Vrittis: Nidra and Smriti

Let us proceed to discussing the two latter Vrittis mentioned by Patanjali: smriti and nidra. In one of the previous sections of our forum we have already considered and slammed the traditional interpretation of these two words as memory and sleep. I shall remind here that in order to preserve the text consistency in terms of understanding vrittis as the states that the Inner Observer merges with we have translated the respective words as memories and dreams. Let us now verify the validity of our ideas basing upon the definitions of these categories contained directly within YS.


1.10 abhava-pratyayalambana vrittir nidra

abhava – non-entity / non-existent

pratyaya – conception, belief

alambana – the standard translation variants of this word are 1) support 2) basis, however when turning to Monier-Williams Dictionary in addition to the following meanings: n. depending on or resting upon; hanging from; supporting, sustaining; foundation; reason, cause; we shall also find the reference to various practices of Yogins related to silent repetition of mantras, inner silence etc. The core point of these practices is retention of the state, thus having preserved the root we shall give a more accurate translation variant – the retention.

vrittir – vritti

nidra – nidra

Therefore the translation of the line is:

1.10 Nidra is retaining the concept of non-existence.

Thus according to Patanjali nidra is [the process of] persistent imagining the non-existing objects. This rendition proves that traditional interpretation of the word nidra as “sleep” is not accurate, yet it makes us doubt the dream to be the proper equivalent as well. Everything is correct at first glance – in his dream a person in fact perceives the nonexistent objects. But does it happen only in dreams? One can dream of, day-dream, fancy, after all, one can hallucinate. And in all these states a person “imagines the nonexistent objects”. Moreover, all these states are well suited for the definition of vritti since they all dissolve the man within themselves depriving him of awareness. In this moment his true Self vanishes into fantasy … But do we have the right of such extending the interpretation of this word. Let us consult the dictionary. Here, the Monier-Williams gives the following translation variants of the word nidra: “languid”, “slumber”, “doze”. These translation variants are close to the set of meanings we have in our assumptions, at least in view of the fact that in state of slumber a person is always lost in reverie. It is not for nothing that the English dream means both day-dream, slumber and fantasies and it has a Russian analogue with the same root: [drje’mat’]. Yet this argument, of course, lacks some stringency. Nevertheless, since the adoption of such view provides for consistency in perception of the text, I believe that the correct interpretation of the word nidra would be this very broad interpretation that includes dreams, day-dreams, reveries and fantasies (as processes).


1.11 anubhuta-vishayasanpramosha smritih

anubhuta – perceived, experienced, understood

vishaya – topic, subject matter, object, issue

 asanpramosha – not let go (passive), not lost

smritih – smriti

Let us draw attention to how manifold, ambiguous and profound the Sanskrit terminology is. The memories can be treated as “something that is not lost”, “understanding of the issue” or “perception of an object”. All of them in our present understanding are the memories/recollections.

Thus, if we put it in a nutshell:

1.11 Smriti are the perceptions and experiences that are not lost.

The translation of this line fits itself in the assumption of ours that smriti are the memories in which the person is dissolved, moreover, those that “draw” him into themselves. In commenting one of the previous articles they have asked me why memories are qualified as vritti. I can explain now. Imagine that in your life you’ve experienced some unpleasant situation (say, a conflict). And your mind keeps coming back to this situation, “chewing it over” again and again. It is obvious that at that time you are busy with the pointless activity that distracts you from the present moment and plaques your life out. Sometimes these memories become so habitual that they cease being conscious, and so a person is sitting “on his face with pensive frown…”. Whether a person is able to take his mind off these thoughts, to draw himself out of memories or not – shall depend upon his level of respective training. Most people do not have this skill.

Here is another example that brings smriti close to the category of samskara that we have not yet analyzed. When we see a person we perceive him through the prism of our past experience, for instance, if he resembles another person who has caused us an offence we shall start to treat the new contact in some negative manner, as if “drawing” the old image on the new situation. In scope of psychology they refer to such situation as dynamic stereotype. The whole core point of contemporary Psychoanalysis (the psychodynamic therapy) comes down to drawing the person out of such stereotypes, giving him a chance to perceive the situation without any presets, this in fact being a modern version of releasing one from vrittis. And so it once again confirms the assumption that all solid systems of psychological practices eventually come to similar methods and results.

In reply to the question whether the memories can be of “feeding” kind I would say that yes, they can, but those memories don’t draw one into themselves and they not deprive Drashtar of his svarupa , i.e., having it in common language, they do not deprive a person of integrity and awareness. Incidentally, it is on the basis of the example with nidra and smriti that the criterion of achieving the state of chitta-vritti-nirodha becomes more clear – in this state the person himself decides in what state he would abide, and he is “drawn” neither into memories nor to dreams. We can say that the state of chitta-vritti-nirodha is the state of total, aware staying in “here-and-now” of a person who is open to the Universe.

I would like to conclude this article by citing the words of William James that I have placed in Twitter when started working with the article: “People think that they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices”. William James.

One could scarcely find any better way of saying about vrittis and their respective influence.