Calm the mind by curtailing its fluctuations

By Anup Taneja

The rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the psychology of people, generating fear, anxiety and depression – so much so that many of the elderly are suffering from insomnia and have developed suicidal tendencies. There is, therefore, an urgent need to understand the real nature of the mind to be able to get rid of these tendencies.

Swami Muktananda explains that the restlessness and anxiety that we experience are not due to external forces; rather these occur because we are unable to handle the incessant flow of thoughts. The basis of all the functions of the mind is the process of cognition and thought. A close observation of the mind will reveal that it is nothing but a bundle of thoughts that keep flowing on a constant basis.

It is a matter of common experience that the moment we close our eyes to get some sleep, we become aware of the endless flow of thoughts and images going through our minds. The mind constantly casts up dreams and fantasies, creating its own world and destroying it. We often find it extremely difficult to disengage ourselves from the torrential flow of thoughts; as a consequence, we begin to suffer from anxiety and insomnia.

Patanjali, therefore, recommends that through the scientific practice of yoga and meditation, we should endeavour to suppress the fluctuations of the mind – ‘Chitta vritti nirodah’. Chitta is the mind-stuff, and vrittis are the waves and ripples rising in it when external causes impinge on it. These vrittis are our universe. The bottom of a lake is not visible because its surface is covered with ripples. It is only possible for us to have a glimpse of the bottom when the ripples have subsided, and the water is calm. If the water is muddy or is agitated all the time, the bottom will not be visible. If it is clear, and there are no waves, the bottom becomes visible. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self; the lake is the chitta and the waves the vrittis.

Patanjali refers to five types of vrittis, fluctuations, of the mind: pramana, right knowledge; viparyana, misconception; vikalpa, imagination; nidra, sleep; and smriti, memory. Among these, viparyana and vikalpa vrittis are the ones that destroy our equanimity and make us suffer endlessly.

Viparyana is the misconception of something. This vritti, for example, can make a healthy person think that he has been afflicted by a serious disease and that he will not survive. He thus becomes agitated and is unable to sleep. In Vedanta, viparyana is explained by the analogy of a person who sees a rope and screams in fear mistaking it for a snake.

Vikalpa, which means imagination, is a vritti that supports wrong knowledge. For example, when a person walking down a road at night comes across a pillar and gets terrified imagining it to be a ghost.

So, we are tortured not by the mind but by its vrittis. All afflictions are created by these fluctuations. As long as they do not become quiet, we do everything according to our mental tendencies. This is why we experience anxiety and suffer from insomnia.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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