Chitta Vritti Nirodha

As I have already mentioned earlier, this line of YS has a conceptual significance for the whole subsequent understanding of the text, as well as the practice of yoga in general, so I have decided to dedicate to it not one article (I guess so far there are three J apart from those already written) but several. In the first one I will try to draw the analysis of Yoga definition given by Patanjali, relying on the text itself. In the following two articles I will try to clarify the subject matter of chitta vritti nirodhah on some comprehensible examples taken from life, practice and other esoteric systems.

So let us start with word by word analysis.


As mentioned above, the Sanskrit word chitta has about 10 different variants of translation. In addition we should bear in mind the options used by Yoga classics in their translations that are different from those given in the dictionary. Vivekananda, for instance, translates chitta as the “mind-stuff”, and the aforementioned Desikachar, in fact, equals it to attention. Let us try to look into the meaning of this word on our own.

First of all we should note that none of the concepts given in the dictionary can be adequate since all of them are the products of Western psychology, namely, of the recent two centuries of its development. And in terms of the two thousand years old’ text the usage of notions that are semantically equal is merely impossible. The logic of reality description is different. The Western psychology, walking along the path of exact sciences, describes the mental processes as if from the outside, as an element of “objective” reality, while nearly all mystical traditions including yoga look at them as if from inside, from the perspective of the subject. The understanding of this fact will help us in our further investigation.

Unfortunately, Patanjali himself does not give the definition of chitta. Neither have I found it other sources. However the term itself is used quite often. Upon reading some other primary yoga sources we will find numerous references to chitta in different contexts.

The Gheranda Samhita:

3.70. The Prithivi-Tattva has the colour of orpiment (yellow), the letter (la) is its secret symbol or seed, its form is four-sided, and Brahma, its presiding deity. Place this Tatva in the heart, and fix by Kumbhaki the Prana-Vayus and the Chitta there for the period of five ghatikas (2 ½ hours). This is called Adhodharana. By this, one conquers the Earth, and no early-elements can injure them: and it causes steadiness.

From this very strophe it becomes clear that according to the opinion of ancient yogis chitta is something that can be fixed in a certain body zone, so it confirms the afore-set idea that none of the dictionary definitions does fit. Of course in terms of Russian-speaking yoga we use the term “to concentrate one’s mind” but from the point of psychology this wording is not quite correct. To the effect that it is not the mind as a mental function that is concentrated. Yet there is still something that we “concentrate”, and this something is very close to that desired – the chitta. We could have substituted the word “attention” for the word “mind” for this we can concentrate. But it comes clear to any practicing person that generally speaking “to concentrate one’s minds” is not quite the same as “to direct one’s attention”. The first act contains some active, volitional, Yang component, while the second one has the accepting, the Yin one [1]. Still this is not the only difference in the core essence of these terms. Prior to illustrating other differences we shall quote another passage from Gheranda Samhita.

4.2. Let one bring the Chitta (thinking principle) under his control by withdrawing it, whenever it wanders away drawn by the various objects of sight.

4.3. Praise or censure; good speech or bad speech; let one withdraw his mind from all these and bring the Chitta under the control of the Self.

4.4. From sweet smells or bad smells, from bitter or astringent tastes, by whatever taste the mind may be attracted, let one withdraw it from that, and bring it within the control of his Self.

On the basis of 4.2 we see that chitta may be located beyond one’s body. Seems like so far it all fits. The attention can be directed beyond the body. The mind by definition stays within the body. But let us remember the classic psychological experience that F. Perls liked to demonstrate. He used to show a glass to the audience, talking rather emotionally about it, and then he would out of a sudden smash it against the floor. Many of those in the audience thus experienced some unpleasant bodily sensations because their something (their “Self” in terms of Gestalt psychology) was not within their body but within the glass. And this something is not mere attention. Though it was not the mind either (in terms of purely psychological discourse). We can draw another similar example of sport fans starting to feel worse after their favourite team has lost the game. In this case their something is identical with the team. A mother feels her child’s illnesses, even without the body contact. People who love each other can feel each other’s state. In all these cases it appears as if a person does not belong in his body but is partially identified with something else. His something is beyond him. The afore-mentioned Perls liked to ask the following question in terms of his lecture: “How many of those sitting here are thinking about the past? And who is thinking about the future? So, who is sitting here …”

Then, chitta has something to do with energy but it is not equal to it. “Let the yogi take hold of the chitta together with prana” (quotation from the Shiva Samhita) [2]. What does this mean? Both in the context of practice and in the context of everyday activities it is clear that what you do may either comply or not comply with your emotional disposition. You can do one thing and think about something else. At this moment the chitta is in one place, and prana, the energy of what you do, is elsewhere. You can practice yoga but belong to a different place. But if you have focused your attention, consciousness, etc. on what you do, if emotionally you are “within” the things you do – you have brought chitta together with prana. That is, in fact, have reached a state that in scope of Osho’s tradition is called “non-duality” or “totality”.

