Exploring the Sutras
Lesson 4 : Vritti Sarupyam Itarahatra
Patanjali begins his sutras with a very clear introduction and invitation to participate more fully in life. He defines yoga immediately as that which helps us calm the agitations and fluctuations of our mind and tells us that if we can do this, then we will see ourselves clearly as divine beings of light. From there, his tone turns more somber with sutra 1.4. This sutra in Sanskrit is Vritti sarupyam itarahatra which means that if we are not living in the state of which Yoga is defined, then our tendency as human beings, with an ego, is to over identify with the vrittis (the agitations and fluctuations of the mind) and react from them, and this will almost always bring us pain and pain to those we project those vritti onto.
This is a wonderful life teaching in my mind. One of the main reasons that I practice and teach yoga is to learn how to be less and less reactive to a situation. We all have personal triggers that cause us to have knee jerk reactions to situations and people in our lives. These are often not pretty reactions. My dear friend and colleague Bhavani often refers to them as the “shitty vrittis”. I have to agree with her. Whenever I am not in my higher place of functioning and I react to things without thinking them through, it usually causes some degree of pain either to myself or to those around me. Now, when we have done or said things that are not kind or are out of our integrity, we can and should find a way to apologize or make amends. Still, the word, thought, or action has already been released so that cannot be taken away. Still, we must strive to stay in check with ourselves and have the discernment to realize when something we’ve done was not right and then make amends.
I really got in touch with this sutra when I had kids. Kids have an uncanny ability to know exactly where our buttons are and they push them constantly. Sometimes I have reacted to them in not the most graceful way. I have always made it a personal policy to apologize as soon as I am able. The amazing thing about my kids is they always forgive me and they truly appreciate me owning up to my faults and taking personal responsibility for them. I feel this has been a great lesson for them to see me willing to humble out and apologize to them. I can see clearly after the fact how I projected my “stuff”- anger, frustration, agitation, onto them and that in the end I suffered as well. From all the reading I have done on yoga and its philosophy, I know that as I progress and mature on the path, I may learn to catch the words or actions before I utter or act on them. Then, the work will be to not allow the very thoughts to form in my mind. I am a beginner on this path as much as anyone else and I am so very grateful for these teachings to give me guidance as I travel this path of life. I trust that most of us are doing the best that we can with the tools we have been given.
Again, this is why I feel so driven to teach and share yoga: Because it is an incredible tool for self-discovery and introspection. It teaches us how to take personal responsibility for our own lives. We live in a country that is litigation happy and wants to blame everyone else for our troubles. It is time to turn our gaze inward and look into our own hearts for the reasons we behave the way we do. We can only change ourselves and it’s time to start NOW!
I would like to break down the Sanskrit for you all now and explore the words of this sutra. So here goes:
Vrittis – these are the fluctuations and agitations of the mind. They often reveal themselves as self limiting, self defeating, self judging tendencies of our own individuated consciousness. Sometimes they are called afflictions.
Sa – means to put together with or to join
Rupa – this means the”divine form” and we encountered this word in Sutra 1.3 as well
Yam – is an emphatic suffix what pretty much means Yeah!
Itarahatra – this literally means “like of the night” and refers to the darkness or inability to see ourselves clearly
To paraphrase, this sutra says that if we do not live our lives in the state of mind that is true yoga, our tendency is to believe and identify with the distortions (vrittis) of our mind. Without the tools to teach us to take personal responsibility (spiritual practice), our tendency is to not take responsibility and to instead blame others and project those vrittis onto everything and everyone around us. This will surely cause us, and those around us, unnecessary pain. There is a way out of this and that way is spiritual practice. As the Buddha says, the first noble truth is that “In life there is Suffering”. We cannot avoid it completely but with the right tools we can mitigate that suffering. While I am a yogi and identify with yogic philosophy, I firmly believe there are so many ways to the truth and that what ever spiritual practice you do, just do it and, as my teacher Pattabhi Jois used to say, “all is coming”.
Namaste, and Peace to you all in these crazy trying times….
With Love, Nicki