is the bridge that connects the lower mind with the
higher mind. Through that the aspirant crosses over
from the din and distractions of the sense-bound world
to the world of stillness and silence, from the world
of darkness to the world of everlasting light. All preliminary
spiritual disciplines end in meditative awareness.
spiritual struggles lead the aspirant to the boundaries
of the discursive mind. There the aspirant encounters
the thought barrier. Take the case of sound: It is nothing
but air waves. Yet an ordinary airplane cannot go beyond
the speed of sound. Only specially constructed planes
with powerful engines can break the sound barrier. Similarly,
though thoughts are apparently feeble, non-substantial
things, one cannot easily go beyond thoughts. It is
through meditation that the aspirant pierces the thought
barrier and reaches the higher plane of intuition.
Five States of the Mind
have already seen that consciousness pulsates through
the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep.
Even during the waking state the mind does not always
remain in the same condition. According to the commentators
on the Yoga Sutras, the human mind may exist
in any of five states: ksiptam (restless), mudham
(dull), viksiptam (preoccupied), ekagram
(concentrated) and niruddham (closed).1
Bhoja says that in every person one of these states
of mind predominates, and this determines his or her
behavior. Spiritual aspirants may find their minds going
through the first four states repeatedly. This is a
big problem especially during the early years of spiritual
life, and those who want to lead a meditative life should
have a clear understanding of the five states.
or the restless state of mind is one in which the mind
is totally under the sway of the senses. It flits aimlessly
like a butterfly. This is the predominant state of mind
in children and those who lead a purely sense-bound
life. It is a state in which rajas predominates.
Restlessness of the mind can be controlled through disciplined
work, deep studies, yoga exercises, etc.
the state called mudham, the mind remains dull
and inactive owing to a preponderance of tamas.
It may be caused by physical factors like fatigue or
disease. But more often it is caused by conflict of
emotions. When the conflict between two opposing desires
becomes too strong, the mind enters an impasse. The
problem becomes worse when, owing to repression, the
person is unable to detect the cause of the conflict.
The blues, depression, spiritual dryness, etc. also
come under this category, and their origin can usually
be traced to the building up of tension in the unconscious.
third state is viksiptam in which the mind remains
active but not restless as in the first state. It becomes
preoccupied with different ideas. This is the predominant
state of mind in scientists, artists, philosophers,
scholars, social workers and other cultured people.
This condition is brought about by the prevalence of
both rajas and sattva in more or less
equal measure. This is a state in which concentration
can be practiced, for concentration is impossible in
the first two states. However, this concentration is
only a sort of preoccupation with ideas or activities
and is something quite different from true meditation,
as has been pointed out elsewhere.2
Spiritual aspirants should learn to keep the mind at
least in this state through work, studies and deep thinking.
now come to the fourth state of mind known as ekagram
in which alone higher spiritual experience becomes possible.
In this state the mind remains calm, concentrated, and
free from mental automatisms; the will is free from
the hold of desires, and the buddhi or intuition
is awake. It is a state in which sattva predominates.
Whereas the first three states are natural to humanity,
the fourth state has to be acquired through years of
purification and discipline, especially continence or
brahmacarya. Complete continence increases the
spiritual force known as ojas as a result of
which the brain becomes cool, a new power like an electric
charge develops in it, and the whole subtle body becomes
luminous. By ekagram is meant, not ordinary concentration,
but a state of higher contemplation. This becomes a
permanent attribute only when the psycho-physical system
is made ready.
fifth state of mind, known as niruddham, is a
superconscious state. Whereas in the previous state
the vrittis waves of the mind are
only restrained, here the mind remains completely closed.
No vritti, and hence no experience, arises in the mind;
samskaras (latent impressions) alone remain in
the unconscious depths. In this state the mind ceases
to be mind, as Gaudapada puts it.3
Yogis call this state asamprajnata or nirbija,
while Vedantins call it nirvikalpa. Only a person
who is fully established in the fourth state can really
attain this highest state. If others attempt to "close"
their minds by suppressing all vrittis artificially
(e.g. by certain exercises of Hatha Yoga), the usual
result will only be a kind of hypnotic stupor or a state
of suspended animation.
of the Mind
is the mind? It is difficult to find a right answer
to this question. Air cannot be seen with the eyes;
we can only feel its presence when it moves. Similarly,
when the mind is perfectly still, its presence cannot
be detected. The mind is known only by its functions.
have already discussed several functions of the mind.
