What is Citta or Chitta?

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

There is a lot of confusion among people, and even scholars as to what citta is, which is also spelled as chitta. Roughly speaking citta or chitta means consciousness. But what type of consciousness we are speaking here?

The Yogasutras begins with the declaration that the purpose of yoga is cessation of the citta vrittis, or the modifications (vrittis) that arise in the citta. The scripture identifies five types of modifications which are responsible for the restless state of citta. Until these are subsided fully through the practice of the eightfold yoga and the cultivation of sattva through self-transformation, one cannot achieve stability, equanimity and self-absorption. Everything in life, including knowledge, ignorance, imagination, even sleep cause disturbances in our consciousness. We become disturbed for all the right reasons as well as wrong reasons.

Mental disturbance, whether it is caused by good things in life or bad things in life, is disturbance only, which will eventually harm us physically, mentally and spiritually. We cannot escape from life. Hence we cannot escape from these sources of modifications also. You cannot change this world. You cannot also run away from it. The best way to deal with the sources of our misery, therefore, is to change the way we respond to them and deal with them. This is possible only when you establish a center of stability within yourself. Yoga helps you to find that center of stability or create it with austere effort. It helps you become a master of the world in you rather than a victim of the world in which you live.

Yoga is not a mumbo jumbo scheme to lure you into spiritual life and make you think about God or put yourself completely under the hypnotic gaze of a strangely attired guru who is all out to rob you of your sanity. When yoga was introduced in the USA in the eighteenth century, lot of people actually thought so about yoga with this mindset. Some even filed court cases, alleging that yoga caused people lose their minds. It is true yoga makes you lose your mind, but in a positive way. It helps you lose your monkey mind that is restless and find peace and balance with a new awareness that is not of this world. Yoga makes you strong mentally and stand on your own feet with a stable mind as you navigate through the circus we call Samsara or the phenomenal world.

Citta is loosely translated as the mind. However, citta is not just mind alone. The mind goes by another name, manas. According to our beliefs, manas is not the creator of thoughts or the source of thoughts. It is rather a receptacle of thoughts and emotions. Thoughts arise from desires and desires arise because of the repeated activities of the senses, in which the ego (anava) or the self-sense becomes involved by forming attachments with the sense objects.

Citta is not confined to the mind alone. It is rather the whole mind and body awareness pervading the mind, the ego, the intelligence, the senses, the organs of action, the nervous system, and various types of breathes. Citta is a kind of energy field, made up of the three gunas, namely, sattva, rajas and tamas, having the ability to reflect the objects internally in the consciousness that are perceived through the senses. In other words, citta is a recording mechanism. It records everything that happens to us and creates in the process thoughts, desires, memories, sensations, feelings, emotions, attachments, aversion, habitual thought patterns, and latent impressions . All these keep the citta in a state of flux and do not permit it to stabilize. As long as citta is in turmoil, there is no peace and balance. Desires, attachment, attraction and aversion to the pairs of opposites are chiefly responsible for this turmoil, which results in various kinds of mental and physical afflictions, which we collectively group under the generic term suffering.

Ashtanga yoga says we can stabilize the citta by cultivating sattva or inner purity. When citta is pure with sattva, then it loses its grossness, becomes very subtle and allows the light of the Self to shine through in our internal organ, especially our intelligence, whereby we learn to discriminate between good and bad, cultivate detachment, dispassion, sameness and self-absorption. A truly refined person is one whose citta is pure like the sun, shining brilliantly with the effulgence of purity that is similar to that of the soul. When you become as pure as your soul, you become a divine person, God Himself. In that state, God speaks through you, lives in you and becomes one with you. Yoga is one well known and established vehicle which can bring God to you or take you to God. It is the bridge across the vast chasm that exists between our world and the world of the immortals.

Much of our effort to control our minds fail because we focus upon only one aspect of our awareness. If we want complete results, if we want to truly experience peace and inner stability, we have to concentrate upon our whole body and mind awareness. We have to device a holistic system whereby we manage to transform ourselves completely, not in parts or superficially but fully and comprehensively. It is precisely for this reason, classical yoga recommends not one but eight methods of inner purification. The rules and restraints (yamas and niyamas) and the withdrawal of the senses help us to cultivate detachment, and purify our organs of action, organs of perception and speech. The breath control practices help us to purify and regulate breath (prana).

Concentration and meditation help us to stabilize our minds and the internal organs. In self-absorption we integrate all these efforts to reach a culminating point in the state of self-absorption. In this state the mind remains in deep sleep and only the state of "Iam I am" remains. This goes by many names and it has different states too. Some call it nirvikalpa samadhi. Some call it dharma megha samadhi. It is interesting that a grave is also called a samadhi and you can understand why it is so. Many people find freedom from citta vrittis only upon death! Thus, practically everyone who dies goes into samadhi.

Citta is thus not just mind. It has a physical aspect and a subtle aspect. It is total mind and body awareness. The sum total of what you feel and experience in your waking, dreaming and sleeping states. It is your ethereal body, which carries within itself your latent impressions and your karmic fruit. Upon the death of an individual, a part of the citta becomes attached to the soul and goes to the other world. One achieves freedom from births and rebirths only when one's citta is so pure that it burns away all the latent impressions and arrests the formation of karma.

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