The Mind

7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

Purify the MindSutras 33 through 35 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:33. The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness [maitri], compassion [karuna], gladness [mudita] and indifference [upekshanam] respectively towards happiness [sukha], misery [dukha], virtue [punya] and vice [apunya].

Maitri is friendliness; friendship; love. Karuna is mercy; compassion; kindness. Mudita is complacency; joy; happiness, and implies optimism and cheerfulness. Upeksha[nam] is indifference; equanimity resulting from disinterestedness.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Western New Thought or New Age philosophy is the idea that the mind is improved by an inturned “me” kind of cultivation of what the individual wants to see in his mind. But Patanjali tells us that what is needed is a range of positive reactions to others. Further, a positive attitude is to be maintained toward situations as well as people. Of course, these same attitudes should be cultivated toward ourselves.

Both Vyasa and Shankara insist that indifference must be cultivated toward those they call “habitually unvirtuous”–not an ignoring of them as people, but not being affected by their negativity. That does not mean we should accept their wrongdoing as all right, but that we should not allow ourselves to have any emotional reaction to their deeds and habitual character. This also implies that we should not be pestering them and meddling in their lives, trying to “save” or reform them. We should be ready to help them in any way we can, especially by kindness and good will, but basically we must go our way and let them go their way. Sitting around fuming over the foolishness and evil of others will only create an affinity between us and them and eventually make us like them. As Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). This includes letting the world-involved stew and bubble about the world. As the Sanatkumars said at the beginning of this creation cycle: What have we to do with all this–we who are intent on knowing the Self?”

(Also known as the Four Kumaras, the Sanatkumars were those advanced souls–Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata–who at the beginning of this creation cycle refused to engage in worldly life despite the command of Brahma. They were then taught by Lord Shiva, in the form of Dakshinamurti, the mysteries of Brahmajnana and attained liberation.)

Sutra 1:34. Or by the expiration and retention of breath.

This is one of the sutras that is so simple we are almost sure to miss its meaning–the way Gandalf mistakes “Say ‘Friend’ and Enter” for “Speak, Friend, and Enter.”

The first step is to remember that these Sutras begin with a definition of Yoga that involves the chitta and the waves of the chitta. Just as the breeze disturbs the surface of water, in the same way the chitta is disturbed by various things, the simplest of which is breath–and that is why pranayama occupies such an important place in yoga practice. Specifically, the chitta is ruffled by inhalation. Slow inhalation produces the least effect and rapid inhalation produces the most, but there is no form of inhalation that does not produce any effect on the chitta. One the other hand, exhalation does not make waves in the chitta, nor does the suspension of breath–either holding it in or holding it out. Patanjali tells us this to give a complete picture. At this point he is not advocating any particular practice, just giving us information which will help us later on in understanding the nature and effects of pranayama.

Nevertheless, Jnaneshvara Bharati’s comment is certainly relevant: “The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.”

Sutra 1:35. Coming into activity of (higher) senses also becomes helpful in establishing steadiness of the mind.

Translators are divided in their understanding of this sutra. Some consider it to mean that concentrating on any type of sense impression–usually in the form of the memory of such impression, such as visualization–will steady the mind. Other think it means that the arising of the subtle inner senses–especially in meditation–is an aid to steadying the mind. That is why Jnaneshwar says: “The inner concentration on the process of sensory experiencing, done in a way that leads towards higher subtle sense perception: this also leads to stability and tranquility of the mind.”

Vyasa and Shankara consider this second view to be the meaning of the sutra. Vyasa says that the yogi must experience inward realities before he can possess full faith in the words of scriptures and teachers: “Therefore some one definite thing has to be directly experienced in confirmation” at least. Shankara says: “For the yogi who is practicing yoga which is to give face-to-face experience, the perception is the first direct awareness, and it give him confidence, creating enthusiasm for the practice of yoga. It is like the appearance of smoke when wood is being rubbed together to create fire. Such a perception fills him with joy because the confidence it creates, and brings his mind to steadiness.”

Next: 7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 2

Previously: The Simple Yoga Method of Removing Mental Pain and Depression


The Simple Yoga Method of Removing Mental Pain and Depression

depressionSutras 31 and 32 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:31. (Mental) pain [dukha], despair [daurmanasya], nervousness [angamejayatva] and hard breathing [shvasa-prashvasa] are the symptoms of a distracted condition of mind [vikshepa-sahabhuvah].

Dukha is pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory. Daurmanasya is despair, depression etc., caused by mental sickness; feeling of wretchedness and miserableness. Angamejayatva is shaking of the body; lack of control over the body. Shvasa-prashvasa is hard breathing; inspiration and expiration.

These are the symptoms of a mental state that is outward-turned and impelled toward–and absorbed in–externalities.

Sutra 1:32. For removing these obstacles there (should be) constant practice of one truth or principle.

The meaning of this is so simple that most commentators miss it.

