The Five States of Mind
In the Yoga Bhashya (the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras) the great sage Vyasa offered the following classification of the Five States of Mind:
- Kshipta, completely distracted
- Mudha, dull, lethargic
- Vikshipta, not fully concentrated, distracted
- Ekagra, concentrated, one-pointed
- Nirodha, the state in which the mind is mastered and agitation completely ceases
In general, meditation and yoga are ways of ascending from the ordinary, distracted, or dull states of mind to the stillness of nirodha (the superior state of mind).
Kshipta means “agitated,” and is a completely distracted state of mind. It is the lowest of the five states. The kshipta mind is active, restless, fickle, disturbed, and wandering. Although it is the most common state that the majority of people experience in their waking lives, the yogic perspective asserts that it should be overcome. Dominated by rajas guna (the active principle), it is a state of complete restlessness in which the mind jumps from one object of fascination to another. When in this state, the being is at the mercy of thoughts and emotions, which move as a hummingbird flits from flower to flower.
Mudha means “dull,” and refers to a lethargic state of mind. The mudha mind is dull, heavy, and forgetful. Dominated by tamas guna (the inert principle), it is a state in which the mind is dim, slow-witted, sleepy, lethargic, and lacking alertness. This state produces laziness in the being, which makes it difficult to be productive. The mudha mind is slightly more settled than the kshipta mind, but as the active disturbances of the first agitated state have settled down the mind may be more easily trained. Swami Vivekananda wrote that both the kshipta and mudha states are “natural to the demons.”
Vikshipta means “distracted,” and is a scattered state of mind. The vikshipta mind is distracted but can occasionally be steady or focused. It is the “monkey mind” that often disturbs us in meditation. We can concentrate and be alert for a period of time and then some attraction or aversion distracts us and the mind wanders. We settle the mind, only to be distracted again after a short time. Swami Vivekananda wrote that the vikshipta mind is “natural to devas, the gods” and it is the state at which sattva guna (the balanced principle) begins to dominate. The vikshipta mind can be much more easily trained than in previous states. Once the mind is trained, the next stage, ekagra (the concentrated mind), can be reached.
Ekagra means “one-pointed,” and is a concentrated, single-pointed state of mind. When the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, meditation becomes possible and the real practice of yoga begins. Our internal and external activities are no longer a distraction and we can focus on daily tasks while undisturbed and unaffected by other stimuli. We can rest comfortably in the awareness of the present moment. According to Vyasa (1:1), the ekagra state of mind, “Illumines the true nature of things, destroys the five kleshas, loosens the karmic bonds, and brings one face-to-face with niruddha (the controlled, peaceful state of the mind). This yoga is realized through perception, conception, joy, and Self-consciousness.”
Nirodha means “cessation” or “dissolution.” This term is very important, as it is present in the first part of the definition of yoga given in the Yoga Sutras: “Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.” This means that yoga is the nirodha (cessation) of all the vrittis (movements) of chitta (the mind-field). Because the movements of the mind are quieted, we dis-identify from them and remain as the pure Witness Consciousness (the Supreme Self), or purusha, as Patanjali calls it.