Before proceeding further it is necessary to restate
these synoptically. According to Pancasikha,
a very ancient authority on Yoga, the functions of the
mind are of two types: those which are perceived (pari-drista)
and those which are unperceived (apari-drista).
Various vrittis, which produce names, forms and emotions,
belong to the first type. The second type of functions,
which cannot be directly perceived but can be inferred
from their effects, has been divided into seven groups.4
first of these, nirodha (suppression), is the capacity
of the mind to be free from all vrittis. In fact, between
every two thoughts the mind remains free of vrittis
for a split second. This interval is normally so short
that it is seldom noticed, but by practice it can be
prolonged. The second and third functions are karma
and samskara, which respectively mean karmasaya
and vasana explained in the last editorial. The
fourth function is parinama which means the various
mental transformations to be discussed soon. The fifth
function is jivanam, life-activities or the movements
of prana, for it is the mind which controls and
guides the movements of prana, which in turn animates
the body. The sixth function, cesta, is the unseen
action of the mind which makes the senses work. When
the mind is elsewhere we will not see an object even
if we are looking at it.
seventh unseen function of the mind is sakti
by which is meant the various mysterious psychic powers
like clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-transference,
psycho-kinesis, etc., which remain undeveloped in ordinary
people. Patanjali calls these powers vibhutis
and has dealt with them in detail in his Yoga Aphorisms.
Swami Vivekananda in his lecture on "The Powers of the
Mind" speaks about the miraculous powers of certain
people which he personally tested and found to be true.5
It is commonplace to condemn these extraordinary powers
as bad or dangerous. But it should be remembered that
what is really harmful is not the powers themselves
but the way they are used. Great saints and sages in
all countries have used them with discrimination for
the welfare of suffering humanity. Says Swami Vivekananda,
"The powers acquired by the practice of Yoga are not
obstacles for the yogi who is perfect, but are apt to
be so for the beginner."6
should not look upon the mind as a source of sin, conflict
and sorrow. The human mind is a storehouse of great
powers. But owing to various obstacles and limitations,
only a fraction of these is manifested in normal life.
And it is with this small fraction that all the great
discoveries of science and the achievements of art have
been made. A yogi looks upon his or her mind as a source
of power, peace and goodness. The Gita says that
a properly cultivated and purified mind acts as one’s
friend and an undisciplined mind acts as one’s
enemy.7 Instead of
looking upon oneself as a weak, miserable, worthless
sinner, a spiritual aspirant should constantly remember
the infinite possibilities that remain hidden in the
mind waiting to be discovered and developed. This is
the central point in Swami Vivekananda’s message
to the modern world. Such a bracing yogic attitude is
a necessary precondition for the practice of meditation.
Will and Its Function
the powers and functions of the mind are really the
powers of prakriti, its unmanifested cause. However,
the powers of prakriti are not manifested in all beings
in an equal degree. Knowledge, skill, talents, strength,
emotions, virtue—all these vary very much from
person to person. How does this variation come about?
answer is given by Patanjali in two important aphorisms
which, according to Swami Vivekananda, provide the whole
rationale of evolution. These aphorisms are: "Evolution
of species is caused by the filling in of prakriti"
and "Individual effort is needed, not to produce changes,
but to remove the obstacles to the manifestation of
prakriti, as in the case of the farmer."8
Explaining these aphorisms, Swami Vivekananda says,
"The water for irrigation of fields is already in the
canal, only shut in by gates. The farmer opens these
gates, and the water flows in by itself by the law of
gravitation. So all progress and power are already in
every man, perfection is man's nature, only it is barred
in and prevented from taking its proper course. If anyone
can take the bar off, in rushes nature."9
Prakriti does all work. All the changes going on in
the universe are the working of prakriti. Individual
effort is needed only to remove the obstacles to the
working of prakriti.
does this individual effort come from? It cannot be
from prakriti itself, as the Samkhya philosophers hold,
for then it will not explain the part played by the
farmer. Nor can it be from the true Self or Atman which
is of the nature of pure consciousness. The volitional
impulse must therefore come from the empirical self,
which is the reflection of the true Self on the buddhi.
