Citta or Chitta in Yoga and Hindu tradition

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Chitta is one of the four aspects of the human mind, the other three being buddhi (intelligence), manas (conscious mind) and ahamkara (ego principle). The word "chinta" (thinking or worrying) is derived from the word "chitta" only.

Chitta is not just the mind consciousness, although it is synonymously used in popular usage to mean the same. Chitta is the sum of the whole mind-body consciousness, which envelops the soul and pervades all the five sheaths (kosa) in the human body namely the food body, the breath body, the mental body, the intelligence body and the soul body (anandamaya kosa).

It includes the mind-stuff or the vast data-warehouse of all past memories, images, thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, sensations, samskaras and other forms of mental impressions and casual memories which one accumulates through many lives. These memories and impressions may belong to the current life of an individual or even his or her previous lives. It is from where one's core thoughts and desires (vasanas), the sum of ones life and actions produce the seeds for one's next birth.

Chitta belongs to the domain of Nature (Prakriti) and just as everything else in Nature is subject to impermanence, impurities and modifications. Patanjali recognizes five types of  changing states of chitta called chitta vrittis, which are either harmful or not harmful to one's wellbeing or the practice of yoga. They are modifications arising from right perception, wrong perception, imagination, sleep and memory. By controlling them through concentration, etc., one can achieve peace and tranquility.

In the context of modern psychology, chitta refers to the subtle physical and mental energy which circulates in the body as prana and which is subject to states and modifications in response to external and internal events and objects. Hence, you cannot arrest the movements and modifications of the mind by just controlling your thoughts. You need a whole mind and body approach and practice various disciplines to achieve perfection in stillness and mental absorption.

The collective consciousness of Jung which contain archetypal and racial memories may be considered as part of chitta only. Chitta plays an important role in the creation and recollection of dream states as the dream experiences of the sleeping state are also stored in the chitta.

One of the principal aims of yoga is quieting the mind, an integral aspect of which consists of quieting the chitta also. During some forms of meditation we can witness how thoughts and memories arise from the depths of our chitta and then subside into it. This understanding would help us gain control over our thought process and attain inner calm.

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