The following is an email dialogue between our Sutra group facilitator and one of the group participants (Erez) after our Sutra Discussion Group monthly meeting on October 20th.
1. If the vrtti is considered bad, then what about pramana, isn’t that a vritti too?
Vrtti: Both terms ‘bad ’and ‘good’’ are relative in the sense that bad has a meaning only with reference to its antipode ‘good’; both being value judgments. Patanjali does not place such a value judgment on any vritti anywhere in his sutras. His idea is any vrtti, – any thought, be it an emotion, cognition, experience, memory and ego (I-notion) – is within the realm of Prakrti (matter) and you are the Purusha enshrined in the Prakrti, taking yourself to be the citta (mind stuff) and thus go through samsāra, typified by sufferings and limitations.
Patanjali has the goal of making you see that you are the Purusha, who in inherently free from Prakrti. The means of seeing this ‘already existing’ truth is to consciously and methodically disengage yourself from what appears to be the shackles of Prakrti. Note that not only the physical body but the mind stuff also is Prakrti, the latter is a subtle form of Prakrti (that is, not tangible like an arm or a leg). Though nobody takes oneself to be the body but when it comes to the mind, it is a totally different issue! The way to disassociate yourself from Prakrti, be it gross matter or subtle matter is what is called ashtangayoga.
Starting with the gross body, meaning the physical body, by doing asanas (coupled with coordinated breathing that is subtle) you free yourself from the limitation of the body – aches, pains and other exacerbating distractions. Then goes pranayama, etc., etc.,. Thus the nirodha does not mean that vrtti per se is good or bad for you to restrain it, but this restraint is a way to disengage yourself from the thralldom of prakrti.
If one were to ask, ‘is this the only way?’ The sage himself makes it very clear in his sutra at more than one place that it is not so, this can be accomplished by centering your mind in Isvara, for example. We have to extrapolate this reference to what contemporaneously called bhakti-yoga, Jnana-yoga, karma-yoga etc.,This is what is great about his eclectic view of liberation.
During the last meeting we did not complete the analysis of the second sutra except one word citta, actually it is a fragment of a compound word cittavrttinirodha! We will spend a good chunk of time next month on this compound-word.
Now to pramana. Many words in sutras are not defined since they are well known in spiritual traditions in India. It is the role of the commentators to define them as we will see when we study the sutras.The word pramana has the meaning ‘means of knowledge’. By using the pramana, the Patanjali sutras you gain pramā, knowledge of kaivalya, the prameya, this is the object of knowledge, and the goal of the sutras. This knowledge that you gain is what is called a cittavrtti.
For example, a book on French cooking is a pramana, gives you pramā, knowledge of how to do French cooking. But after knowing, some doing is involved for you to experience French Food by eating it. This is how it is regarding knowledge and experience. It is thus obvious to us all that by clearly understanding kaivalya, that is gaining this prama, one is not going to achieve kaivalya.
2. It is also interesting to learn that pramana is a means, while prama the knowledge is a cittavrtti. The knowledge (prama) being helpful as a direction to get you somewhere but may hinder the experience once you get there.
Knowledge (prama) and Experience (anubhava): In the cooking analogy I cited earlier, say, ‘The Art of French Cooking’, the imaginary book is the pramana for you to know how to do French cooking. It may list ingredients, where to get them, how good the food is etc., etc, in addition to how to make a typical French Meal. All this is for you the object of knowledge (prameya), and you, the knower gets the cittavrtti of cognition of French cooking, the prama. The experience of the taste of food made by French Cooking you did, following the prama you gained, as you see neither negates, nor belittles, much less makes the pramana useless, neither does it interfere with your experience.
Let us take a closer example. When you work on an asana, based on the pramana of the teacher’s instructions, you gain the prama as a vrtti, and use it to keep working on the asana. When you perfect the pose, you get an experience, another vritti of joy. Does this joy experience interfere with your knowledge?
The experience versus knowledge, one side belittling the other is eons old and will never end since opinionated arguments cannot end! We, as seekers are not debaters and we try to understand where each of these two are and how one is complementary and neither contradictory nor exclusive of the other.
3. Patanjali classifies vrttis as painful and painless, and I wonder for what purpose. Maybe to emphasize neutrality. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts about it in our next class.
Painful and Painless vrttis: I presume you mean the Sanskrit words klishta and aklishta in Patanjali’s fifth sutra of the first section. He uses words that are highly technical and he explains them in subsequent sutras. That said, even very common words like citta has a totally different meaning from our popular understanding. This is so since we are not exposed to the backdrop of Yoga Sutras’ underpinnings. I am sure we will see it, may be in about third or fourth monthly session! It is still going to be the second sutra when we meet next month. As you understand, ‘time to completion’ of the sutras is not the goal but to understand clearly what Patanjali wants to convey in each of his sutras. So, please bear with me for the time being.