It is the agent-self (karta) whose chief characteristic
is will. Consciousness and will are the higher and lower
aspects of the self. Sri Ramanuja and other dualist
thinkers do not accept the distinction between true
(paramarthika) and empirical (vyavaharika)
selves. According to them consciousness and will are
the static and dynamic aspects respectively of the same
self. The self as the knower is consciousness, the self
as the doer is will. For our purpose it is enough to
know that will is a product of consciousness, as pointed
out by Swami Vivekananda.10
The self is endowed with both consciousness and
power power not to create but to remove obstacles,
for prakriti does all creative work. It is significant
that in ancient Yoga texts the Purusa is referred to
as citi-sakti (consciousness-power), and Vyasa
uses this term throughout his commentary on Patanjali's
mind can be controlled not by the mind but by something
higher, namely the self. The self exercises this control
through the will. But if the will is itself bound, the
mind cannot be controlled. The more free the will is,
the greater the mind-control. Only the yogis have free
will. Says Swamiji, "Remember always that only the free
have free will: all the rest are in bondage
as will is bound."11
consciousness is ever free, bondage applies only to
the will. It is the will that is bound, and so freedom
applies only to the will. It is the will that is bound,
and so freedom really means freedom of the will. It
becomes free when it becomes one with the Atman. Swamiji
says, "That which seems to be the will is really the
Atman behind, it is really free."12
In the vast majority of humanity the will is bound by
desires, both good and bad. Freedom of will means freedom
from both good and bad desires, freedom to remain as
the pure Atman.
popular notion of "free will" as the freedom to do anything
one pleases is not true freedom. In fact, in the normal
day-to-day life of the average person, free will rarely
comes into operation. Most of our normal actions are
controlled by good or bad desires. A good person’s
will is as much controlled by good desires as a bad
person’s will is controlled by bad desires. We
understand how much bound our will is only when we try
to meditate. The test of freedom of will is the ability
to focus the mind on the Atman. This becomes possible
only when the will is freed from bad as well as good
desires and directed to its own source. One of the most
pathetic things in spiritual life is the inability of
even good people to turn to God freely.
then does the will become free? Every person has a limited
degree of freedom of will, somewhat like the freedom
that a cow tied to a post has to move. It is by continually
exercising this limited freedom that a person finally
gets full freedom. Self-analysis and constant discrimination
are great aids in this task. Another way is to pray
to God intensely. What years of self-effort cannot achieve,
grace accomplishes in a short time. It should also be
noted that a good will is comparatively more free to
turn towards God than a bad will. So one of the first
tasks in spiritual life is to acquire a good will through
is important to keep in mind the difference between
will and desire. Will is the power of the self. Desire
is produced by samskaras and is a power of mind.
The will, being a spiritual faculty, does not directly
act on the external world but does through the medium
of the mind. When the will becomes connected to a desire,
it becomes a samkalpa or intention. The actions
of ordinary people are impelled by various samkalpas.
The actions of a yogi are impelled by the pure will,
detached from desires. When the will is directed inward
towards the Atman, it becomes meditation.
usual Sanskrit term for will is iccha, but this
is also used to mean desire. The Gita uses a
more accurate term for will: dhirti. It classifies
dhriti into three types sattvika, rajasika
and tamasika depending upon the degree
of freedom of the will." That will by which the activities
of the mind, senses and prana are controlled through
unflinching Yoga is sattvika. That will by which
Dharma, wealth and pleasure are pursued and which demands
immediate results is rajasika. That will by which
the stupid man holds on to sleep, fear, sorrow, depression
and lust is tamasika."13
concentration passes through three stages: dharana,
dhyana and samadhi, of which the second
stage alone is called meditation. All the three stages
together are termed samyama.
normal mental life of the average person is dominated
by mental automatisms and impulses resulting in the
preoccupation with certain ideas and confused awareness.
The main cause for this is unsteadiness of the will.
For clear awareness, the will must first of all be detached
from desires and then fixed at a particular center of
consciousness within. This fixing of the will is called
dharana. This becomes possible only when the
center of consciousness is developed through purification
of the mind, prayer, worship, etc. An easier method
of dharana is to fix the mind on an external object
by gazing at it, steadily. Books on Yoga, Buddhism and
occultism teach this kind of concentration on a mandala,
a crystal or a point. Progress is quicker by this method
but, since this may lead to the development of psychic
powers, spiritual aspirants are usually advised to practice
second stage is dhyana or meditation. It should
be noted here that all the so-called meditation techniques
are really techniques of dharana. Meditation
is not a technique but a stage in concentration. When
by following a particular technique of dharana a single
stream of thought is maintained, it becomes meditation.