Yet both Vyasa and Shankara comment that it means the practice of meditation on the One, and continual awareness of the One outside of meditation. This will unify the mind which is the producer of the problems listed in the previous sutra when it becomes fragmented or scattered by being divided by sensory experience. The only cure for this is unifying the mind by means of meditation.

When practiced for a sufficient amount of time, the state of unity can be maintained in the mind even when dealing with the multiplicities of ordinary existence.

Need more specifics? Read these articles:

Next in the Commentary on the Yoga Sutras: 7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

Previously: Om, the God-Word


How and Why to Purify the Memory

Q: What are the indications of purification of memory in the context of the Nerve of Memory?

Sri RamakrishnaIn the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (English version: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) we find the most authoritative teaching about both the nerve (nadi) and its indications.

On March 9, 1884, a devotee (Mahimacharan) asked Sri Ramakrishna:

“Sir, why does a man become deluded by worldly objects?”

Sri Ramakrishna replied: “It is because he lives in their midst without having realized God. Man never succumbs to delusion after he has realized God. The moth no longer enjoys darkness if it has once seen the light.

“To be able to realize God, one must practise absolute continence. Sages like Sukadeva are examples of an urdhvareta. (A man of unbroken and complete continence. [A yogi in whom the seminal energy flows upwards.]) Their chastity was absolutely unbroken. There is another class, who previously have had discharges of semen but who later on have controlled them. A man controlling the seminal fluid for twelve years develops a special power. He grows a new inner nerve called the nerve of memory. Through that nerve he remembers all, he understands all.”

I am aware that some people are interested in this subject to improve their ordinary memory, but that is like seeking a king’s ransom in order to buy chewing gum.

More regarding Sri Ramakrishna:

Why Are People Born with Psychic Abilities?

psychic crystal ballSutra 19 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

19. Of those who are Videhas and Prakrtilayas birth is the cause.

Patanjali is now discussing those people who from birth are seen to possess marked psychic faculties and psychic powers–even to a miraculous degree. Such persons are usually assumed to be spiritually advanced and are respected accordingly, but this is not wise.

It is only because of certain abnormalities in their previous life (or lives) that they now manifest these abilities. Patanjali says that simply being born precipitates these capabilities, and not yoga at all–no, not even in a previous life. He speaks of two classes of such people: videha and prakritilaya.


Videha means “bodiless” and he is referring to persons who for some reason spent a great deal of their time in the previous life separated from their bodies to a great degree.

Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet,” said that in his previous life he had undergone a lingering death on a battlefield in which his subtle bodies had been almost completely separated from the physical. Dying in that state, when he was reborn he possessed the intense psychic, almost mediumistic, powers he utilized in his later healing work.

Spontaneous astral projectors are videhas.


A prakritilaya is a person who in a previous birth has somehow become absorbed into certain psychic levels of existence–the subtle energies of Prakriti. Having identified with psychic energies, when they are born they have the ability to access those powers and even work miracles.

Vedehas usually manifest intellectual psychic abilities–intution, etc., and prakritilayas actually make external changes or produce external phenomena. However, each may overlap into the territory of the other.

Make no mistake

Aimee McPhersonThe important point Patanjali is making here is that they are NOT spiritually advanced people, but only possessors of unusual abilities, and we must not make the mistake of attributing spiritual wisdom and worth to them.

A vivid case was that of Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous evangelist who was a remarkable psychic and healer. She was hailed as a greatly spiritual and even holy person, but in reality she was a drug and sex addict, remarkably unintelligent and amoral, and in the end committed suicide.

One time in New Delhi I was visiting with John McDiarmid, head of the UN mission to India. John kept declaring that if he believed “Sister Aimee” had really worked miracles he would stop believing in God–for he knew her true character. Like so many of East and West, John could not distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. But Patanjali certainly could, and so can we if we apply ourselves.

Previous Sutras: Patanjali’s Two Types of Samadhi
Next: The Four Qualities Necessary for Samadhi

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Patanjali’s Two Types of Samadhi

Siva in samadhiSutras 17 and 18 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

17. Samprajñata Samadhi is that which is accompanied by reasoning, reflection, bliss and sense of pure being.

Samprajñata samadhi, also known as savikalpa samadhi, is defined by A Brief Sanskrit Glossary as:

“State of superconsciousness, with the triad of meditator, meditation and the meditated; lesser samadhi; cognitive samadhi; samadhi of wisdom; meditation with limited external awareness. Savikalpa samadhi.”

It is a kind of superconscious bridge between relative and absolute consciousness, partaking of both, but neither exclusively. Its distinctive qualities are:

  1. The capacity for vitarka–thought and reasoning with sense perception.
  2. The capacity for vichara–subtle thought and reflection.
  3. Experience of bliss (ananda).
  4. Experience of the sense of “I am,” “I exist,” the sense of individuality of being (asmita).

