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Five States of the Mind

The first sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states (sutra 1.1):

अथ योगानुशासनम्॥१॥
Atha yogAnushAsanaM

"Here, now (I present to you) the exposition of Yoga"

Vyasa, who is the most revered commentator of the sutras, defines the word yoga as being in the state of samadhi. It comes from the root word "yuj" which depending upon the context in which it is used, can mean either "in samadhi" or "union, yoking" etc. In the context of the yoga sutras, given the definition and objectives of yoga, Vyasa has decided to use the meaning "in samadhi".  Samadhi refers to a state of the mind wherein the mind is calm, free of any agitation, free of affliction (stress-free) and can stay in an undisturbed state under the most trying circumstances. In that state, as per sutra 1.3, the spiritual self (Purusha) is established in its own natural state which is considered unalterable and immutable.

In sutra 1.2, the definition of yoga is given as:

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः॥२॥
yogashchittavRuttinirodhaH

"yoga is the ability to control the fluctuations of the mind"

In order to calm the fluctuations of the mind, it is important that we develop a deeper understanding of the mind and how it functions. Vyasa, in his commentary of sutra 1.1, states that the mind can be in one of these five states at any given time:

  • Kshipta (agitated/scattered)
  • Mudha (dull, lethargic)
  • Vikshipta (partially focused)
  • Ekagra (one-pointed)
  • Niruddha (fully arrested).

Mind, which is a manifestation of Prakriti, is a composite of the three gunas of Prakriti – sattva (purity), rajas (activity) and tamas (dullness). The fluctuations in the mind are a reflection of the disequilibrium of the three gunas which is the common nature of all creation.

Here is a brief explanation of the five states of the mind:

Kshipta (scatter-brain)

This is the most common state of the mind that most of us are in during our waking hours. This state is fully dominated by the guna ‘rajas’. In this state, the mind is totally restless, jumping from one thought to another, from one emotion to the next and from object to the next. One oscillates between love and hate, likes and dislikes etc as a leaf flutters in wind.

Mudha (dull, somnolent)

The mudha state is dominated by the guna ‘tamas’ in which the mind is dull, sleepy, lethargic and lacking any alertness. When you are mentally fatigued, you may throw up your hands saying, "my brain is fried, I need a break". All you want to do at that time is to be a "couch-potato" for some time. In the mudha state no productive work can be achieved.

During the waking state, one usually alternates between the kshipta and the mudha states. Rajas can propel us to be attracted toward an object of the senses. However, if we are denied that object, tamas can drive us into a state of sadness or even depression.

Vikshipta (partially focused)

In our pursuits of life, material or spiritual, there are moments when the sattva guna  begins to dominate and the mind can find moments of focus and concentration. However, old habits keep pulling the mind away from sattva and back to rajas or tamas. The Vikshipta state represents this pulling away from the partial state of concentration and is brought about by the nine impediments to concentration or vikshepas (sutra 1.30) and their five companions (sutra 1.31). Literally, a mind under the influence of vikshepa is called vikshipta.

In our yoga practice, whenever we sit for meditation, we do find brief periods when the mind seems to be still and focused on the object of meditation. However, soon it gets distracted by other thoughts which is called the vikshipta state.

Ekagra (One-pointed)

This, according to Vyasa, represents what Patanjali calls Samprajnata Samadhi (sutra 1.17). In this state the mind is fully focused on the object of meditation and the object becomes fully illuminated, realized and completely known. This is the state which can diminish the kleshas (afflictions) as given in sutra 2.3, loosen the bonds of karma and brings one closer to the final state of Nirodha.  In a real yogic sense, only the perception of an object in the state of samadhi can be labeled as ‘direct perception’. Normal perception through the five senses, which is commonly called ‘direct’ is in fact incomplete, incorrect, impaired and distorted because of the imperfections of the senses themselves, of the mind and buddhi as they are dominated by the negative ego.

Niruddha (fully arrested in concentration)

Vyasa equates the Niruddha state with what Patanjali calls Asamprajnata Samadhi (sutra 1.18). In this state no new samskaras (impressions) can arise. Even though past impressions still remain, they are made ineffective and can no longer cause any afflictions. In the state of Nirodha the mind continues to provide its normal functionality. However, it is now fully under the control of the yogi and all the vrittis (fluctuations) that happen are under the control of the pure, sattvic buddhi (intellect) as opposed to being controlled by the ego. When the state of nirodha is sustained for a long time, the mind gets finally dissolved into a state of equilibrium of the gunas which leads to final liberation (Kaivalya).

The above classification of the states of the mind by Vyasa helps us analyze our own mental state and can help us make good progress in our yogic pursuits.

2 comments to Five States of the Mind

  • […] In 2008, I attended a Prayer of Heart and Body retreat with Father Thomas Ryan in which he suggested that meditation is something Christians can give to American practices of yoga that will actually bring yoga back to its roots. He suggests that yoga began in India as a way of training and stilling the body to be able to sit in peace, to free the mind for meditation. This idea is based, in part, on the Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali writes, “yoga is the ability to control the fluctuations of the mind” (Sutra 1.2, translation from yogawithsubhash.com). […]

  • Par exemple, chanter sans se juger, procure une sensation agréable et une meilleure perception de
    soi.

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