1.4 वृत्तिसरुप्यमितरत्र

vṛtti -sārūpyam-itaratra

vṛtti – state of material consciousness, mental modifications; sārūpyam – likeness of form, similarity, resemblance; itaratra – on the other hand, elsewhere, at other times;

At other times [when one is not in the state of yoga/samādhi], one is falsely identifying with the material covering of the self – the gross physical body and the mind – and is caught up in the mind’s fluctuations.

1.4 vṛtti -sārūpyam-itaratra

At other times [when one is not in the state of yoga/samādhi], one is falsely identifying with the material covering of the self – the gross physical body and the mind – and is caught up in the mind’s fluctuations.

So, in this sutra, just going through the words: ‘vṛtti’ which we are familiar with – meaning state of material consciousness, or the sum total of all the mind’s activities and mental modifications.

This next word ‘sārūpyam,’ it’s from the same root as the word stated in the previous sutra -‘svarūpe’ – meaning one’s own form or essential nature. So here, from that same root, we have ‘sarupyam’, which refers to a likeness of form, or some similarity, or a resemblance.

And ‘itaratra’ – on the other hand, or elsewhere, or at other times.

Patañjali has begun this pāda by defining what is yoga: as being the state of samadhi – the suspension of all material consciousness, and the existing in one’s true consciousness, or one’s real spiritual state or condition. In this particular verse, it’s kind of like, “Okay, if that is the ultimate state of pure consciousness that has been previously mentioned, what are the other states or conditions that the living being can exist in?” And so, he now describes in this verse, how material existence means to become absorbed in the mental fluctuations of material consciousness or vrtti. This is not the natural state of the ātmā, or of the self, and it is a deeply profound, and a condition that the living being becomes so utterly absorbed in, they live in a practical state of illusion.

I think a good example, which I often use to try and help people understand: if one enters a movie house, for instance, and then they’re watching something that is described as a ‘good movie’, there is a complete absorption in that experience. People may feel symptoms of exhilaration or happiness, or profound sadness, and even start crying. Or they can become shocked or startled by something, to the point where everybody… you know… physically reacts, and so we see physiological and psychological responses from the experience of being absorbed. I have even read of a situation where a person who was in a movie house and died of a heart attack during a particularly stressful thing that was going on. And if you think about the situation, just in terms of the physical being, here is somebody sitting in a chair – there’s actually nothing really happening to them, but they’ve become so utterly absorbed in what has been projected on the screen – on these images and sounds that are now entering the eyes, and entering the ears, and that we are practically living the experience, or feeling it to be a reality. And so there are these responses in the body, and also in the mind.

If we use this same example and take it a little bit further, tying it to something that we discussed in one of the earlier sutras, of how sensory perception occurs.   In reality, all you’ve got is a fast-moving set of static images. This is what a movie is – they are just like single frames. They are being projected at such a rapid rate, that there appears to be movement. That light coming from the projector is bouncing off a screen, and then it is entering my eyeball, it is stimulating the optic or the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eyeball, being transformed into electrical impulses that then are transmitted to the visual cortex of the brain. And similarly, with the hearing – something similar is pretty much happening. And if we think about what is actually going on here, you know it really raises the question of: Who is the actual seer? Who is the one seeing, and where are they located? And how is it that they’re seeing these things that have now become projected upon the screen of the mind?

And how is it that the living being has become so enamored and entangled by it, that the body is undergoing change, is undergoing symptoms and signs of stress or pleasure, or sometimes sexual excitement, or any one of a myriad of physiological responses. And there are psychological responses also that are going on, creating states of fear, or joy, or anxiousness, or you know… any one of a vast number of things? And the living being has become utterly lost in this experience. You know, this is very much like what is going on in life itself, except we’re not seeing a two-dimensional image projected off a screen and becoming absorbed in it. We’re involved very much in a three-dimensional world, which is even more overwhelming or overpowering. And the purpose of self-realization is to reconnect with or true inner being – our spiritual being – and to live in that consciousness, so that we become free from all of the inebriety, the pain and difficulty that’s associated with material existence.

This raises somewhat of a consideration of the use of the word ‘material’ and of the word ‘spiritual’. Many people in this world, they use the word ‘spiritual’ to actually refer to material things. For instance, if a person says that they’re really into material nature – that nature, you know, and all its glory and beauty, and I’m really attached and really absorbed, and I love those experiences, therefore I am very spiritual. And of course, no, that’s not a reality. Being absorbed in the material energy does not make you spiritually inclined.

We’ll get into this type of thing a little bit further on, and into the sutras when we are dealing with the appropriate śloka’s. But the material energy can exist in a state of… or be moved by a state of… what’s called goodness – sattvá-guna, or a mode of passion – raja-guna, or tamo-guna. And the attraction to the peace and the beauty of nature, is an attraction towards that which is more subtle, but nonetheless it is still material energy; it is still part of material nature.

True spirituality must be founded upon my understanding that I am a spiritual being; I’m a spiritual entity – I’m not material. This body and mind which I am currently using and occupying, they are not me, and the search for my true spiritual identity is really what the search of yoga is all about. So, in many ways, yoga – this process that’s been described here by Patañjali – and all of the different paths of yoga, seek to do something… and I’ll use the example of like…stop the movie. You imagine if you’re sitting in a movie house and you’re deeply absorbed in something that you see as being a really good movie – you’re really involved in it – then suddenly the projector is shut down, and then all of a sudden everybody’s like looking around, like “What’s going on!” It’s like you’ve been snapped out of a dream state, and you get rather upset because you really like this journey – you like this involvement, you like this entanglement, this total absorption, and this fantasy that’s been created known as a movie.

So, stopping the film midway, can be really compared in many ways to what the process of spiritual enlightenment is really about. It’s to become free from that dream state – that inebriety of material consciousness and experience – and to become absorbed in that which is actually spiritual. Another, and maybe more appropriate comparison, could be to the awakening from a nightmare.

Material existence is considered to be inherently painful. If we don’t just take one snippet of our so-called life, where we’re on a high and everything seems to be going well, but we look at the full movie… Sometimes I also use an example – if you’ve got one of those old canisters of film that they used to use in the old projectors, and I roll out that that film, and then I take scissors and I snip out a certain length, some frames, and I hold that up and look at it. And by examining what’s going on in those frames, I have to admit that I do not, or cannot, come to know what is the plot – what was the story, and what were all the different things that went on, and how everything ended. We have a tendency to sort of do that with what we call our life – where we look at the high moments, we hold them up as something to continuously revisit and meditate upon, and we aspire to have more of those things as we go forward. But from the yogi’s perspective – a person caught up in material consciousness and material existence, it is actually a life that cannot end particularly well.

All one has to do is visit an old-age home, or spend time with somebody that’s, you know, coming to the end of that journey in a particular body, to see how it all ends and what it is they have to deal with, and what they’re confronted with in that condition of extreme old age and approaching death. So the yogi’s therefore, felt that material life was a little bit more like not just a dream state, but somewhat like a nightmare. Just like when somebody’s having a nightmare, and they may be thrashing about and saying something, and sweating. Or they may manifest symptoms of great anxiety when the person is awakened from that condition – that nightmare. Then immediately there is a feeling of relief and the recognition that it was simply a passing dream. And this example is sometimes being used in different Vedic texts to describe the process of self-realization, and waking up from this dream state of material existence, which is simply a product of the endless fluctuations of the mind.

Our perception of this world as a static and permanent reality, which it is not – it is something that is continuously changing. And self-realization is this journey to really rediscover who I actually am, and to abide in my eternal spiritual nature.