought or story that one imagines from hearing only words or sounds (through a wall, on radio/TV, or from a piece of a sentence or conversation, 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 only on what they heard about/from that thing or person and/or imagined in their mind based on what they falsely interpret from what a person says (or think a person said) at any given moment. These vrittis are not based on Truth, facts, or clearly observed and processed experience/understanding. Common things that illicit verbal delusions are stories, advertisements/marketing, and even fleeting sounds or pieces of conversations (even when a person is having that conversation). Some expressions that maintain and spread Vikalpas are weak and/or magical thinking (superstitions, etc), and lowly behaviors like engaging/believing in, and/or spreading, rumors and gossip.
- 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 deep sleep. Vrittis that refer to Nidra also technically includes the vrittis that are created and unrecalled, known as dreams, as well, and the subconscious impressions that are there but one may not actively recall or perceive to be there.
- 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 (colored by imagination, processing, misinterpretation, omission, addition, and so forth) into consciousness at a later date, either by choice or by mental intrusion, for one reason or another. Memories can come back in the form of dreams during sleep or during the day in the form of daydreams/reimagined experiences/flashbacks.
In order to “make the mind void and to allow the inner peace to shine through,” these 5 distortions must be controlled/mastered, which our Sutras go on to remind us is not an easy thing to do (especially since these thoughts are how you are used to “making sense of” and “understanding” the world). Letting go of the vrittis that keep you bound to ignorance due to false identification and misinterpretation in the world, however, is required if your aim is to ultimately reach enlightenment and Liberation.
Mind mastery requires diligence, brutal self-honesty, and a lot of hard work before you can be truly free of the mental distortions that keep humans trapped in the perpetual cycle of misery and karma that we know of from our 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 in the world), and hide the True Nature of your being.
This week, strive to look at the different distortions that are present in your mind.
As always, 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 (or are perceived to 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/projections and so forth are irrelevant in the face of the ever-present Truth of existence itself (which is eternally here even beyond mental understanding).
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 that basic part of your experience in relationship to the world, you must let go of your creations in Maya (illusion) in order to get to the Truth of who you are as, and beyond, 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 for more on this), please remember that, in order to lighten/purify yourself for connection with your spirit, desire/devotion for purity (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 fully seeing this/your Truth.
If you have attachments to your mental modifications, it might be worth starting with first 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. As you progress on your path, however, also look at the thoughts/ideas that you are most attached to as well (I advise you to actively and consciously look, because, though some distortions will naturally fall away as you progress on your path, do not delude yourself into thinking that there will not be the unconscious biases and deeply engrained vrittis that will not remain under the surface until all mental impressions are completely wiped out). Strive to neutralize everything, even those seemingly good-feeling and “good” producing thoughts that you find hard to give up. Let these thoughts go as well as your greatest immolation of devotion to your True, undistorted, expression since the sacrifice of these “cherished” thoughts is often the greatest attachment offering that you can make to the 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 the Absolute 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 Pure Self.
Clearing Attachment To The Illusion
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?