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The 5 Kinds of Modifications of the Mind

The five types of waves of the mindSutras 6 through 11 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

6. [The five kinds of modifications are] right knowledge [pramana], wrong knowledge [viparyaya], fancy [vikalpa], sleep [nidra], and memory [smritaya].

Each of these merits an individual consideration.

  • Pramana includes the means of valid knowledge, logical proof, and the means of right perception. Although logical proof is listed here, it is usually held that pramana also includes experiential proof such as proven intuition or yogic perception that has been investigated and shown to be accurate. Although Taimni and most translators render this “right knowledge,” it is actually the means to right knowledge.
  • Viparyaya is erroneous perception, wrong knowledge, illusion, misapprehension, and distraction of mind–the means to wrong knowledge. In Sankhya philosophy, the basis of Yoga, it is said that viparyaya is caused by ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), antipathy (dwesha), and self-love in the sense of clinging to life (abhinivesha).
  • Vikalpa is imagination, fantasy, mental construct, abstraction, conceptualization, hallucination, distinction, experience, thought, and oscillation of the mind.
  • Nidra is sleep–either dreaming or dreamless–but in the Yoga Sutras it means dreamless sleep alone.
  • Smriti is memory and recollection.

All mental phenomena fall into one of these classifications. It is interesting to see that just as there are five senses, so there are five modifications of the mind.

Now Patanjali looks at each in turn.

7. [Facts of] right knowledge [are based on] direct cognition, inference, or testimony.

Pramana has three bases: direct perception, inference, and what Jnaneshvara Bharati calls “testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.” All commentators say that this latter includes scriptural texts. Nevertheless, the first listed by Patanjali is pratyaksha–personal perception. This quite logical in a text on yoga, for the purpose of yoga is the gaining of direct knowledge that is “nearer than knowing, open vision direct and instant” (Bhagavad Gita 9:1). Next he lists logical inference (anumana)–either our own or another’s. Last comes scriptural testimony. So we see a hierarchy of values. Most valued is our personal insight, next is our logical thought or that of someone we are communicating with, and last is the written text. This is because a living process is always more valuable, and also because the written text may be defective in some way. So scriptures come last–a feature unique to Sanatana Dharma.

8. Wrong knowledge is a false conception of a thing whose real form does not correspond to such a mistaken conception.

We all have experience of mistaken perception. Sometimes in a boat it looks and feels as if the shore is moving and the boat is standing still. Those of us who have ridden a train very much will recall feeling absolutely that the train we were sitting in was moving, only to find out that it was the train next to us that moved. We often “see wrong.” For example, I had a cousin that did not look like me at all. Yet, my friends would see him on the street and call out or start speaking to him–and the same would happen to me with his friends. When as a child I went to the movies I would experience three things that really disturbed me at the time. First, when the sound came on I could clearly perceive that it came from speakers on two sides of the theater, yet after a short while the sound would not only seem to be coming from the screen, it would seem to come from the mouths of the actors! Second, in motion pictures where carriage or wagon wheels were shown, at certain speeds the spokes would appear to reverse their direction and be moving backwards. Third, if I had seen a movie or a feature before, when I saw it again it seemed to last only about half the time it had the first time. So I realized that sound, sight, and time sense could be altered and not be “real.” After a while I came to understand that most of my experience was viparyaya in some form.

The only remedy for viparyaya is to experience things as they really are. And that is one of the purposes of yoga. In fact, Shankara said that “inhibition of illusion must precede that of the others, since it is their root.”

9. An image conjured up by words without any substance behind it is fancy [vikalpa].

Here “words” can mean internal thought as well external speaking–either by ourselves or by others. We all experience having a mixture of both right and wrong ideas about something; that is viparyaya as in the previous sutra. But Vikalpa is completely without basis or substance. Shankara is fond of using the simile of the horns of a rabbit, since such things just do not exist. Interestingly, some time before I became a yogi I read a psychological study by a man who knew of a culture somewhere in the western hemisphere where the people all believe that rabbits have horns. He even went “rabbit watching” with them and was amazed that they all swore fervently to him that the rabbits he was seeing without horns really did have horns–they could see them.

Here we see the danger of lying. In time our minds will habitually function in vikalpa and we will be lying to ourselves. A hallucination is a form of vikalpa, as well. I knew a very skillful liar who occasionally had hallucinations so strong that those around him had to go along with it to keep him from going completely over the edge. One time he kept seeing flowers in the air and demanding of me what their “message” was. It was taxing on many levels, believe me. The only good thing was that when the hallucinations ended he would not remember having them, so when it was over it was over.

10. That modification of the mind which is based on the absence of any content in it is sleep.

As already pointed out, in the Yoga Sutras nidra refers to dreamless sleep alone, the state in which there is “nothing” in the field of the mind to perceive. Why the term sushupti which specifically means dreamless sleep is not being used is hard to understand. Shankara says that in this sutra nidra definitely does mean sushupti. However it may be, dreaming must be considered by Patanjali to be a form of vikalpa rather than true sleep.

Even though dreamless sleep is “absence of any content” it is not a void, for we remember it. Certainly we perceive it, as Shankara says: “Unless there had been a perception, there could hardly be a recollection. And when one wakes, one does recall, ‘I have slept well’ and so on. The recollection itself is a reflection of the perception that I have experienced something; unless there had been some experience, that reflection would not be there, nor could there reasonably be any memories about it.”

Dreamless sleep is often cited as proof of the witness-Self, for although there is no object of perception, yet something perceives this non-perception. And that something is the spirit whose very nature is consciousness–turiya, the fourth, eternal state of awareness. “Again, a man who has been asleep in an inner room, without any hint from outside however slight, has recollected immediately on waking ‘I have slept a long time,’ and this would otherwise be inexplicable.”

11. Memory [smriti] is not allowing an object which has been experienced to escape.

Memory is both passive and active–sometimes memories arise without our intending them to, and at other times we intentionally bring them out from our inner mind, usually for a specific purpose. Vyasa says that we are evoking a samskara, an impression always present in the mind. Shankara says: “The perception arises, and then while dying away lays down a samskara in its possessor, the thinker. The samskara corresponds to its cause.”

Memory, of course, includes both intellectual and sensory recall. Patanjali, though, is interested only in the active act of will that is memory.

Previously: What is Our Essential Nature as Seer?

Next: How We Can Deal with the Mind-Waves

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