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Home » Yoga Sutras 1.5 and 1.6 – The 5 Kinds of Vrttis (Thoughts)

Yoga Sutras 1.5 and 1.6 – The 5 Kinds of Vrttis (Thoughts)

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Sutra 1.5

Vrttaya pancatayyah klistaklistah

There are five changing states of the mind, which are either helpful or detrimental to the path of yoga.

The ancient yogis proposed that there are five basic categories of the turnings of the mind. 

Some of these are conducive (at first) to the path of awakening through yoga. 

Others are detrimental to the path and will keep the aspirant stuck in the karmic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth if the thoughts are not quieted or transmuted. 

The next sutra lists the five categories. 

Sutra 1.6

Pramana-viparyaya-vikalpa-nidra-smrtayah

They are: right knowledge, error, imagination, sleep and memory.

Let’s expound this but briefly

Sutras 1.7-1.11 will break each thought category down in more detail. 

Did you miss the explanation of Sutra 1.4? Click here to read.

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Table of Contents

Quick Sutras Recap...

1.1 Now begins the instruction of yoga. 

1.2 Yoga is cessation of the thought waves of the mind. 

1.3 When we succeed in bringing the mind to stillness, the soul abides in its true nature. 

1.4 When the mind is not still, the perceiver becomes erroneously identified with the turnings of the mind. 

1.5 There are five basic turnings of the mind. 

1.6 They are: right knowledge, wrong knowledge (error), sleep, imagination, and memory.

Detrimental vs. Non-Detrimental

In the yogic teachings, right knowledge, positive feelings, and thoughts that keep us grounded in our (meditation) practice are helpful to the path of yoga. On the flip side, wrong knowledge (error), excessive negative thinking, and thoughts that distract us from our path are detrimental. 

What does this mean? 

It’s essential to keep the actual goal of yoga at the forefront of our minds:

THE GOAL:

…to silence the chatter of the mind (sutra 1.2) in order to…

…let the soul shine forth in its purest nature (sutra 1.3).

…ultimately to enter uninterrupted states of samadhi in which the unified field of reality is perceived and consequently the soul is freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth (book 4). 

How some thoughts help

In the early days of practice, a yoga practitioner is encouraged to work on silencing the mind entirely. Sutra 1.12 will begin the explanation of how that is done. 

At first, it will be difficult or impossible to silence all thoughts for any significant length of time, but all is not lost!

The yogi can first practice silencing any harsh, judgmental, negative (tamasic), overly ambitious (rajasic), nagging, or irritating thoughts, leaving only the most sattvic (pure, clear) thoughts to swirl around. 

When the yogi can be immersed in thoughts of kindness and gratitude, for instance, she will have brought herself to a more sattvic state — which is a state very close to pure soul abiding. 

Occasionally, darker thoughts will arise of course — but that is okay! All time spent in sattvic states is beneficial.

The yogi learns to make more and more space for positive thoughts when possible (importantly, she still needs to be grounded in reality. This is not about toxic, deluded positivity, which is a tamasic state). 

Over time, the yogi will be steeped in loving thoughts that radiate from the inner being. 

But the work isn’t done at this point.

Even the helpful thoughts are eventually obstacles

Once the aspirant is steeped in realistic, grounded, generally positive thought forms, she will then begin work on clearing away even these vrttis or thoughts. 

That’s because all thoughts form a residue that clouds the clear seeing of the inner being (or soul). 

The metaphor is often given of a smudgy mirror in which the residue of vrttis obscures the soul’s ability to see itself clearly. 

The HOW of this process will be explained in upcoming sutras. 

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homework for the seeker

1. A Contemplation:

On any given day, which categories of thoughts tend to arise that cause me pain, suffering, or create an obstacle to my mental tranquility? 

2. Meditation Prompt:

When I am absolutely still and the thoughts fizzle away one by one… which types of thoughts tend to keep arising (hence blocking me from the unified field of awareness)?

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8 Sutras that Point to Freedom

In a nutshell: Sutra 1.5 + 1.6

There are five types of thought forms:

  1. Right knowledge (accurate perceiving) = aklistah, non-harmful
  2. Wrong knowledge (error) = klistah, harmful
  3. Sleep = aklistah, non-harmful when adequate; klistah, harming when too-long or poor quality
  4. Imagination = can be either klistah or aklistah
  5. Memory = can be klistah or aklistah, harmful or conducive

Awesome Versions of The Sutras

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