In "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," he says that the mind, also known as citta (or consciousness), is comprised of three parts. The first is manas, which is the part of the mind that records what it takes in from the external world. The second aspect of the mind is called buddhi. It is the part of the mind that takes the impressions of the external world and puts them into categories. It takes in impressions from the external world through the five senses and then makes note of these impressions. It classifies and analyzes everything. Buddhi deems things as good or bad and reacts to them accordingly. Then there’s what is called ahamkara. This is the aspect of the mind that is the ego. It’s the part that makes claim of these impressions as its own and puts them into a little storage box called “individual knowledge.”
To understand this more clearly, let’s consider an example. Let’s say you are in the African jungle amongst all the animals of the jungle kingdom. A big, living object is fast approaching. Manas makes record of the sighting. The buddhi part of the mind says, “Oh my goodness, that’s a lion and it’s on the prowl for food.” Ahamkar says, “Yes! I am the one who is seeing this lion. I am the one who is scared. And this scary lion wants to eat ME! I’m sure of it!”
In our Western society, we see the mind as being full of intelligence and knowledge. We see the mind as a source of wisdom. We see it as being conscious. Now, yoga, on the other hand, teaches us that the mind is not intelligent in the deepest sense of the word. The mind has a sort of knowledge that is borrowed. It’s borrowed from its experiences, its ego, its perceptions.
It has a knowledge, or perception, which is referred to in yoga as vritti. Vritti is like a thought wave. It is objective. It’s attached to the ego because every perception ignites the ego. When something in the external world is recorded by manas, the part of the mind that records things, a vritti (thought wave) occurs in the mind. Then the ego becomes identified with this particular thought wave and labels it “good" and "I am happy,” or “bad" and "I am not happy.”
As you might be able to see, it’s this identification with vritti that causes us quite a lot of suffering. It makes us want to cling to the pleasures and avoid the pain. Luckily, we have what’s called the Atman. This is the part of us that’s unchanging. This is the witness, the seer, which is the divinity that resides within each and every one of us. The Atman holds true intelligence and wisdom. It sees things as they are. It sees the ultimate reality of things.
This eternal Atman isn’t identified with vritti. It is the one that witnesses them and remains outside of them. The Atman is, therefore, free from the suffering of the mind and the ego. That said, one of the primary goals of the practice of yoga is to be free from this suffering, to disengage from these thought waves. It’s to know one’s true nature: not the one that identifies itself with the ego or the mind’s vritti.
For example, if a beautiful lake is fraught by waves, the lake’s water is full of mud and muck and you can’t see to the bottom. This lake is like our minds and the bottom of the lake is our true nature: our Atman. This is the reason we meditate in yoga (Learn more about how vritti affects your meditation practice.). It’s the reason we practice asana. It’s the reason we practice pranayama. We want to still the mind in order to get to our Atman.
It’s not that we want to make the mind go totally blank. What we want to do is a kind of unlearning. We want to unlearn this conditioning of being identified with the thoughts. Now, this is a difficult thing to do, but it’s possible through the many practices of yoga. We can transform ourselves entirely when we learn to do this. We can attain true Self-realization. We can live from our Atman. And when we do this, we become free. We become enlightened.
It is written in Yoga Sutra 1.2, "yoga-citta-vritti-nirodha." Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of the mind, or of consciousness. Citta is the mind. Vritti are the thought waves and they are prone to misconceptions. One might say that the daily experience is one that’s full of misconceptions and we’re all trapped by them even if we don’t realize it. If we can learn how to free ourselves from these misconceptions through the continual practice of yoga, we will eventually become truly, truly free.