1.2 – Yoga is when the fluctuations in the field of consciousness are still.
yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
- yoga – to yoke, to bring together; union; samadhi
- chitta – consciousness; field of consciousness; reflecting; mind; thought
- vritti – fluctuations; modifications; activities; movements
- nirodha – stillness; cessation; quietude
Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations in the field of consciousness.
Commentary on Sutra 1.2:
In this famously quoted sutra, Patanjali gives us his concise definition of yoga. As the alternate translation shows, a minor variation creates an entirely different meaning, though both are generally accepted as valid.
In the first translation, yoga is the state of unity experienced when all the movements in consciousness are still. In the second, yoga is the training leading to that state. So, yoga is both the path and the goal. It’s the journey and the destination.
The word yoga comes from the root word yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to unite.” At our core, we are already whole, complete, and eternally united with our source.
The training does not add anything to, or improve upon, our essential nature. Instead, it works to remove the veils which obstruct our perception of that ever-present truth.
The obstructions are the vrittis (the fluctuations or waves) in chitta (the field of consciousness). A classic analogy describes chitta as the surface of a pond. The vrittis are the ripples on the surface that prevent us from seeing the sun’s reflection. In this analogy, the sun is our true nature, Awareness Itself. When our consciousness is still, it reflects the light of Awareness within it.
The Sanskrit word chitta has been defined as “the mind” or “thoughts” or “mind-stuff.” But it’s much more than the familiar concepts of the mind or its contents.
In yogic philosophy, four levels of mind are delineated:
- manas – the organ of thought
- ahamkara – the egoic mind – the aspect of the mind which creates an individual sense of existence, the sense of “I” or “me”
- buddhi – the higher intellect – the part of the mind which enables us to perceive right from wrong, truth from untruth
- chitta – the entire spectrum of the mind – our field of consciousness, which includes all of our thoughts, emotions, and instincts
Note: To avoid confusion, I’ll define chitta throughout this text as “consciousness” or “field of consciousness.” And when referring to the universal source of consciousness, I’ll use the capitalized terms “Awareness,” or “Awareness Itself.”
When closely examining the mind, most people discover it’s in perpetual motion. This sutra describes the opposite, a condition in which the constant churning has come to an end.
The gap between our default state of consciousness, and the state in which all turmoil has ceased, gives us an idea of the intensive training ahead. Patanjali’s sutras are a 2000-year-old map of this training process. They outline a universal route used by many, many traditions. Each of those traditions has its specific teaching methods and techniques. If the sutras are the map, those teachings and techniques are the manuals, and the teachers are the guides.
Maps and manuals, as invaluable as they may be, are not the terrain itself. Even the guide can only point the way. Ultimately, it’s the student’s own higher Awareness that will light the path toward itself.