Exploration of Indian Yoga Psychology

A blog on the Transpersonal Psychology of Indian Yoga and the Spiritual Genius of India (another blog of the same author – http://integralmusings.aurosociety.org)

Chitta: The Basic Mind-Stuff -M.S. Srinivasan

CHITTAThe concept of Chitta, is one of the foundational ideas of Indian psychology.  The Sanskrit term for consciousness is Chit and Chitta means “of consciousness.”

Chit and Chitta

Indian philosophy posits a supreme Consciousness-force chit- shakthi as the source of all existence Matter, Life and Mind are the three levels or orders of organisation of the energy of consciousness. Matter is one order of organisation of the – consciousness-force, life is a higher order and Mind is a still higher order of organisation of the same energy of consciousness. In each stage of this evolution there was a transformation in the energy and substance of consciousness. Chitha is the basic stuff of human consciousness in its present evolutionary condition emerging from the material, biological and animal evolution to self-conscious mind in man. It is the most primitive layer of consciousness in man which preserves a certain continuity with his past evolution. Mostly instinctive and subconscious or submental in its awareness it contains within itself the memory or impressions of all its past evolutionary history.

Chitta is the basic stuff of human consciousness out of which the psychological equipment of man is made. All the subconscious and conscious parts of our psychological being are made of and emerge from chitha.

Samskaras: The Mechanism of Chitta:

Chitta works through a simple mechanism of stimulus-response, memory and repetition, which forms into a habit. There is a dual movement of passive reception and an active response. It receives all the impacts of the outside world including those which are not perceived by the conscious mind. It also receives internally all the subjective impacts of the higher, more conscious parts of the human being. All these are stored in the vast subconscient memory of the chitta. Every impact evokes a response and the nature of the experience of this stimulus-response is retained in the chithic memory. And the tendency of the chitta is towards a mechanical repetition of the same response to a similar impact in the future. Every repetition creates a deeper groove or impression with a greater propensity to repeat the same response. This is how deep rooted habits are formed. To take an example from daily life, if the rude behaviour of the bus conductor provokes an angry response in my chitta, it creates a propensity in the chitta to repeat the same response to a similar provocation in the future. It I go on repeating the same response for every such provocation, then it becomes some sort of a self-proclaimed law in the chitta which says to itself “whenever the conductor behaves rudely with me I have to become angry. This is the law of my being”. These deep rooted impressions in the chitta creating a subconscious propensity in the chitta for a habitual response is called as samskaras in Indian psychology.

Chitta and Character

The character of a person, according to Indian psychologists, is determined by the sum total of his samskars in this and previous births. If this net samskaric propensity is positive it creates the positive character and if it is negative it creates the negative character. We deliberately use the word “positive” and “negative” instead of “good” and “bad” because the later terms smack of popular or Semitic morality which is alien to the scientific and psychological spirit of Indian Yoga. The popular religious morality equates goodness with a pious outer behaviour and badness with vices. But some of the great positive personalities of the world cannot be called “good” in this popular moral sense. And all those who appear to be very pious and good outside are not necessarily positive personalities. For example people like Napoleon and Churchil, who have made important and crucial contributions to human evolution and progress cannot be called “good” in the conventional moral sense.  But still both of them were positive personalities shaped by the samskaras of courage and heroism.

But the unique feature of Indian psychology is that it didn’t dwell much on the negative aspects of the chitta and its samskaras. Whatever may be the popular religious notions propagated through Indian mythology, Indian yogic psychology never preached a fatalistic acceptance of the acquired samskaric propensities of the chitta. The primary emphasis of its enquiry is on the functions of the higher, more conscious parts of the human being and how to make use of them for the psychological and spiritual progress of the individual. For chitha is only one part of the psychological equipment of man. There are higher and more conscious parts which can act upon the chitha, break-down its old negative samskaras and create new positive samskaras.

Purification of Chitta

Here pure psychology passess on to the sphere of applied psychology or in otherwords Yoga. To neutralise the negative samskaras, Pantanjali, the ancient Indian master of Yoga suggests a psychological discipline called Pratipaksha-Bhavana. This word is loosely translated or interpreted to mean counteracting a negative thought by a positive thought. But the word “Bhavana” does not mean merely thought but much more than that; the nearest english translation of the word would be “a psychological quality or mode of consciousness” Bhavana means not only thought but also a corresponding feeling and the right disposition of the will. So prathipaksha-bhavana means replacement of a negative bhavana by a corresponding opposite bhavana, for example the bhavana of anger by the bhavana of compassion.  So this yogic discipline is not merely “Positive thinking” but a process by which the whole of consciousness is energised to  create a qualitative change in the samskaras.

Purification of the Chitta, Chitta-shydhi is an integral part of the psycho-spiritual discipline of Yoga. All systems of Yoga agree on this indispensable need of chitta-shudhi. The method employed may be different in the various systems of Yoga but all agree on the need of this purification. But in Yoga, the aim of Chitta-shudhi is not ethical or moral but psychological and spiritual.

Here the aim is as Patanjali’s famous aphorism puts it, Chitta Vriti Nirodha to prevent the modification of the mind or to put it in simple words to still the mind so that the light of the spiritual reality may reflect itself in a pure, still and calm Mind. It is this stillness and undisturbed, calm and tanquility is the touch­stone of inner purity. As Sri. Aurobindo points out “A pure mind means a mind quiet and free from thoughts of a disturbing character”.

The purification is effected by freeing the chitta from tamasic indolence and rajasic ego and desire. The samskaras of tamasic and rajasic ego and desire which obscures, clogs, darkens, disturbs and agitates the mind are replaced by sattwic samskaras which bring calmness, harmony, light, understanding and benevolence to the mind and creates the temperament of the saint and the thinker. In this task the Rajayogic discipline of pratipaksha bhavaha can be a very powerful and effective help. This is a much more effective method than fighting and struggling against the negative propensities with a stern and austere ethical will. But as we have said already a mere superficially sentimental positive thinking is not what Patanjali means by Pratipaksha Bhavana. We must remember here that the negative propensities of the tamasic and rajasic samskaras are made more of feeling and instincts than of thoughts. So a highly charged and obstinate negative feeling cannot be countered by an opposite positive thought; it can be neutralised only by a cor respond!ng opposite thought and feeling bhavana. This requires a conscious and concentrated exertion of the mind, heart and will.

But chitta-shudhi is not the aim but only a preparatory discipline in Indian yoga. The aim of Indian Yoga is spiritual liberation Moksha and this highest liberation comes only when the individual is totally liberated from all samskaras, and of Ahambhava, egoism or ’Iness’ of both good and bad. The satwic samskaras can only purify but cannot liberate the chitta. For in the Indian spiritual tradition the ego of goodness is as much binding as the egoism of evil.

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2013 by in The Foundations.