The door (i.e. dharana) to meditation may vary, the
object of meditation may also vary, but meditation as
a mental process does not vary in its basic nature.
Indeed, meditation or meditative awareness may be regarded
as a common highway shared, at least for a short distance,
by all the different religious paths. It is therefore,
important to know the mental processes involved in meditation.
is an attempt to reduce the number of thoughts. In dhyana,
by the use of will-power, distracting thoughts have
been eliminated and, like the wire in a one-stringed
musical instrument, the mind remains stretched between
the subject and the object. Owing to self-direction
there is some tension in the mind, but this is not like
the tension produced by stress and conflicts in ordinary
is the maintenance of a single meaningful thought. The
mental process which produces a meaningful thought is
called a pratyaya. It is the mental counterpart
of a sentence. In fact, a sentence is only the verbal
expression of a pratyaya. Just as words go to make a
sentence, vrittis go to make a pratyaya.
single pratyaya or meaningful thought that is maintained
in meditation can be divided into three parts: artha
(the object), sabda (its sound symbol) and jnana
(knowledge). Cognition becomes complete only when all
the three are combined in the mind. When you suddenly
see an animal, your mind at first registers only its
external form (artha). But when you hear (or
mentally utter) the word (sabda) "cow", you will
gain the knowledge "I know this animal." The sound symbol
strikes, as it were, the self and produces the fire
of knowledge. This connection of "I"–consciousness
with the object produces what is called meaning. Thus
the function of a word or sound symbol is to convey
the meaning of an object to the self. Without words
it is impossible to have meaningful thinking.
the three the object, the word and the knowledge
are distinct vrittis and are produced by different
causes. In normal thinking these become united to form
one pratyaya. Meditation is the maintenance of a single
pratyaya in the mind.
order to maintain the same pratyaya in the mind, you
may have to repeat the corresponding word continuously;
otherwise, another thought may arise in the mind. That
is why in meditation, when you visualize the form of
your ista-devata (Chosen Deity), you are also
advised to repeat the related mantra continuously. If
after repeating the mantra for some time you suddenly
stop it, you may still be able to visualize the form
for a short while, but especially in the case
of beginners the chances are that other words
will produce other images in the mind. When the mantra
is stopped and you are able visualize the form some
time, it does not mean that the mantra has disappeared.
It has only merged in the form, leaving its meaning
behind. The vritti produced by the mantra has merged
in the total pratyaya or thought about the Deity.
now come to the third stage in concentration known as
samadhi. This word has different meanings in
different systems. We follow the simple but precise
definition given by Patanjali, which is comprehensive
enough to include the meanings given to it in other
systems as well.
a purified mind undergoes a high degree of concentration,
the higher self emerges to the surface and its light
illumines the object which alone now shines in the mind
(arthamatra nirbhasa). It is now no longer necessary
to produce and listen to the word (sabda) which
merges in the object. As a result, the memory becomes
clear of verbal confusion (smriti parisuddhi).
The will has now merged in the awakened Atman. As a
result, self-direction, the effort to hold the object
constantly in the field of consciousness, becomes unnecessary.
And so the awareness "I am meditating" is lost (svarupa-sunyam
iva). Though the "I"–consciousness persists
in lower samadhi, it becomes so identified with the
object that its separate existence is not very obvious.14
if one does not attain this experience, it is good to
keep in mind the difference between dhyana and samadhi.
The former is a self-directed (i.e. needing continuous
exercise of will) state in which the object, the word
and the knowledge together exist in the mind as a single
pratyaya. Samadhi is a spontaneous state in which the
object alone shines in the field of consciousness.
type of samadhi described above in which the object
alone shines in consciousness is called samprajnata.
If the object also is dropped and if all the vrittis
of the mind are stopped, the mind remains in a closed
state and its presence cannot be detected. Then the
Atman alone abides. This samadhi is called asamprajnata.
all these stages the mind is continuously undergoing
changes. Even in the highest samadhi when all the vrittis
are stopped, the mind undergoes subliminal changes.
