Demystifying the Goal of Yoga

A Simple Explanation of Yoga Sutra 1.2

Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodaha

How many times have you heard your yoga teacher say: “Yogas Citta Vrtti Nrodaha” (pronounced Yogas Chitta Vrr-tti Nr-odaha)? And then perhaps your teacher said it translates to something like:“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind” OR “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” You may not know this, but that seemingly simple and short sentence tells you what the entire goal of yoga is! That’s why teachers repeat it soooo often!! In my own practice, I heard this from my teachers for almost 14 years before it actually sunk into my consciousness. Granted, it wasn’t until I began taking my yoga very seriously did this somehow become something to understand. It may sound like a simple phrase, but you will quickly realize it is no easy task to accomplish when you start to directing your energy towards quieting your mind. In fact, it is nearly impossible, but for a few enlightened souls that have passed through this planet. Perhaps names like Jesus, Buddha, or other enlightened masters cross your mind. Even if most of us will never become enlightened, there are a whole lot of great reasons to try to quiet your mind, including increased joy, peace, and health in your daily life. And who really wants to spend the rest of their lives with their monkey mind incessantly on the ON switch? So, if you have any interest in meditation, yoga, or even your health, here is a quick 101 on why this sentence is so important to understand and a great metaphor to help you to begin to grasp what it means.

Where do these words come from? They come from the Yoga Sutras, which were written down by the great sage Patanjali Maharishi. Patanjali essentially consolidated and wrote down the science of yoga in 196 Sutras, or aphorisms, across 4 Padas, or parts. No one knows exactly when they were written, but they were likely written down the third century before Christ. Many consider the Yoga Sutras as the authoritative source book on yoga. The purpose of the Yoga Sutras is to help guide the practitioner along the process and stages to achieve union (as yoga means union) with the Divine Infinite (or God, Supreme Being, Spirit, etc.).

Why are these words important? Yogas Citta Vrtti Nrodaha is the second sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Sutra 1.2). It gives the entire goal of yoga in that short, simple sentence. Simply stated, if Yoga is to achieve union with the Divine Infinite, then “Stilling the fluctuations of the mind” gives us the end state for how to achieve that Union. The rest of the Sutras essentially expound on how to achieve this state.

What do these words mean? Such simple words, but yet such profound implications for what they actually mean. My aha moment with this Sutra came when my spiritual teacher explained it in a simple metaphor. I have now heard this metaphor from several spiritual teachers from different yoga traditions. It is clearly something that has been passed from teacher to student for likely hundreds of years. I’ve added a bit of my own creative flare to it, but it remains the same as I learned it.

Imagine a beautiful, peaceful alpine lake. Imagine this lake as a reflection of your soul. When the lake is settled you can see clearly through to the bottom of the lake. There are no waves, no movements, no fluctuations. This is you in your Divine Infinite, the true reflection of your essence. Here you experience infinite bliss and union with the entire cosmos. And then imagine a thought comes into your mind (as is the nature of the mind). That thought creates a bubble in the lake that rises from the bottom to the top. And then another thought arises, and then another, another, etc. in endless fluctuations. Before you know it the lake is filled with ever rising bubbles, causing the silt at the bottom to be disturbed. Eventually the lake becomes muddy and unclear. You can no longer see through to your Divine Infinite self. Over time, you forget that these bubbles were mere passing thoughts. You start believing the thoughts are you. You have forgotten your Divine Truth, and get lost in the maya (sufferings) of your thoughts. You are essentially in a muddied state. And then one day you catch a glimmer of vibrant light shining into the depths of the lake. Bliss envelops you, reminding you of your true essence. In that momentary clarity of vision, you are being given a choice: to return back into the muddied waters of maya or to begin your search for your true self. If you choose the latter, then so begins yoga, in the pursuit of the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.

Simply stated: We are not our mind. We are not our body. To experience our true state we must still the mind and, by connection, the body, rising above them to bear witness to our ultimate truth as mirrors of the Divine Infinite. All enlightened masters were expounding on this very thing, even if their paths to achieving this varied. We all see glimmers of this Divine Truth in our lives when we have moments of feeling at one with our soul, even if for a fleeting instant. It is everyone’s divine right to experience this ultimate truth.

How to achieve this goal? Well my friend, that is when I will suggest you start reading the Yoga Sutras (or any other text that takes you home), find yourself a gifted spiritual teacher, and commit the rest of your life to the pursuit of this goal. According to yoga, we are all on the path to this ultimate realization. In the journey home, we must steadfastly and resolutely put one foot in front of the other in pursuit of this, no matter how much our shadow selves try to pull us back down into maya, or suffering. It is up to you to decide when you want to start making it a conscious journey.

The desire to know the Self is implanted deep within each of us; a memory of Eden as old as the mind. However dimly perceived, this longing is the most refined expression of the dynamic urge to grow and progress that energizes all life and motivates every aspiration. Only when we realize our true nature, and the individual mind becomes infinite, shall we be satisfied.

-Alistair Shearer in his commentary of his translation of the Yoga Sutras