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The Five Vrittis

Why does Patanjali postulate only five vrittis? What is the rationale behind them? These questions always used to ignite my reasoning and contributed to pleasant times of contemplation in the amazing environs of the ashram. Here are some of my musings – what do you think of them. 

Vrittis are modulations of the Chitta – here i guess chitta stands not so much for our memory but the antahkarana as a whole. So what is the role of the chitta – it is a bridge between the individual and the environment. That being the case, it could be said that all modulations arising in the chitta should be because of the various types of interactions between the two. 

The first is when the chitta tries to make sense of the environment – this gives rise to pramana – wanting proof of existence. The wanting to know tendency of the chitta modulates the quiescent state and gives rise to vritti. So there is an object (internal or external) and there is perception. When there is an object and right perception then that gives rise to Pramana. Inquisitiveness or wanting to know about reality – though considered a very positive quality is actually a vritti – a modulation. 

When there is an object but the chitta perceives wrongly or holds to a wrong perception it is again thrown out of its Drista swarupa and assumes the form of the vritti. Thus object with wrong perception gives rise to viparyaya – the second vritti. Usual examples given are – seeing a snake where there is a rope. Misinterpreting what others say would be considered viparyaya – a major source of misunderstandings. 

When there is no object, yet the chitta perceives something that is the third possibility. This is Vikalpa – or Vastu shunya – perception even though there is no object to support that perception. The traditional example given is that of the horns of a rabbit. A more contemporary example would be our views of what others think about us. So all our prejudices etc would be considered Vikalpa, not just our dreams and imaginations. 

The fourth possibility is that there is absence of the object and absence of the perception too. This gives rise to Nidra. Nidra is also classified as a vritti for it takes the chitta away from its dristu swarupa – and the chitta identifies with the vritti. When i wake up, i feel i have slept. Thus for the duration of the sleep i identified with the vritti – Nidra rather than my drista swarupa

The fifth is most interesting – Smriti. Often translated as memory, Patanjali defines it quite simply as not letting go of experienced objects of senses. One of my senses comes in touch with its object eg. the skin touches something. The experience has happened and it ended when my skin drew away from the object. However if i do not allow the content of the mind to subside but bring it up again, then it is called Smriti. So smriti is the chitta perceiving the object … AGAIN. 

Here is a table that summarises it all.

ObjectPerceptionVritti
ExistsRightPramana
ExistsWrongViparyaya
Doesn’t existRightVikalpa
Doesn’t existNo /WrongNidra
PastRightSmriti 
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