Vritti: Pramana, Viparyaya and Vikalpa

Having made sense of “Drashtar” category we can come back to analyzing the category of “vritti”. Let us remember that vritti is something that a person identifies himself with, letting his Inner Observer (Drashtar) get dissolved in this something and thus lose its essence. By the way, this category has been invented by theosophs in order to denominate the said mystic experience. Other Schools of mysticism and philosophy denoted the respective experience as the sense of “I am” (Ramana Maharshi), crystallization of the consciousness (Gurdjieff), calm (Sufism), Dasein (Heidegger), “existential Me”, “existential identity” (D. Bugental) etc. Of course at first sight these terms don’t seem to be similar for they have emerged in scope of different discourses. The calm, for instance, verbatim means heart (under reservation “spiritual”), while Dasein literally is translated as “this-being”, “here-being”. However the detailed descriptions of the experience underlying each of these words are very similar.

The identification of Drashtar with vritti is the loss of self-identity, or to be more precise, it is the identification of self as cognizing subject with viewpoints, roles and concepts about the Self.


Let us try to understand what other meaning Patanjali was reading into the given list of vrittis and what practical conclusions result from this concept.


1.6 These are: pramannaviparyayavikalpanidra and smriti




Let us analyze the related line:


1.7 pratyaksha-anumana-agamah pramanani

pratyaksha  – perception

anumana – conclusion,

agamah – authoritative evidence

pramanani – valid knowledge


So the translation is fairly clear


1.7 The direct perception, conclusion and authoritative evidence are the pramana (right, valid knowledge).


The majority of YS readers might have made wonder: why has Patanjali referred the “valid knowledge” [1] to vritti, i.e. something that might be taken under contоl (nirodha), when it is VALID? Yet because any knowledge is relative. And further advance of a man is possible only subject to his disengagement with his habitual viewpoint, his conventional mental outlook, to putting in question, challenging the validity of his views.

In fact, this idea is not fairly obvious, especially for the work that was written 2 thousand years ago. But it implies that any world outlook can be enlarged, that we can learn something larger, something that goes beyond the limits of this world outlook, in case we are able to disengage with it. Thus it means one’s ability of reflecting one’s concepts and ideas.

Patanjali may have put pramana as the first among the vrittis because even today the majority of people are not able to reflect their point of view and go beyond its limits. In one of my journeys I met a rather educated representative of Islamic culture and I started asking him questions in order to figure out his religious position:


– Can you cease being a Muslim?

– No, I can’t.

– Why?

– For I will be punished by Allah.

– But if you cease being a Muslim you will cease believing in Allah, thus he will no longer be able to punish you…


The person “got stuck” because he is not able to understand how one can put in question the concept of Allah existence, i.e. disengage with it. And this is what Patanjali is writing about, that a viewpoint is just another form of vritti. Even if we believe that something is like this, yet it may be different, and so we can put it into doubt and disengage with it.


Following the above-set the line 1.5 becomes clear


1.5 There are five forms of vritti that are of klesha and non-klesha nature.


As we might remember from a corresponding article klesha is the person’s boundedness in the sense of his ability to transcedent. The vrittis of klesha type are the vrittis that are crucial for a man and that he emotionally “sticks to”, being actively unwilling to part with them. The ones of non-klesha nature are those which relativity and impermanence is realized by a person. For instance, a scientist who has formed his viewpoint (vikalpa) but is ready to change it subject to some convincing experimental data available abides in a non-klesha vritti. Yet when standing for his point of view becomes his “matter of honour” his vritti becomes tinged with asmita-klesha, and if he ceases listening to arguments that could have dented his viewpoint he would fall under the influence of avidya as well. If this very person refuses to accept any arguments from some opponent of his due to personal dislike, this will be the dvesa, and so on.


Curiously that though Patanjali ranks together “cognitive” and “emotional” vrittis he himself obviously refers to those latter in a more negative aspect proposing a bigger number of techniques for working with them. Such position has always been relevant for intellectuals not only in India but in European tradition as well.


Viparyaya and vikalpa


1.8 viparyayo mithya-jnanam atad-rupa-pratishtham

         viparyayo – misbelief, mistake

mithyafalse, incorrect

jnanam – knowledge

atad – not that

rupa image (in the sense of describing something, for instance rupana is a figurative description of something)

pratishtham –  the one based upon, grounded upon


1.8 Viparyaya is a false knowledge based upon not that (improper) description.


1.9 shabda-jnana-anupati-vastu-shunyo vikalpah

shabda – words, communication, sound

jnana – knowledge

anupatifollowing, consequence

vastu – object

shunyo – without, devoid

vikalpah – vikalpa. The Dictionary of Kochergina gives the translations similar to viparyaya – misbelief, mistake, but we are not satisfied with this variant thus we will so far leave this word without translation.


