Mar 21, 2017

Mind Wholeness, Absent-Mindedness and Torpid Mind. Mistakes in Meditation

Summing up the block of seven lines that Patanjali dedicated to exercising the state of mind wholeness (chitta-prasadanam), I shall try to explain why this subject has been essentially significant. One can by intuition guess that mind non-wholeness (chitta-vikshepa) correlates with vritti. And indeed, this opinion was shared by all commentators of Yoga Sutras 

We all now know yoga to be chitta vritti nirodha. And he was already the first commentator – Vyasa - who specified several stages of chitta sophistication on the way to nirodha.

क्षिप्तं मूढं विक्षिप्तमेकाग्र निरुद्धमिति चित्तस्य भूमयः।
kṣiptaṃ mūḍhaṃ vikṣiptam-ekāgra niruddham-iti cittasya bhūmayaḥ

Here the word bhūmayaḥ means “stages”, chitta stands for “chitta”, while the rest of the line shall be explained below.
The said subject was addressed by other text commentators as well. For instance, Bhoja also recites these stages, but does so in giving his comments to the sutra 1.2.
So let us try to understand what are these stages and what practical tips we can get from the said commentaries. To start with, let us define the core point of the listed mind states. 

1. Kṣipta. The word is a past passive participle of the root kṣip (क्षिप्) – to throw. That is, the state of chitta that can be translated as “scattered”. In fact, here it goes about the mind that instead of abiding in ‘here and now’ wanders to various places and issues, skipping from one object onto another. It is the initial level of the practice that is vanquished by means of forced concentration of one’s attention on something obvious, like somatic sensations or breathing rhythm. In order to understand whether the mind has not ‘escaped’ one can use external objectivizers. For instance, taking the inspiratory rhythm imbalance as a criterion of mind to have after all “shifted” on some other issue. 
Another technique (of many) is “Bodhidharma gazing” that implies staring at the horizon. The moment when one’s mind has ‘skipped’ the eyes shall involuntarily fix on some of the nearby objects [1]. I think there’s no use dwelling into its details here since many yoga practitioners, as well as representatives of other Traditions, were paying due attention to this theme. But very few of them wrote on the second “stage”.

2. Mūḍha. The word is derived from the root muh (मुह्) – “to become senseless”, “to go astray” and means “stupefied” or “blurred” state of one’s mind. This is the very state that most of “meditating persons” and those who erroneously believe themselves to have achieved the chitta-vritti-nirodha state actually dwell in. The condition that is much more difficult to distinguish. Things seem to be very ‘nice’ formally: a person sits motionlessly in a meditative position without a move. He himself thinks he is totally calm with no thoughts occurring to him – and they indeed don’t. Yoga as is, isn’t it? No, it isn’t – it’s just a kind of state one gets into when overstrained or under the influence of sedating medications. But this state is not vibrant and active, and the mind dwelling in it is absolutely passive. The text commentators relate mudha to tamas guna that at this moment affects one’s mind. 

मूढं तमस उद्रेकात्कृ त्याकृत्यविभागमन्तरेण क्रोधादिभिर्विरुद्धकृत्येष्वेव नियमितम् ।
तच्च सदैव रक्षःपिशाचादीनाम् 
mūḍhaṃ tamasa udrekātkṛ tyākṛtyavibhāgamantareṇa krodhādibhirviruddhakṛtyeṣveva niyamitam. tacca sadaiva rakṣaḥpiśācādīnām 
Bhoja 1.2.

In order to give a better understanding of what mudha is I shall illustrate it by an example. I guess any reader has the experience of listening to complicated lectures or reading hard-to-understand books. As well as the experience of learning a foreign language. When we set down to a lesson with a so far ‘fresh mind’ we take the information critically; in our mind’s eye we take notes, make commentaries and correlate the data obtained with that we already have... Generally speaking, we learn. But sometimes, at some particular moment, say, as fatigue cumulates, we can admit that having read a part of a text we are not able to render it, or that we listen but no longer understand what it is all about. Our mind as if stands still and drifts off the subject. The effectiveness of such “learning” obviously equals to zero. This slow of apprehension state is mudha proper. I used to know people who could even proceed with making notes in such a state, but alas – they could never recollect the text noted. The danger of this state lies in having difficulty in admitting one to have it. As well as its subject to “training”. The less often one withdraws the self from these states, the more habitual they become. And here lies the way out. By admitting yourself to abide in the state of mudha you can activate your mind. Or at least cease the activity that is no longer useful. Maybe you are indeed tired and it’s time you shift to another activity or simply take a rest and continue in a while. Curious, but some institutions purposefully implant this state and “train” people to dwell in it. For instance, the system of education that obviously overloads one with tons of useless information “trains” students to zone out at lectures. The same does home TV. All states with intoxicating effect are of mudha-nature (I consider the most mudha-type of spirits be beer; it is not for nothing it’s been so actively promoted among the lower classes). Dwelling in mudha can become a drastic deadlock unless one sets a task of deliberate mind development, of training it’s abiding in the state of alertness and cognitive activity.

As I have already said, some yoga schools – both in India and in this part of the world – that know nothing about classic commentaries on Yoga Sutras mess up this state with nirodha. I’ve heard the versions like: “after one’s active (strenuous) practice of asanas there sets the non-thinking that is the cherished chitta-vritti-nirodha”. Yes, non-thinking does come – but it is called fatigue. The same state that occurs after one’s unloading trucks or in case of severe sleep deficiency. But with extremely low rate of such state’ intelligent efficiency, one can hardly consider this to be a model of yoga. The same goes about a pleasant-stupefied-relaxed state that occurs in the course of some promoted meditation practices – it is nothing but a process of self-inhibiting that has value only as a form of going to sleep. By the way, the visual images one may have at these moments are not the “third eye opening” [2] but merely a vritti called nidra, that is, daydreaming. They are sweet, but have nothing to do with yoga. 
Any states of true yogic nature are always cognitively active. None of “sluggish” forms can be regarded as achievement in yoga.

3. Vikṣipta is a state of almost composed mind that only sometimes turns distracted. Its concentration requires more sophisticated methods.

4. Ekāgra stands for one-pointedness. As implied by the word itself, here one’s active, cognizing, sattvic attention is concentrated on a selected object, but in the course of its cognition it appends the said object with affective and intellectual evaluation based on previous sanskaras (sterotypes).

5. Niruddha proper, the one we have paid a lot of attention in the blog opening articles.

[1] For more details refer to: “Psychology of Spiritual Development: Guidelines on Meditations” [the book is available in Russian – transl.note].

[2] I came across the idea spoken out by a well-known yoga teacher.

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