Feb 3, 2013

Sutras 1.10 - 1.11. 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 Yoga Sutra.

अभावप्रत्ययालम्बना वृत्तिर्निद्रा ॥ १०॥
1.10. abhāva-pratyayālambanā vṛttir nidrā

abhāva - non-entity / non-existent;
pratyaya – conception, belief;
alambanā – 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;
vṛttir - vritti;
nidrā – 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 hallucinateJ. 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).

अनुभूतविषयासम्प्रमोषः स्मृतिः ॥ ११॥ 
1.11. anubhūta-viṣayāsampramoṣaḥ smṛtiḥ

anubhūta – perceived, experienced, understood;
viṣaya – topic, subject matter, object, issue;
asampramoṣaḥ - not let go (passive), not lost;
smṛtiḥ - 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 J, 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.


  1. Translator’s note.

    In terms of translating the article from Russian into English it has occurred to us that it would be interesting to analyze the word “dream” from the point of its morphological and etymological aspect and find out whether there is any link between it and the word “nidra”. So here are some findings that in no case claim to be a perfect truth yet come as assumptions only.

    Almost all languages of the Romance and Germanic group contain one and the same root (in consideration of the Great consonant shift) that is however different in its meaning. In Germanic group the word “dream” refers to reveries, fancy and fantasies that one sees when asleep: Dream (Engl.) - Traum (Ger.) - Drom (Dan.) - Dromen (Nl.), while similar words of the Romance group usually have the meaning of "to sleep": Dormir (Esp.), - Dormire (It.) - Dormir (Pt.). At the same time the “wishing or being lost in reveries” of the Romance group comes as Sonar (Esp.) - Sognare (It.) - Sohnar (Pt.) that in terms of morphology is closer to “sleep” and [son] (the Russian of 1. the process of the sleep and 2. the images and fantasies a person sees when asleep). Curious “confusion”, isn’t it…?

    Considering the fact that the root is common not only for Germanic and Romance words, but for them and the words of Slavic languages as well (Rus. [drje'mat’], [spat’]) we may assume there is some common Proto-Indo-European root. Here it is interesting that Wiktionary, for instance, runs the “dream” back to “sleeping vision” and the PIE *swep- meaning “to sleep” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dream thus etymologically linking the dream with something that happens in the state of asleep.

    However if we try to resolve the word NIDRA into elements by means of the “rule of linguistic thumb” or mere dictionary matching we will have the following:
    - according to Monier-Williams, NI “has also the meaning of negation or privation” when “prefixed either to verbs or to nouns”, or it has the meaning of “enter, come or fall into, incur" http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/tamil/recherche
    - at the same time DRA may come as the (root) part of the DRAVYA meaning “object, thing, stuff”.

    Thus we can very carefully suppose that:
    - on the one hand the word NI-DRA, probably, contains the self-definition as “non-object, non-stuff” or “falling into object, incurring [the influence of] the stuff”.
    - on the other hand, in some languages that belong to the Indo-European group the root Dre/Dro/Dor may have originated from Dravya and in some particular way assume the person’s attitude to such object/stuff, the vision of it, etc.
    - and finally, it is interesting to see the way the Dre/Dro/Dor-rooted words are functioning in terms of Germanic and Romance group with “confused” reference to sleep as a physical process (sleep / sonar / swep) and (probably) the nonexistent objects and stuffs which images and visions may occur in, without limitation to, the process of sleep.

    The below-set is just a translator’s assumption (maybe, even the display of his vritti ☺), a hypothesis that may happen to be a misleading concept slammed by philology experts, yet we have a feeling that “there is something here”.

  2. I keep reading the Sutras, and trying to understand them by reading multiple sources. I keep thinking Patanjali is clear, but as you say most translations are either too bad or too full of the reader's projections.

    I've been trying to understand it in my own language (Spanish). 1.6 for me is 5 categories of the same kind. For me, so far (until I expand my own understanding):
    are: your opinions (pramana), prejudices (viparyaya), fantasies (vipalka), dreams/fanatism(nidra)and memories(smriti).

    I'm not 100% sure on these english words but they are the closets approximations to the spanish words I chose, so when reading your note on how in Spanish we have sueño (dream) and dormir (sleep) that kindda of click because sueño was exactly what I had written down before reading this, a process that happen either sleeping or not.

    Dream (or at least in the way we use it in spanish) can happen in deep sleep, or day-dreaming, or in goals as in a big dream. We can get very attached to those "things", and that's where I add fanatism to expand, you can become so obsessed with your own dreams, where your reality is filtered by those "dreams", and you deny anything else that doesn't fit that pattern.

    I think you will always have an opinion, and that's why Patanjali at least try to go a bit further (with that specific pattern) to show you a better way to form those opinions that some translate as "correct knowledge", and because we will always be bias, he recommends to go to "experts", just like today we benefit from going to a professional like a psychotherapist instead of just talking to a friend.

    Thank you for your blog