In virtue of the drawn examples we feel that the term chitta is becoming intuitively clear, although it cannot be brought to precise correlation with any of the Western psychological terms. The most accurate, although a bit cumbersome, would be the term “the inner substantial self-sentiment of man“. And here we immediately recollect the same very cumbersome but discreet in respect of the original text Vivekananda’s definition of chitta as the “mind-stuff”. I shall highlight here that Vivekananada, being a practicing person, has not put it as “mind / thought” but the “mind-stuff”. The practicing people, as well as those ordinary ones prone to introspection, have experienced the feeling of essentiality of their inner self-sentiment. It is not without reason that in Russian and other languages there are metaphors like “to lose oneself”, “to leave one’s heart in some place”, “to grip an audience”, “to give someone a piece of one’s mind”, “to stick in the mind” and hundreds of others. These metaphors give a good conceptualization of the inner experience of the person’s perception of his energetic essence. Note here that the person’s perception of itself as an energetic [3] creature comes as a fundamental basis of numerous esoteric and occult systems, and in latent form – of psychoanalytic school as well. And there is nothing unusual in this. Having one and the same as the object of their experiments – this being a man – they shall inevitably come to similar (within the accuracy of interpretation in scope of the system) practices and experience.

Then the question of Perls that one can come across in terms of everyday life: “Where are you? I see that you are not here” can be easily correlated with quotation from Gheranda. You, or, mainly, your chitta is within some dreams or reminiscences, or within another person [4].


According to the dictionary vritti is:

1) turn 2) behavior 3) activity, work 4) means of subsistence 5) temper, disposition 6) habit 7) frame of mind 8) aptitude 9) comments, interpretation

However, the dictionary also gives a set phrase Chitta-Vritti translated as 1) the state 2) the mood / disposition.

This would seem once again to be the excess of meanings that can make our definition of yoga yet completely blurred. But here Patanjali himself comes to our rescue for in lines 1.5 – 1.11 he gives an exhaustive list of 5 types of vritti, explaining the meaning of each of the five terms. In addition to this, in lines 1.3 and 1.4 Patanjali clarifies the core of being in the state of chitta-vritti-nirodhah and vice versa, of being in the absence of it.

1.5. There are five classes of modifications (vritti), painful and not painful.

1.6. (These are) right knowledge, indiscrimination, verbal delusion, sleep and memory.

1.7. Direct perception, inference and competent evidence are proofs (right knowledge)

1.8. Indiscrimination is false knowledge not established in real nature.

1.9. Verbal delusion follows from words having no (correspondent) reality (mental speculation).

1.10. Sleep is a Vrtti which embraces the feeling of voidness (perceiving the inexistent objects)

1.11. Memory is when the (Vrttis of) perceived objects do not slip away (and through impressions come back to consciousness)

But here it is not this simple as well. Let us start with the list of Vrittis. The task of understanding this list resembles the child’s game of finding a feature that is common for several diverse subjects. Indeed, in terms of enlisting the vrittis the author of YS draws the following completely different notions (for the purpose of our preliminary contemplations we shall use the standard translations) as the right knowledge, non-distinction, verbal delusion, sleep and memory. Come on, find the commonality between right and wrong knowledge J …. or between the ways of describing the world (knowledge), the mental function (memory) and the mental state (sleep). The task is complicated by the fact that in line 1.5 Patanjali indicates that vrittis can be of klesha and a-klesha nature.

Without focusing our attention on the category of klesha (we’ll do that later) let us become concerned by the question of why the wise man did draw a list of 5 Vrittis as a whole, not dividing them into those of klesha and those of non-klesha kind? It would have been natural for the author of YS who is prone to thorough classifications. Maybe because each of them can be either of klesha or non-klesha nature? But then this statement comes as surplus in terms of logic. Since it is clear that any figure can either be a circle or not be a circle J. For a person who had hardened his mind by logic – and Patanjali could be undoubtedly referred to this type – such pointless statements are merely impossible. And nevertheless, being aware of Patanjali’s great mind, we can guess that still there is some common feature.

But I will stop my narration here for a while in order to go to the sea, for I have arrived here but have still been unable to tear myself away from computer and the texts. I hope to continue this on a warm Vietnamese evening, and in the meantime the readers may think on their own about the thing that unites the list of vrittis given by Patanjali J)

[1] One may find more details about the difference between meditations based upon Ha and Tha spokes in my book “The Psychology of Spiritual Advance”.

[2] Here is the complete quotation :

3.67. When the jivan-mukta (delivered in the present life,) tranquil Yogi has obtained, through practice, the consummation of samadhi (meditation), and when this state of consummated samadhi can be voluntarily evoked, then let the Yogi take hold of the chetana (conscious intelligence, the derivative from “chitta”), together with the air, and with the force of (kriya-sakti) conquer the six wheels, and absorb it in the force called jnana-sakti.

[3] In this case the word “energy” connotes to modern notions, not the classic ones.

[4] The senior courses of our School will immediately understand that here it goes about the energetic ties (the “tails” as we call them in our jargon). They will also recollect the experiments that we propose to perform in order to demonstrate that chitta is not only subjective self-sentiment. The third person feels the fact of other people attention being focused on him even if he does not know about it.