Composition of States of the Mind

Let us pass now to the “states of the mind” as they are called. The word which is used for the states of the mind by Patanjali is Vritti. This admirably constructed language Sanskrit gives you in that very word its own meaning. Vrittis means the “being” of the mind; the ways in which mind can exist; the modes of the mind; the modes of mental existence; the ways of existing.

That is the literal meaning of this word. A subsidiary meaning is a “turning around,” a “moving in a circle”. You have to stop, in Yoga, every mode of existing in which the mind manifests itself. In order to guide you towards the power of stopping them–for you cannot stop them till you understand them–you are told that these modes of mind are fivefold in their nature. They are pentads. The Sutra, as usually translated, says ” the Vrittis are fivefold (panchatayyah),” but pentad is a more accurate rendering of the word pancha-tayyah, in the original, than fivefold. The word pentad at once recalls to you the way in which the chemist speaks of a monad, triad, heptad, when he deals with elements. The elements with which the chemist is dealing are related to the unit-element in different ways. Some elements are related to it in one way only, and are called monads; others are related in two ways, and are called duads, and so on.

Is this applicable to the states of mind also? Recall the shloka of the Bhagavad-Gita in which it is said that the Jiva goes out into the world, drawing round him the five senses and mind as sixth. That may throw a little light on the subject. You have five senses, the five ways of knowing, the five jnanendriyas or organs of knowing. Only by these five senses can you know the outer world. Western psychology says that nothing exists in thought that does not exist in sensation. That is not true universally; it is not true of the abstract mind, nor wholly of the concrete. But there is a great deal of truth in it.

Every idea is a pentad. It is made up of five elements. Each element making up the idea comes from one of the senses, and of these there are at present five. Later on every idea will be a heptad, made up of seven elements. For the present, each has five qualities, which build up the idea. The mind unites the whole together into a single thought, synthesises the five sensations. If you think of an orange and analyse your thought of an orange, you will find in it: colour, which comes through the eye; fragrance, which comes through the nose; taste, which comes through the tongue; roughness or smoothness, which comes through the sense of touch; and you would hear musical notes made by the vibrations of the molecules, coming through the sense of hearing, were it keener. If you had a perfect sense of hearing. you would hear the sound of the orange also, for wherever there is vibration there is sound. All this, synthesised by the mind into one idea, is an orange.

That is the root reason for the “association of ideas”. It is not only that a fragrance recalls the scene and the circumstances under which the fragrance was observed, but because every impression is made through all the five senses and, therefore, when one is stimulated, the others are recalled. The mind is like a prism. If you put a prism in the path of a ray of white light, it will break it up into its seven constituent rays and seven colours will appear. Put another prism in the path of these seven rays, and as they pass through the prism, the process is reversed and the seven become one white light. The mind is like the second prism. It takes in the five sensations that enter through the senses, and combines them into a single precept. As at the present stage of evolution the senses are five only, it unites the five sensations into one idea. What the white ray is to the seven- coloured light, that a thought or idea is to the fivefold sensation. That is the meaning of the much controverted Sutra: “Vrittayah panchatayych,” “the vrittis, or modes of the mind, are pentads.” If you look at it in that way, the later teachings will be more clearly understood.

As I have already said, that sentence, that nothing exists in thought which is not in sensation, is not the whole truth. Manas, the sixth sense, adds to the sensations its own pure elemental nature. What is that nature that you find thus added? It is the establishment of a relation, that is really what the mind adds. All thinking is the “establishment of relations,” and the more closely you look into that phrase, the more you will realise how it covers all the varied processes of the mind.

The very first process of the mind is to become aware of an outside world. However dimly at first, we become aware of something outside ourselves–a process generally called perception. I use the more general term “establishing a relation,” because that runs through the whole of the mental processes, whereas perception is only a single thing. To use a well-known simile, when a little baby feels a pin pricking it, it is conscious of pain, but not at first conscious of the pin, nor yet conscious of where exactly the pin is. It does not recognise the part of the body in which the pin is. There is no perception, for perception is defined as relating a sensation to the object which causes the sensation.

You only, technically speaking, “perceive” when you make a relation between the object and yourself. That is the very first of these mental processes, following on the heels of sensation. Of course, from the Eastern standpoint, sensation is a mental function also, for the senses are part of the cognitive faculty, but they are unfortunately classed with feelings in Western psychology. Now having established that relation between yourself and objects outside, what is the next process of the mind? Reasoning: that is, the establishing of relations between different objects, as perception is the establishment of your relation with a single object. When you have perceived many objects, then you begin to reason in order to establish relations between them. Reasoning is the establishment of a new relation, which comes out from the comparison of the different objects that by perception you have established in relation with yourself, and the result is a concept.

This one phrase, “establishment of relations,” is true all round. The whole process of thinking is the establishment of relations, and it is natural that it should be so, because the Supreme Thinker, by establishing a relation, brought matter into existence. Just as He, by establishing that primary relation between Himself and the Not-Self, makes a universe possible, so do we reflect His powers in ourselves, thinking by the same method, establishing relations, and thus carrying out every intellectual process