1.9 Vikalpa results from words that are devoid of /respective/ objects.

Тhus the most appropriate term for translation of vikapla that comes closest to the given translation yet is not given by the dictionary shall be the “mental speculation”.

I want to analyze these lines all together because as a rule an interested reader might ask: “Why has Patanjali differentiated between these 2 types of vrittisviparyaya and vikalpa, when in fact they both refer to erroneous knowledge?” However such differentiation is not only proper and justified, but it also touches upon one of the basic problems of XX century philosophy – the problem of language games that was formulated in the framework of logical positivism. This concept used to treat traditional philosophy with its “pseudo problems” – the freedom of will, of being, consciousness, history – as a language malady. From this viewpoint metaphysics occurs as a result of improper use of the language or from misusing ambiguous and vague phrases. The task of the philosopher is to refine, to clarify, and finally to cure the language from the mess of numerous multivalent layers that are confusing and misleading, and to set up a perfectly reasoned language that would be free from such “malignant” phrases.

I will draw an example to illustrate what it is about. Once a woman afflicted with schizophrenia told me: “I have some idea that has crossed my mind”. “How did it occur to you?” I asked out of interest. “From left to right” – the answer was**. The language “provides for” [2] using the phrase “idea has crossed the mind”, and if we don’t give details one might fail to notice the absurdity of the language structure. The language makes it possible to use words which meaning we don’t understand outright, that are devoid of sense or which sense is ambivalent and metaphoric, like the above-mentioned “idea that crossed the mind”. For instance, we can fight for democracy. Wait, do you know what “democracy” is? Or “I think I adhere to this political party” – and have you read its program? What does it mean “adhere”? The majority of people are entrapped by words that they use but which sense they don’t understand completely. And this is also a form of vritti. In fact, I believe the introduction of the category “mental speculation” to be a considerable breakthrough. As a matter of fact this concept brings a whole separate type of spiritual practice: to try to describe the sum and substance of the words that you use. If the substance of these words and categories is at the end based upon the personal experience of a man – great, the words will become “live”. But one may also speak using words that are not live. I used to observe this ability: you ask – the person gets actively involved into conversation, he talks much, but this talking has no substance, it’s just a set of fine words. Here, if you ask him about the meaning of some word he will once again tell you an awful lot of nice things but still they will be devoid of sense, just dead words.

The ability to differentiate between “live” and “dead” words, i.e. the words that are based upon genuine live experience and those that are not, is very important, also in scope of spiritual practice.

For instance, a person states “I am now working at my Manipura”. And here I turn into a perfect bore and ask for details about what exactly this work at Manipura means. And he replies, for instance “I have changed my place of work”. I’m sorry, but there are thousands of people on the planet who change their place of work having no idea about what Manipura is, why do you think that you “work at Manipura”? The words said are correct, but in fact the person has merely changed his work. This is not the same. For instance, if a person has changed his work in order to master some skills, deliberately, with some inner reluctance, thus overcoming his fears and habitual scenarios, if he is conscious and aware of what he is actually doing, then he has “worked at Manipura”. For example, he had a feature of getting attached to one and the same environment, and so he leaves this environment and goes into another one – then this is the work at Manipura. Otherwise he has just used a fine word for nothing.

Or, for example, if a person says “I have a tail [3] at my Manipura, that’s why I’m in poor health”. Hold on, why on earth do you consider this to be a “tail”? If this is a “tail” then you must experience a set of psycho-emotional states in respect of some person who in his turn also experiences some set of states in respect of you. If you do, then it is. But what is this you truly experience concerning this person? “I just don’t like him”. Well, these “don’t like” and “losing my manipuric energy” are two completely different states. So even if we practice yoga we sometimes want to take fine terms and pin them just like labels, without understanding the underlying essence of each of them.

Unfortunately we can come across this problem everywhere. I think that ninety percent of people use 99% of words the substance of which they completely don’t understand. Almost all social relations are based upon total incomprehension of the things happening. No one was looking more closely into things that occur. This is what Patanjali writes about. And this is the vritti. It creates one’s identification with something. For instance, a person thinks “I am a citizen of this state”. And what are you actually ready to do or has already done for your state? Or he says “I espouse this party” – but has he indeed made sense of its Program and taken a good look into consequences of his choice? Or a man says “I am a Christian”, yet he has never read Bible and does not know the fundamentals; then why it has occurred to him that he is a Christian? This is vikalpa. People simply enjoy fine words.



[1] By the way, what they have traditionally interpreted as «valid knowledge” could have been translated by means of a simple phrase “the concept of the world”

[2] “provides for” is an ambivalent language pattern as well J.

[3] A slang word that means long-lasting energy outflow from chakra.


**in the original example drawn by the author the play on words referred to the Russian “information that has come to me”, but in order to make the whole example more obvious for an English-speaking reader we have substituted “the information that has come” by “the idea that has crossed the mind” – the translator’s note.