What is vrittis?

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    Hans Johansson

    Hello everyone,

    In the yoga sutras one can read about the vritti(s): yogash chitta vritti nirodha. Mostly when I hear about them people say they are connected to worries or overthinking things. I myself wonder weather that is really all to it, do anyone have an explanation about this entities/waves.

    Much obliged


    Ashish Dalela

    If you like, you can read my commentary on the Yoga Sutra. This sutra has a long explanation in the commentary, which is hard to summarize here. Yoga is closely aligned with Sankhya, and one needs to understand Sankhya to understand Yoga. Sankhya Sutra describes the nature of chitta.

    I will try to summarize this briefly. Chitta is the history created by past actions and it has three components: desires, abilities, and karma. These three things exist in an unmixed form in the chitta. Due to the effect of time, these are mixed, and by their mixing, experiences are created.

    The process of mixing produces a succession of “elements” of Sankhya, that proceed from subtle to gross. All these “elements” can be experienced by the introspective person, and Sankhya describes the process by which experience is created in a step-by-step manner. Yoga then speaks about the cessation of this experience. This particular sutra refers to that process of cessation of experience.

    The term vrtti has a few different, but closely aligned, meanings. First, it means tendencies. For example, a dog has a tendency to bark, and that is the dog’s vrtti. Likewise, humans have a tendency for certain types of thoughts and behaviors, which are unique to each individual person. Second, vrtti also means a state of being, which is realized when the soul associates with the above tendencies and accepts them as its own nature. Third, these tendencies appear and disappear at regular intervals due to a process of material modes going dominant and subordinate which is like a vibration (although not a physical vibration) and hence a vrtti may also be called a vibration.

    Thereby, the cessation of vrtti means (a) reducing the recurrence of tendencies, (b) stopping the identification with the tendencies when they appear, and (c) completely cleansing out the tendencies over time. When all the tendencies are removed, then the consciousness is considered purified of its material contamination, which means matter doesn’t force the consciousness to act due to its past history of impressions. The soul is thereby freed of its history or past, and at that point, all its actions are only driven by its free will. Until the point that this history is deleted completely, the soul is considered bound by its past, and the past forcibly creates the soul’s future. This semi-deterministic past-to-future process includes the cycle of repeated birth and death. Yoga is the conscious intervention in this semi-deterministic cycle to curtail, change, and terminate the cycle.

    Use of terms like “worries” are modern inventions, because most people are anxious, worried, or depressed. People imagine that if they can reduce their worries by yoga, then they can go back to enjoying their lives. But that is not the purpose of yoga. The purpose of yoga is the cessation of all material experience, including whatever so-called temporary happiness it might yield.

    Even when there is some happiness in this world, it is always mixed with worries, because there is the possibility that the happiness can disappear. A poor man worries that he will never become rich. Then he works very hard to become rich, but he fears that his work may not be rewarded. Then if he gets the results, he worries that someone will take away his riches or position of power. In this way, there is never freedom from worry, even when we think that we are enjoying or happy.

    We are so conditioned to repeated misery and to some happiness mixed with misery that we have no idea about pure happiness. So, when there is misery, people imagine that happiness mixed with misery will be much better, and that is all they hope for. But yoga aims for pure happiness. If we can experience even a moment of pure happiness, then all other moments of mundane happiness mixed with misery will seem insignificant in comparison. Then we can understand that yoga is not about cessation of worries or miseries, but actually about the attainment of perfect happiness. That happiness is the natural state of the soul, but it is overwhelmed by the material tendencies which force it to constantly be anxious, run hither and thither, and seek outside what is already inside.

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