yogaḥ – yoga (is); citta – the consciousness; vṛtti – modifications (of the), state or condition of material consciousness, to set in motion (as a wheel); nirodhaḥ – arrest, suspend, restrain, contain, suppress;
When the endless mental fluctuations and modifications (vṛtti), which characterize material consciousness, are suspended or arrested, that is Yoga.
1.2 yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ
When the endless fluctuations and modifications (vṛtti), which characterize material consciousness, are suspended, or arrested, that is Yoga.
The natural state of the ātmā – the natural state of existence – is to be in pure spiritual consciousness. The material condition is when that pure ātmā, or that consciousness, becomes contaminated or colored. The first word of course is, ‘yoga’, and referencing yoga, ‘ yogaś’.
Then this word ‘citta.’ ‘Citta’ can have a number of meanings, as most Sanskrit words do. It is sometimes used to mean ‘mind’, but of course in a specific way. It can be the core of one’s heart – means their deepest sense of things, or that which is most close to them. But it primarily means ‘consciousness’.
In this particular sutra, ‘citta’ here is not talking of the mind, which is technically described as being different than consciousness. So here… the references to actual consciousness. The difference between the mind and consciousness is something that a lot of people may not be very… something that I haven’t really thought about. The mind, like the body, does not actually possess consciousness as an inherent characteristic. The consciousness that we see through the body and the mind is actually imparted by the ātma.
The ātma – its natural characteristic is to manifest consciousness which we see as life. So, for instance, you look at the difference between a dead body and a live body. That moment of death when the living being leaves the body, the body instantly transforms. Now we see its actual characteristic – its real nature – manifesting. But moments before the body was manifesting what appears to be consciousness or awareness, but that consciousness or awareness is not inherently part of the body. It is imparted to the body.
In a similar manner, the mind is not inherently conscious. It is described as an object – a material object – but it takes on the quality of being conscious. It appears to have a life of its own to be animated or alive due to its proximity to the ātma – the spiritual self, the puruṣa or dṛṣṭā.
So it is in this context that the word ‘citta’ is used here. Again, ‘consciousness’ … we can use it in two ways – at least in English… the way it is used. ‘Consciousness’ can refer to… like we’ve been using it here, ‘awareness’ – the awareness or the symptom of life. This consciousness is actually a characteristic and a symptom of the presence of the ātma, as we said. But consciousness can be also used in the sense of ‘a state’ of consciousness – kind of like a mental state, if you wish, which is actually what’s also been being referred to here. When we talk about a state of consciousness, it’s like the original consciousness is spiritual, and it is an inherent characteristic manifest by the ātma.
But it’s just like light – light is naturally white, but if I take a source of light like a flashlight and I am in a dark room, and I place a colored filter over that flashlight – for instance, a green – and then I turn it on. Only green light – colored light – is now manifest, not white light, and it colors everything in the room that color. If I change it to a red filter, now red light is projected and everything in the room becomes colored by that red color. The example that I’m giving will help us understand how the consciousness of the pure living being – when that pure living being becomes covered – particularly by this subtle energy known as the ahaṇkāra, which is part of the subtle body, then that consciousness becomes colored or contaminated – becomes known as material consciousness. And that consciousness manifests in these ideas like ‘the body is the self’, and taking on these sort of ideas, the living being – the pure spiritual living being within – experiences so-called happiness and distress, which is attributed to the physical experiences and the mental experiences of this world.
The next word here is ‘vṛtti.’ ‘Vṛtti’ speaks of modifications to something, or a state, or the condition of material consciousness, and as most Sanskrit words have multiple meanings, it can also mean ‘to set in motion’ – when something is set in motion. So what is being spoken of here in relation to this verse, when the pure consciousness is contaminated and becomes influenced by the material energy, then what happens is we are subject to all these subtle influences particularly by the three ‘guṇas’ – three guṇa or the three modes of material nature – which cause the living beings to become attracted to different types of things.
The mode of goodness – sattvá-guṇa – conditions one to peacefulness and happiness. So you’ve got people that are drawn to country living, and cleanliness and light, and not loud noise and a lot of agitation. Raja-guṇa on the other hand, imparts a quality of intense desire and action, and so you get people that are professional athletes, or drawn to intense physical undertaking, or creation in an artistic sense, or in the sense of building. Like cities are built by this influence of raja-guṇa. Tama-guṇa is the mode of ignorance, which produces indolence, lethargy, sleepiness, laziness, and varieties of insanity. And because of the influence of these different energies on the consciousness, the contaminated consciousness of the living being, living out this idea that this current body I have is me, leads the living being to engage in action which causes reaction, and perpetually binds one to the cycle of repeated birth and death, where a living being can take on any one of a limitless variety of bodies, even in very lower species of life.
And so we have this understanding of something being set in motion – that the vrttis create action, and bind the living being perpetually almost to material existence, through what is called ‘saṁsara’ – the wheel of repeated birth and death.
The next word ‘nirodhaḥ’, is an interesting word which has again quite a number of meanings. One way to understand ‘nirodhaḥ’ – to contain, to suppress; it can mean to completely wind up, in the sense of practically of destruction. But one fantastic example, that will help understand perhaps, is in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, where the following verse is stated: “In the same way that the practitioners of yoga bring their senses under control to check their consciousness from flowing out through the agitated senses, the farmers erected strong mud banks to keep the water within their rice fields from draining out.” So that’s a really beautiful verse that indicates how one can understand this term ‘nirodhaḥ’.
So, in closing, the verse states, “When the endless mental fluctuations and modifications (vṛtti), which characterize material consciousness, are suspended or arrested, that is Yoga.”