Sūtra 1.4: Vṛttisārūpyamitaratra

Notes by Alex Eagle, edited by Ram

  • At other times [puruṣa] has the same [similar] form as the vṛtti.
Review of Sūtra 1.3

STUDENT: Why does Patañjali use the expression draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam, instead of a simpler word such as kaivalya or samādhi? Since we are not in touch with the classic yoga tradition, it is so hard to reconstruct the meaning!

RAM: Yes, it is hard to reconstruct the meaning even for one familiar with the yoga tradition. We must remember that Patañjali’s style is aphoristic. Not only is aphorism as a form difficult to understand, given its cryptic nature and penchant for brevity, but the language itself is quite pliable, with a single word often having multiple meanings. Furthermore, while Patañjali’s aphorisms are based on the Sāṅkhya philosophical system, which allows us to easily interpret the technical terms he draws from that system, he also uses idiomatic words that were well known in his time without providing any formal definition. For all these reasons, we rely on the traditional commentaries to Patañjali’s aphorisms, focusing primarily on the first commentary, by Vyāsa, then dipping into subsequent elaborations on his commentary (or independent expositions) for greater clarity. (Yet it is also true that the more commentaries one consults, the more confused one is likely to be!)

Note that Patañjali has not yet used the word samādhi, and kaivalya is first mentioned in Sūtra 2.25. Nevertheless, in Sūtra 1.3 Patañjali describes what samādhi and kaivalya really mean: draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam, the seer remains in his/her own true nature. But one has to know that the word seer means puruṣa. Draṣṭṛ (seer)puruṣa and ātman (self) all mean the same. Words that were common at Patañjali’s time are not defined in his sūtras.


In Sūtra 1.3 the word tadā (then) refers to Sūtra 1.2 and thus means “when citta-vṛtti-nirodha takes place.” The word tadā also raises the question, “What happens to the puruṣa at other times?” In answer to this, he introduces Sūtra 1.4: “At other times [puruṣa] has the same [similar] form as the vṛtti.”

Since Patañjali doesn’t defines the term vṛtti until Sūtras 1.5 and 1.6, suffice it to say for now that this term means any mental process some translators use the term mental mode for cittavṛtti, and vṛtti is translated as thought. Draṣṭṛ (seer) (that is  puruṣa or ātman) associate itself with vṛttis.  An analogy can help one see this process of the seer, despite being unconnected with the mind which is praṛti. It is like the reflection of a light bulb in water: when the water is agitated, the bulb also appears to be agitated, though in reality it is not. By making the water still, one perceives the true steadiness of the bulb. This accurate perception of reality, of the true nature of the self, is accomplished by practicing what Patañjali suggests in the sūtras.

Stilling of the mind is difficult. It is analogous to the pain of labor during childbirth; if she chooses to focus on pain that the body is undergoing, a necessary process, she becomes a witness, or helplessly consumed by the pain, meaning a total identification with the body.  The identification of “me” with “my pain”—of becoming one with pain, as it were—is how puruṣa assumes the form of the vṛttis.

Puruṣa is never “lost.” He is never associated with prakṛti, whose manifestation is the vṛtti. Thus puruṣa only appears to be of the same form as the vṛtti. A Vedanta verse says, “The deluded [ignorant] one thinks that the sun has gone dark if the sky is overcast.” Even when the sky is cloudy, of course, the Sun continues to shine—and in fact cannot help but shine, since to shine is its svarūpa. So, too, the svarūpa of the puruṣa is unassociated with prakṛti, the phenomena.

Another analogy to understand the nature of  puruṣa is the theater-lamp analogy found in a fifteenth century text. Centuries ago (and also in modern stagings of a classical dance form in Kerala), a single, centrally located lamp would light the stage, actors, audience, as well as the king and his retinue—it would illumine all. And after the play had ended, after the king and his retinue had exited, after the audience had left, the lamp would still be shining, since its nature is illumination. Puruṣa is like the lamp, and the rest—actors, audience, king, and retinue—are but a set of vṛittis.

Sārūpyam is derived from rūpa (form, nature) and means “of the same nature as” or “of a similar nature.” Vṛittisārūpyam is a Sanskrit compound formation that translates as “of a nature similar to the cittavṛitti [the mental mode].” For understanding the import of this particular aphorism, the word similar is preferable to the word same, in the light of the fact that puruṣa is and can never be “lost” in prakṛti. One of my teachers used to say, “The day you stop identifying yourself with your cittavṛitti, you are free.” This Vedantic master’s statement facilitates understanding of both this and the prior sūtra. (Incidentally, the resonance between his statement and the import of the sūtras also demonstrates how close Yoga and Vedanta are from the standpoint of sādhana.)

If puruṣa is and can never be “lost” in prakṛti, how is it that I, the puruṣa, can find myself embedded in this phenomenal world and subject to the vagaries of my mind? This is the power of prakṛti, of her threefold aspects, the guṇas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Though the mind is primarily sattva, it also encompasses both rajas and tamas as subcomponents. While puruṣa is beyond the three aspects, the mind, being an evolution of prakṛti, is not.

Yoga practice is the attempt to use the mind to transcend the hold of prakṛti in order to recognize that one is the puruṣa. Some yogis believe that, since the body is an expression of prakṛti, this state of recognition, kaivalya, is possible only at death. A similar debate is seen in Vedanta about jīvanmukti (living in a state of liberation) and videhamukti (achieving liberation only after death). But this debate is beyond the scope of our current discussion.

Itaratra can mean “elsewhere” or “at other times.”

STUDENT: One translation of itaratra is “like of the night,” but you’ve suggested that the meaning here is “at other times.” Any comment?

RAM: Based on my knowledge of Sanskrit, I cannot explain the translation “like of the night.” In Sanskrit, all words, including compounds, are derived by adding suffixes (pratyayas) to fewer than three thousand base words (called prakṛti, a technical term in grammar). Two such suffixes— (which refers to time) and tra (which refers to place)—are appended to sarvanāman (loosely translated as “pronouns”) to provide a sense of adhikaraṇa (location). Thus, tadā means “then,” while tatra means “there.” To complicate matters, the suffix tra can also be used to refer to time!

Since itara means “other,” itaratra can mean either “elsewhere” or “at other times.” Contextually, we take the meaning to be “at other times” since “elsewhere”implies a different location and not time.

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