The individual mind is only a part of the cosmic mind
and oscillates with it. According to Samkhya and Vedanta,
the whole phenomenal world is in a state of flux. Pancasikha
says, "Every substance except the self is undergoing
change every second."15
The movements of the mind cannot be totally stopped
but can be controlled.
continuous changes of the mind are called parinama
or transformation. These are of different types. Here
we are interested in only those transformations which
take place during concentration. According to Patanjali,
these are of three types: samadhi parinama, ekagrata
parinama and nirodha parinama.
the normal state the mind exhibits two tendencies: one
is to get scattered or distracted (sarvarthata),
the other is get concentrated (ekagrata). When
a person tries to practice dharana, he or she finds
these two tendencies alternating in the mind. For a
few seconds the mind gets concentrated, but again it
concentration deepens, the scattering tendency of the
mind becomes weak and the tendency for one-pointedness
becomes strong. This is what happens during dhyana or
meditation. This kind of mental transformation is called
samadhi parinama, meaning a struggle for the
attainment of samadhi.16
meditation gains in intensity, the scattering tendency
of the mind gets completely suppressed, and the mind
retains only a single pratyaya or thought. If the aspirant
is meditating on his or her Chosen Deity, the divine
image now remains steady in the mind. It appears to
be still and unchanging, but actually it is not so,
for the mind is changing even in this state. What really
happens is the same vritti, the same image, alternately
rises and falls so quickly that it appears to be stationary.
This succession of the same pratyaya in which its rise
and fall are equal is called ekagrata parinama.17
Though this happens in the advanced stages of dhyana,
it is the chief characteristic of samprajnata samadhi.
the fall of one pratyaya and the rise of another, there
is a small gap. Between two thoughts the mind remains
closed for a split second. In normal thinking this is
usually not noticed. But in the advanced stages of samadhi
when all vrittis disappear except that of "I", this
gap becomes noticeable. Then the yogi experiences pure
self-existence as a broken series: "I
The interval between two "I"-vrittis can now be prolonged.
When this is done, a long time may elapse before the
next vritti rises during which period the mind remains
in a closed state. This is asamprajnata samadhi.
are, however, samskaras in the depths of the mind which
go on changing even when all the vrittis are stopped.
This subliminal transformation is called nirodha
it the samskaras of suppression (nirodha samskara)
are struggling with samskaras of emergence (vyutthana
samskara). As long as the former gain the upper
hand, the mind remains in a closed state, but when the
latter gain the upper hand, samadhi breaks and the person
comes down to outer consciousness.
right understanding of these three mental transformations
provides the key to a right understanding of Patanjali's
Yoga. It will also be of great help to sincere aspirants
who are seriously practicing meditation with the hope
of getting some spiritual experience. Meditation to
become a vehicle of transcendence must be practised
with yogic attitude and knowledge.
Compare the commentaries of Vyasa and Bhoja on Yoga
Sutras 1.1 and 1.2 respectively.
See Concentration and Meditation, Part I
Gaudapada, Mandukya Karika 3. 31, 32.
See Vyasa's Commentary of Yoga-Sutra 3.15
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1976), vol. 2, pp. 10-12.
Complete Works (1972), vol. 7, p. 65.
Bhagavad-Gita 6. 5, 6.
See Patanjali, Yoga Sutras 4. 2, 3.
Complete Works (1977), vol. 1, pp. 291-92.
Swamiji has thereby refuted the view of Schopenhauer
and the Voluntarists that the will is superior to
consciousness and that Reality is nothing but will.
See Complete Works (1977), vol. 8, pp. 362-63.
Complete Works, vol. 7, p. 99.
Bhagavad Gita 18. 33-35.
See Yoga Sutras 3. 3 Also cf. 1. 43.
Yogasudhakara on Yoga Sutras 3. 10.
Yoga Sutras 3. 11.
Yoga Sutras 3. 12.
See Swami Vivekananda·s poem "A Hymn of
Samadhi" in the Complete Works (1978),
vol. 4, p. 498.
Yoga Sutras 3. 9.
1980 Swami Bhajanananda
article originally appeared in Prabuddha Bharata,
a monthly journal of the Ramakrishna Order. Click