Vyasa and Shankara consider this sutra as a list of ascending forms of lesser samadhi. Vyasa sums it up:

“Of these the first samadhi–with verbal associations, vitarka–is associated with all four [forms]. The second–with subtle associations, vichara–is without the verbal associations of the first. The third–with associations of bliss, ananda–is without the subtle associations of the second. The fourth, being pure I-am, is without the association of bliss. All these samadhis rest on an object.”

Shankara explains regarding this:

“In this sequence of four, an earlier one is associated with the qualities of all the later ones, and a later one is without the qualities of any earlier one.”

18. The remnant impression left in the mind on the dropping of the Pratyaya after previous practice is the other [i.e., Asamprajñata Samadhi].

There are two forms of samadhi: samprajñata and asamprajñata. Samprajñata samadhi is characterized by the four qualities listed in the last sutra.

When those four are also removed by further practice, then the state of asamprajñata is reached. Jnaneshvara Bharati puts it very well and completely:

“The other kind of samadhi is asamprajñata samadhi, and has no object in which attention is absorbed, where only latent impressions [samskaras] remain; attainment of this state is preceded by the constant practice of allowing all of the gross and subtle fluctuations of mind [vrittis] to recede back back into the field from which they arose.”

Previous Sutras: How We Can Deal with the Storms of the Mind: Abhyasa and Vairagya
Next: Why Are People Born with Psychic Abilities?

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How We Can Deal with the Storms of the Mind: Abhyasa and Vairagya

Crashing WavesSutras 12 through 16 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

12. Their suppression [is brought about] by persistent practice [abhyasa] and non-attachment [vairagya].

Two things are needed for the ending of mental modifications. One is abhyasa–sustained spiritual practice. This is why Krishna speaks of abhyasa yoga. The other is purely psychological: vairagya. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines vairagya as:“Non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference. Indifference towards and disgust for all worldly things and enjoyments.”

13. Abhyasa is the effort for being firmly established in that state [of chitta-vritti-nirodha].

Jnaneshvara Bharati expands on this, saying: “Abhyasa means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state.” Shankara simply says that abhyasa consists of the observance of yama and niyama, which are to be discussed later on.

14. It [abhyasa] becomes firmly grounded on being continued for a long time, without interruption and with reverent devotion.

Vyasa: “Carried through with austerity, with brahmacharya, with knowledge and with faith, in reverence it becomes firmly grounded.”

Shankara: “Unless it is for a long time, and unless it is uninterrupted, the practice does not become firmly grounded.”

15. The consciousness of perfect mastery [of desires] in the case of one who has ceased to crave for objects, seen or unseen, is Vairagya.

Sri RamakrishnaSri Ramakrishna said: “A certain woman said to her husband: ‘So-and-so has developed a spirit of great dispassion for the world, but I don’t see anything of the sort in you. He has sixteen wives. He is giving them up one by one.’ The husband, with a towel on his shoulder, was going to the lake for his bath. He said to his wife: ‘You are crazy! He won’t be able to give up the world. Is it ever possible to renounce bit by bit? I can renounce. Look! Here I go.’ He didn’t stop even to settle his household affairs. He left home just as he was, the towel on his shoulder, and went away. That is intense renunciation.

“There is another kind of renunciation, called ‘markata vairagya,’ ‘monkey renunciation.’ A man, harrowed by distress at home, puts on an ochre robe and goes away to Benares. For many days he does not send home any news of himself. Then he writes to his people: ‘Don’t be worried about me. I have got a job here.”

Vairagya is not an on-and-off matter, but a permanent cessation of any desire for any object whatsoever. Vyasa says that one with true vairagya “is inwardly aware of the defects in objects by the power of his meditation.”

16. That is the highest Vairagya in which, on account of the awareness of the Purusha, there is cessation of the least desire for the Gunas.

The preceding sutra was about vairagya in relation to objects. This goes further and speaks of dispassion-desirelessness is relation to the three modes of Prakriti, the gunas. These are discussed at length in the Bhagavad Gita, but simply put they are the three modes of energy behavior–qualities of energy. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines guna as: “Quality, attribute, or characteristic arising from nature (Prakriti) itself; a mode of energy behavior.

As a rule, when “guna” is used it is in reference to the three qualities of Prakriti, the three modes of energy behavior that are the basic qualities of nature, and which determine the inherent characteristics of all created things. They are:

  1. sattwa–purity, light, harmony;
  2. rajas–activity, passion; and
  3. tamas–dullness, inertia, and ignorance.”

There can be attachment to the qualities of subtlety, intelligence, and purity (sattwa), of effectiveness and efficiency and mastery (rajas), and stability and steadiness (tamas). But these, too, are illusory like other objects.

However such vairagya does not come from insight into the nature of objects or gunas but from knowing the Self. Only when we enter fully into the Self will all desire of any kind cease. For that reason Self-knowledge or atma-jnana should be our aim at all times, for that alone will eliminate all that stands between us and perfect freedom (moksha or jivanmukti).

Previously: The 5 Kinds of Modifications of the Mind

Next: Two Kinds of Samadhi

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