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The Essence of Patanjali's Fourth Yoga Sutra: “Vrtti-sarupyam-itaratra”



In the vast and profound landscape of yoga philosophy, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras hold a position of great significance. These ancient texts offer timeless wisdom and practical guidance for attaining spiritual clarity and mental tranquility. Among the 196 sutras, the fourth one stands out as a key to understanding the nature of our consciousness and the impediments to self-realization.


As you know I have decided to delve more deeply into these sutras for the sole reason to explore their message in depth, to be guided by their ancient wisdom, to allow myself the gift of understanding.


Here is the fourth sutra…


"Vṛtti-sārūpyam-itaratra"


This phrase translates to: "At other times, the self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications." To fully grasp the meaning of this sutra, it is essential to break it down and explore its components and implications.


The Nature of Vṛttis

"Vṛtti" refers to the modifications or fluctuations of the mind. These fluctuations are the various thoughts, emotions, memories, and imaginations that continually arise within our consciousness. In essence, vṛttis are the activities of the mind that shape our perception of reality. They are like waves on the surface of a lake, constantly moving and changing, distorting the clear reflection of our true self.


Sārūpyam: Identification with the Vṛttis

"Sārūpyam" means identification or taking the form of something. In this context, it refers to the phenomenon where our true self, or purusha (pure consciousness), becomes identified with the vṛttis. Instead of recognizing our pure, unchanging nature, we mistakenly identify with the ever-changing mental modifications. This identification creates a sense of false self, leading us to believe that we are our thoughts, emotions, and external identities.


The Illusion of the False Self

This sutra highlights a fundamental cause of human suffering: the illusion of the false self. When we identify with our vṛttis, we become entangled in the transient and often turbulent experiences of life. We might feel joy, sorrow, anger, or fear, and these emotions shape our sense of self. This identification traps us in a cycle of pleasure and pain, success and failure, attachment and aversion.


The Path to Self-Realization

Understanding the fourth sutra is crucial for anyone on the path of yoga. It reveals that our true self is distinct from the mental fluctuations. The purpose of yoga practice is to calm the vṛttis, creating a still and clear mind that allows us to experience our true nature. Through consistent practice, such as meditation, pranayama (breath control), and ethical living (yamas and niyamas), we can transcend the identification with our mental modifications.


By observing our thoughts and emotions without attachment, we begin to disidentify from them. This process leads to a state of yoga, where the mind becomes a serene and reflective surface, mirroring the pure consciousness within. As Patanjali elaborates in subsequent sutras, this state of yoga is achieved through disciplined practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).


Try these daily practices with an ease rather than a task.


1. Practice Mindfulness: Regularly observe your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. Notice how they arise and pass away.

2. Meditate: Establish a daily meditation practice to calm the mind and create a space for inner stillness.

3. Cultivate Detachment: Develop a sense of detachment from the outcomes of your actions and the fluctuations of your mind.

4. Live Ethically: Follow the yamas and niyamas, the ethical precepts of yoga, to create a harmonious and disciplined life.


Patanjali's fourth sutra serves as a profound reminder of the distinction between our true self and the mental modifications that often define our experience. By recognizing this difference and practicing yoga with dedication, we can transcend the illusions of the mind and experience the bliss of our true nature. This journey from identification with the vṛttis to the realization of pure consciousness is the essence of yoga, leading us towards ultimate liberation and peace.


At times throughout my life I have arrogantly thought I had learned enough, what a foolishness, for I have not yet begun.


Hari Om Tat Sat

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