What is Vritti in ‘Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha’ : Causes of Mind Fluctuations

“Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha” is one of the beginning sutras from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

It tells us, what the true essence of Yoga is. Every single practice in yoga whether it’s Asana, Pranayama, meditation or some spiritual karma has the ultimate aim of ‘self-realization’. Patanjali knew the ‘truer sense of self (self-realization)’ can be realized only when the Chitta is released from the burden of vrittis.

What is Vritti meaning?

”Chitta vritti” is the Sanskrit term for ‘Mind chatter’. Vritti can be understood as ‘Fickle thought impulses which clutter the mind’. Chitta means is not limited up to the mind here but it’s the source of consciousness of a person. Vrittis stems out of Chitta & create disturbance in the consciousness level of a person.

To make understand how vritti prevents us from self-realization experience & burdens on Chitta – Swami Vivekananda gave an example of a lake.

Consider a silent lake. When we throw a stone into the lake, ripples start appearing on the surface. Until we stop throwing a stone, it gradually appears at the surface. These ripples don’t let us see at the bottom of the lake.

The lake is like our Chitta or Manas. The stones we throw into the lake is the external causes which enter in mind through senses.

Vritti is the ripples appeared on the surface of the lake. Regular accumulation of vritti over Chitta surface (lake surface) makes the bottom vision unclear. This unclear surface keeps us from experiencing the deeper truth of self.

Hence, Vritti is the fluctuations (of chattering mind) that affect our perception of experiencing the reality. Usually, vritti is the result of our attachments, desires & fear of the external world.

A Hindu Philosophy on Vritti

vritti in Hinduism describes on the basis of samskara. Samskara is the result of our past karma that left imprints on the mind. Samskara gives the mind a direction to express the variety of emotions & behaviour towards different situations.

vrittis are the result of samskara, which produces another samskara. Hence, Vritti (वृत्ति) is like a cycle (circle – Vritt ‘वृत्त’) of thought patterns into which our awareness keep bound to certain objects. This bound awareness always creates the disturbance in realizing the higher consciousness.

The practice of yoga aims to control the vrittis of the chattering mind, so we can get the reality behind it. Patanjali described 5 vritti to understand how mind experience a thought pattern & modify it according to the buddhi (Intellect).

These ‘5 vrittis‘ gives us an idea that the ‘vritti’ is not limited only to perception experienced in waking state. but vritti is also all the perception in dreams or an altered state of consciousness.

The 5 Vrittis

  1. Right cognition (Pramana)
  2. Misconception (Viparyaya)
  3. Imagination (Vikalpa)
  4. Sleep (Nidra)
  5. Memory (Smriti)

1. Right cognition  (Pramana)

Right cognition or Pramana is the ‘proof’ of information to be valid according to our belief, experience & morals. Pramana vritti of mind let us believe that something is ‘firmly’ right. It’s our buddhi which continually modifying our perception to make an experience a truth. The same experience which is true for us, someone can have the exact opposite sensation for it.

For a piece of information to be Right (Pramana), there are 2 conditions must be fulfilled in every condition.

  • True nature of that information revealed using 5 senses
  • The outcome of information should have a useful application

For example – Consider a mirage. If you see it from a distant, there appears to be water (Information we perceive through 5 senses is real). but in actual, there is no water (The outcome of the result has no useful application).

In further sutra, Patanjali gives 6 kinds of Pramana vritti through which mind acquire the right knowledge.

  1. Direct experience (pratyaksha) :
  2. Inference (anumana) :
  3. Comparison (upamana) :
  4. Postulation (arthapatti) :
  5. Non-apprehension (anupalabdhi) :
  6. Verbal testimony (sabda)

2. Misconception (Viparyaya)

Misconception or Viparyaya refers to the vritti when the mind gets false knowledge based on the mistake of 5 senses. All knowledge of the external world we get through 5 senses & sometimes this knowledge is deceptive. The phenomenon of mirage is an example of a Viparyaya vritti where we easily deceit using 5 senses.

In Sanskrit, the term prapancha describes the ‘World’. prapancha literally translates into ‘perception through 5 sense’. Everything we taste, see, touch, sound, and smells (5 senses) in the world is just what we perceive through 5 senses & what is relevant to us. Viparyaya vritti of mind don’t let us perceive real knowledge of experience & we keep bound in the unreality of 5 senses.

So, our acquired knowledge can be misconceived sometimes & Viparyaya vritti of mind leads us towards the untrue perception of reality. Yoga calms the thought patterning of mind & thus the internal structure of mind becomes silent. Now, we start seeing things at its true essence instead of what we perceive them to be.

3. Imagination (Vikalpa)

We all know about what imagination is, Right? Imagination is just a thought pattern of past, future or about an event that does not exist in reality instead it’s just our mind created the picture. As it’s stem out of mind, it’s another kind of mind vritti. Other synonyms for vikalpa vritti are fantasy, daydreaming, doubt & indecision.

Imagination vritti is more subtle than the previous two vrittis in terms of perceiving the knowledge. Knowledge is perceived in previous two vrittis (Right cognition & Misconception) using 5 senses whereas imagination vritti doesn’t require 5 senses. The mind can hypothetically create a picture about an event without the use of 5 senses.

Imagination vritti of mind sometimes is beneficial for a person to achieve a target if it’s used in the controlled & practical manner. It’s the controlled imagination kalpana. On the other hand, Vikalpa vritti is uncontrol imagination which diverts the mind in fantasy idea for a few moments only & then we divert from it very next moment.

Yoga eliminates the vikalpa vritti that create disturbance in mind. The practice of concentration & meditation let us control our imagination vritti. Once you start controlling the imagination, you can control the mind as well. In this way, by controlling the vritti you can achieve enlightenment state (Samadhi) in yoga.

4. Sleep (Nidra)

Nidra is an altered state of consciousness where all 5 senses dissolved into the mind & mind directs inwards so that we lose control over thought patterning of mind. Nidra is also a vritti of mind because it still experiencing a thought unconsciously. One more reason to call nidra a vritti is when poor or good sleep quality affects our awakening state.

In yoga sutra, Patanjali emphasized on feeling the peace of mind in deep sleep. Patanjali said ”Silence Study of dreams and deep sleep states stabilize the mind” (YS 1.38). So, it’s not always that sleep is a vritti because one can use it to find the stability of mind.

The body actually doesn’t need to sleep the way we think it to be. Body & mind needs only regenerative relaxation & gap between continues thought-waves for a while. For this kind of sleep, Yoga nidra is an ancient meditation practice where you consciously experience the activity of deep sleep state. One can enjoy the deep relaxation in Yoga nidra at the end asana class with yoga nidra tracks playing alongside.

5. Memory (Smriti)

Memory is lasting impressions of past sensation or emotion which is stored consciously or unconsciously by the person’s mind. The mind then recollects these stored thought patterns according to the situation & hence it affects our experience of delivering reality.

Patanjali explained, “Memory is the recollection of ‘unforgotten experiences’ which can be both conscious & unconscious but without adding any other characteristics from other sources.” Memory is the last Chitta Vritti that sometimes can boost your mood or feel you angry. In this way, memory can influence the working of your present moment at a very great extent.

meditation or one-pointed concentration in yoga aims to minimize the effect of past experiences. These practice stills the moment at the present moment and doesn’t let fluctuate the mind over past Smriti.

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