Yoga Sutras 1.6

  • The five fold classification is not only scientific, but purposeful, insightful even.
  • How is sleep differentiated from the cessation of the modifications of mind?
  • Why is sleep nested between imagination and memory in the Sanskrit?

Although these 5 kinds may seem arbitrary at first, upon reflection I’ve come to appreciate their cant.  I don’t however think that Taimni does a great job clarifying their logic and seems to forget that he is defining modifications of mind and starts speaking in terms of “mental images” and the “screen of the physical brain”.  Sure, his words lead to understanding, and for those who have the time, perhaps having to dig the meaning out is good for what ails ’em, but here, lets comment upon, clarify, et cetera.

  • Pramana (accurate) and Viparyaya (inaccurate) are all modifications of mind with an immediate root in sensations spawned by the external world
  • Vikalpa (imagination) and Smrti (memory) are all modifications of mind without an immediate root in sensations spawned by the external world
  • Nidra (sleep) this is the state where there are no conscious modifications of mind in the brain although there is still mental activity below the threshold of consciousness

Is the logic of this progression clear?  They span a continuum of present-accurate-modifications->present-inaccurate-modifications->historical-modifications->timeless-modifications->contentless-sleep.  Organized this way we see a continual relaxation of how tightly fit to the “world” are “perceptions” or modifications of mind, until they aren’t fit at all because there is no “world”.  IOW, this Sutra is referring to the five fold structure of the modifications of mind in relation to consciousness as a reference point.

I call memory “historical modifications” because that is precisely what memory is.  The traces left behind of some set of modifications of the mind (could be present-accurate, present-inaccurate, other memories, or imagination, or dream).  We remember what it was like to see or think in such a way and we bring it back to our present awareness at a later time.

I call imagination “timeless modifications” because it is the combination of modifications from any old time.  Continuity of the inputs to creativity with respect to time is typically unimportant.  Other similarities inform the cohesion of these modifications of mind (looser associations than those provided by the brain’s faculties for tying the senses together into a gestalt).

A key distinction may be hidden in or pointed to by Sutra 1.6.  What is the difference between Nidra, contentless sleep, and Yoga, inhibition of the modifications of mind?  Taimni actually explains this as practically the sole subject of discussion in Sutra 1.10 (which focuses on Nidra).  But, since we’re experiencing the question now, let’s dive into an answer.  The key is that addendum to the short statement about Nidra, above: “…although there is still mental activity below the threshold of consciousness”.

This is important because we learn an important regulating principle in our practice of yoga.  We are out to inhibit something that occurs even when we are unconscious.  We cannot rely on always being conscious of our modifications of mind.  In any case, to make progress in Yoga we have to keep our eyes peeled for something that can be whether or not we are conscious of its being.  Oops, that’s a tough break.  No wonder we’re told it can take many lifetimes to make any progress (whether or not you “believe in” reincarnation [my thoughts are complex, see some of my discussion on my Grandfather for a little clarification] a definite sense of the scale of difficulty is communicated).

My guess is that gaining veto power over the sources of unconscious modifications of mind involves a good dollop of pranayama (breath skill).

Taimni then addresses why only the lower modifications of the mind are addressed, the manas:

It may be asked why only the modifications of the lower concrete mind have been taken into account in this classification of the Citta-Vrttis.  Citta comprises all the levels of the mind, the lowest of which is called the lower Manas functioning through the Manomaya Kosa and dealing with concrete mental images with names and forms.  The answer to this question is obvious [?].  The ordinary man whose consciousness is confined to the lower mind can conceive of only these concrete images which are derived from perceptions through the physical sense-organs.  The Citta-Vrttis corresponding to the higher levels of the mind though more definite and vivid and capable of being expressed indirectly through the lower mind are beyond his comprehension and can be perceived on their own planes in the state of Samadhi when consciousness transcends the lower mind.  Yoga starts with the control and suppression of the lowest kind of Citta-Vrttis with which the Sadhaka is familiar and which he can understand.  No useful purpose could be served by dealing with the Citta-Vrttis corresponding with the high levels of the mind even if these Citta-Vrttis were amenable to ordinary classification.  The Sadhaka has to wait till he learns the technique of Samadhi.

As a last note, I’m troubled by the last three terms in the Sanskrit.  It seems logical, going by Taimni’s assertion that Nidra is contentless sleep, to place that at the end of the Sutra.  Yet it is between imagination and memory.  It almost makes me wonder if Nidra means ‘dream’ rather than ‘contentless sleep’.  It makes sense that memory is at the end because it is any of the others, as previously mentioned (but I don’t believe it makes sense to say that ‘contentless sleep’ can be remembered).  So, what I’m saying is that I hold out the possibility that Patanjali meant:


Regardless, I do think there are modifications of the mind which are not conscious and which Yoga seeks to inhibit.  Whether or not the Sadhaka would rightly be led to such notions in this Sutra.


  • Sadhaka – Spiritual Aspirant
  • Pramana – Accurate, externally sparked modifications of the mind
  • Viparyaya – Inaccurate, externally sparked modifications of the mind
  • Vikalpa – Imagination, fantastical modification of the mind, not sparked by the external world
  • Smrti – Memory
  • Nidra – Contentless sleep, no modifications of the mind
  • Manas – Lower Citta

2 thoughts on “Yoga Sutras 1.6

  1. […] mentioned reincarnation in Yoga Sutras 1.6 and I want to clarify just what I mean.  For the record.  I think there are versions of […]

  2. […] mentioned Reincarnation in Yoga Sutras 1.6 and hastily penned a clarification “for the record”.  Yet, I haven’t clearly […]

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