1.9 All is in Wonderland
Updated: Jul 30
YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI | CHAPTER 1 - SAMADHI PADA | VERSE 9 | COMMENTARY
Shabda Gyananupati vastu-shunyo vikalpah.
शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वस्तुशून्यो विकल्पः ॥१.९॥
Śabdajña̅na̅nupa̅ti vastu-śu̅nyo vikalpaḥ ||1.9||
Knowledge that is founded only on words (senses), and has no real object is Fancy (Vikalpa).
Vikalpa thought process arises when some words, or smell or person triggers the mind into imagining various scenarios which can be pleasant or unpleasant. Usually, our experience plays a major role is manifestation of this Vritti.
Everyone has dreams and aspirations. We all want to do something meaningful, make this life useful to us and those around us. But everyone has a different set of concepts in their mind. Some people get stuck on imaginary ideals and ideas of perfection that they do not get anything done. They spend time in their minds, working out scenarios but never implementing even the first step towards bringing them to reality. A teenager may see a big car parked on the roadside, and may spend the next few weeks imagining the places he could go to if he had that kind of money and car – or he can be inspired and set himself on a disciplined path to achieve such a lifestyle. The former mindset is Vikalpa triggered by the sight of a car – a fantasy that is pleasurable but has no relation with the reality. Another common thought is imagining the Death. People spend hours at a stretch imagining what would happen if they were to die tomorrow which is pointless because whatever happens would not exist for one who is dead and, in any case, Death is not in anyone’s control. But such thoughts are a source of massive mental stress and anxiety.
In recent times, "psychosomatic diseases" has become a common term in the world of medical science which is fortunate, and also sad. Many major diseases involving the heart, kidneys, and other major organs, and especially neurological disorders are psychosomatic in a large portion of patients. We as a society are currently overwhelmed by information, most of which is either untrue, insignificant or irrelevant. The brain has an infinite capacity to hold information, and the mind has the annoying habit of bringing up these bits of information without cause - this has resulted in a lot of stress, anxiety and nervous tension for so many people because the mind just won't stop chattering. We keep on stressing about the future, or keep imagining rock-bottom, or about things that we cannot control. These neurological disorders seep down into the Pranic body causing blockages in the psychic channels (the Nadis) which carry the vital energy to each cell of the body. As a final result, the physical body becomes diseased.
There is a beautiful movie “A Beautiful Mind” which is a very clear example of unpleasant Vikalpa. It deals with schizophrenia and the toll it takes on people who suffer from it and family and friends of such people. All the phobias, paranoia, and hallucinations are different dimensions of Vikalpa. I agree with the research which states that phobias and other mental states which detach a person from a reality may stem from deep-rooted trauma or experiences and impressions in the mind that disrupted the normal functioning of the mind. I believe it is possible that some of these impressions may be of the past lives. It is not under control for most of people suffering from such disorders and they need to be helped in every way possible. It has also been observed in modern psychological therapies that becoming aware of the impressions in the subconscious that are causing such fears and accepting them can reduce the fears and, in some cases, eliminate the manifestations completely. In the aforementioned movie, the protagonist gets in touch with reality once he finds proof that what he has been believing to be the truth has indeed been hallucinations.
Even on the spiritual path, it is common for practitioners to get stuck in Vikalpa. They imagine unprecedent outcomes – some of the most common desires that I have encountered among spiritual practitioners are: “I will never be in an undesirable state of mind”, “I will never be afraid of any challenge that life may throw at me”, “I will never get upset with anyone”, “I will never live a day in poor health”, etc. Such practitioners tend to forget that change and decay are the nature of the mind-body complex and it is nothing wrong in getting upset or sad; the knowledge teaches that these are all temporary states and must not be allowed to drive our actions, and it provides us with the tools and the techniques to overcome bad days.
On the other side, Vikalpa may come in handy in many situations. Creating fanciful scenarios are beneficial in the creative field, especially for writers. Creating something is invaluable and if Vikalpa is the means to do so for a person, then so be it. In fact, I think everyone thing that is innovative, or revolutionized the world was just a fantasy first (but it became a reality because people worked hard in real time and did not waste more time just daydreaming). Vikalpa is a very important process of the mind that can be fulfilling but like all other things, there must be a balance. No matter what, one must not lose touch with the reality.
One fundamental difference between the three Vrittis we have covered until now. Pramana is the right knowledge of an object, Viparyaya is false knowledge of an object and Vikalpa is imagination that is not based on any object at all. This distinction can make it easier for us to recognize the Vritti of the mind but it requires due practice and patience.
Maharishi Patanjali’s purpose to point out these processes of the mind is to make us aware. Only once we observe them can we accept them, and only once we accept them can we take steps to subdue and overcome them when they are undesirable.