Patanjali breaks down the 5 categories of thought according to the yogic school.
In this section of the Yoga Sutras, we get a deeper discussion of the forms of thought.
This discussion of the mind is meant to be understood as a description of what the soul is NOT.
In other words, even though we’re about to deep dive into categories of thought, we’re supposed to remember that ultimately the practice of yoga asks us to QUIET the vrttis or thoughts (not dissect them, haha!).
Irony aside, let’s keep “chitta vrtti nirodhah” in mind and get a fuller understanding of the mind space anyway.
I’ll break these down briefly!
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Table of Contents
Sutra 1.7 - Right Knowledge
Right knowledge consists of: direct sense perception; logic; and verbal testimony.
Yoga, as one of six schools that grew out of Hindu thought, lays bear what it accepts as correct ways of knowing.
The yoga system has three forms of “right knowledge.” These are:
- Sense perception*: direct, first-person experience that involves the sense organs, like sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
- Logic: inference based on evidence and prior knowledge, such as recognizing a fire by witnessing smoke (Bryant 1:7, p. 34).
- Verbal testimony: second-hand information from a trusted, credible, reliable source, such as a person, expert, or scripture.
*Importantly, yoga places special emphasis on sense perception on the path of yoga. What this means is that the direct experience of realization is more valuable than, say, scriptural testimony.
Did you miss the explanation of helpful and unhelpful thoughts? Click here to read.
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Sutra 1.8 - Error
Viparyayo mithya-jnanam atad-rupa-pratistham
Error is false knowledge stemming from incorrect understanding.
The classical example of error is mistaking a rope for a snake.
As part of the human experience, error is unavoidable.
Fascinatingly, even error can sometimes be aklistah, meaning not-harmful to the path of yoga.
An example given by Sutras scholar Edwin Bryant asks us to imagine that someone walks into a yoga studio expecting it to be a “health spa.” Instead, they find teachers committed to the genuine philosophy of the yogic path, and this person then commits themself to the yogic path.
Sutra 1.9 - Imagination
Sabda-jnananupati vastu-sunyo vikalpah
Imagination consists of the usage of words that are devoid of an actual object.
You would THINK that by “imagination” the yogis must have been talking about fancy, imaginative daydreaming, pretending or the like. Interestingly, this is not — apparently — what is meant by imagination in Patanjali’s text.
One might place imagination in the category of memory, or get creative about how to include daydreaming in these five categories. Unfortunately, there is no satisfying discussion of imagination as we know it (and experience it!) in the Sutras.
This is unfortunate since many of us are daily preoccupied with imaginative projections of our future — both desired and feared.
In this sutra, the imagination spoken about has to do with when language points to something that cannot or does not exist but which nonetheless points to something true or meaningful.
Bryant gives the good example of the saying “the sun rises and sets,” since — factually speaking — this does not happen, and yet not many would take issue with the phrase which does convey a meaningful event understood by all parties.
Sutra 1.10 - Deep Sleep
Abhava-pratyayalambana vrttir nidra
Deep sleep is that state of mind which is based on an absence of content.
Deep sleep — not to be confused with light sleep or dream states — is a state of mind which contains nothingness.
This is not the same as chitta vrtti nirodhah (the cessation of thought waves) described in Sutra 1.2 because the latter state is experienced in waking life.
Sutra 1.11 - Memory
Memory is the retention of the impression of sense objects that have been experienced.
It’s hard to believe, but the yogic directive is that — eventually — the seeking yogi is not to indulge in memories if they wish to experience ultimate states of bliss.
But it goes even farther than that!
The example is given of a rose. How do you know that a rose is a rose? It’s because your mind already has the memory impression of a rose. Naturally, when it sees something of similar color, shape, and smell, it infers that what is observed is a rose (Bryant 1.11, p. 44).
You can imagine, then, that in deep states of samadhi (the awakened state), even these memory impressions at long last fade (or are restrained).
1. A Contemplation:
Which of my common thought patterns tend disturb my peace? To which category do these thoughts belong?
2. Meditation Prompt:
When I sit quietly, which thought category tends to keep running on auto-pilot? Can I pay attention to these thoughts with light-hearted amusement instead of concerned involvement?
8 of the Most Powerful Sutras
HOW to quiet the above-described thoughts.
One of the most important aphorisms in the book!
Awesome Versions of The Sutras
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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.