The first Vital Principle: The meditative state of mind or the ‘not-doing’ of meditation
The first of the Eight Vital Principles is the meditative state of mind or the not-doing of
meditation. It is the state of mind of inner silence, the matrix on which everything else rests, as well
as the glue that holds everything else together. It is not a state of mind that comes at the end of all
the other practices as a ‘reward’, but it is the departure point for whatever comes afterwards.
Without the meditative state of mind the other principles lose their deeper meaning.
The meditative state of mind is not the same as meditation.
Meditation is something that you ‘do’, and involves being in a certain place for a certain amount of
time and usually in a certain posture. It is an ‘activity’.
The meditative state of mind is not bound to location, activity, posture or time. It is not something
that you do, but something that you are.
There are many schools that teach meditation as a technique for achieving something. In these
techniques there is concentration, exclusion, practice and the passage of time, with a goal at the end.
The meditative state of mind is not a technique. It is a state of being. There is nothing to be gained.
In Patanjali’s yoga sutras the first three sutras are:
1. ‘Atha yoganushasanam’, which means ‘now we will talk about yoga’.
2. ‘Yogas citta vritti nirodhah’.
3. ‘Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam’, which means ‘then the Seer stands alone’.
We need to remember that Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, so we need to dig in to find the
Taking the second sutra, we find some interesting words. Vritti is a word that comes back over and
over in the asanas: pari-vritta trikonasana, pari-vritta sirsasana, and so forth. Where do we find this
in the Latin-European language? In Italian we have the word ‘ruota’, which means ‘wheel’. In
English we have the word ‘vortex’, in German ‘rad’, meaning ‘wheel’. So ‘vritta’ is a wheel,
something round that rotates. ‘Ni’ is always a negation, and then we have again ‘rodhah’, back to
the vortex, the ‘rodeo’, the rotation.
Thus we can read the second sutra: “Yoga is when the rotations (vritti) of the mind (citta) stop
Then comes the real McCoy: ‘Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam ’: Then the Seer stands in its
own form, alone.:
tada = then, at that time
drashtuh = the seer ( from the root drsh, which means to see. It is interesting to note that
Patanjali is not trying to define who is the Seer, or the nature of that Seer. This is left to be
answered by direct experience.)
svarupe = in its own form; (sva = own; rupa = form)
avasthanam = resting, standing. The root stha means to stand
Later on he states that when this happens, when the mind is still and only observing, it is like a quiet
lake reflecting only that which is there. He does not say that this is done at a certain time in a certain
place and in a certain posture. It simply is, everywhere and at all times. That is the meditative state
of mind. It is, what Patanjali calls the Seer.
We always look at things, at the world and ourselves, ‘re-cognizing’ the world and ourselves. We
are the observer, and the world is the observed, and in-between stands the act of observation.
And if we take away the observer and the observed? What remains?.
Only the act of observation, without the observer and without the observed.
This is the meditative state of mind.
Let us say I look at a tree. There are two ways of looking. One is looking, and the other one is
seeing. They are two entirely different things.
By looking at the tree I ‘harm’ the tree.
Because I ‘know’ what it is, I ‘re-cognize’ it. I have seen millions of trees in the past, I know one
when I see one.
By ‘re-cognizing’ the tree, which means ‘again knowing’ the tree (from Latin: ‘recognoscere’
recall to mind, know again (re- "again" + cognoscere "to get to know), in reality I do not see the
actual tree in front of me, as I am busy dipping into my memory of all the trees I have seen in the
past, of naming it a tree, of ‘liking’ it or ‘not liking’ it.
So the poor tree is left by itself, in all its glory, without an observer, while I am naming it and
comparing it to other trees I have seen in the past, ‘re-cognizing’ it.
We do the same to people, to everything. We never see things as they are at this moment. We only
see the memory of those things, the accumulated ideas that we have about those things, the likes or
dislikes. In other words, we see everything through the screen of words.
‘Panta Rhei’ in ancient Greek means ‘everything flows’. The term is known as part of the
philosophy of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the late 6th century BC. He said “no man ever
steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” We and
everything else are in Constant Motion (panta rhei) , constant change, or rather, everything is
constantly created from moment to moment.
With this Heraclitus means that we can never have the same experience twice, as everything is
subject to continuous and relentless mutation, changing, flowing, flowing on and on and on.....
What has it to do with the tree? The tree in front of me I have never seen in my life before.
Impossible. The tree, from millisecond to millisecond changes, a leaf turns this way, a branch
moves, nothing is staying the way it is: pantha rhei, but by thinking about it, naming it, seeing my
memory, I do not see the tree as it is now, as it is unfolding....I only see the past, never what is in
the actual moment NOW. Let us say my mind is full of vrittis, of words and descriptions..
That is what we call looking. Looking is ‘killing’ the tree with our memories, our ideas, our likes
Another way is seeing. In seeing the mind has never seen the object in front of it before. It is the eye
free of memory, of judgment and of language.
So seeing is when you look at something and do not recognize it, do not compare it to something
you have seen in the past. Which does not mean that your mind is a blank. On the contrary, it is
extremely alive, aware, paying total attention to what is in front, but without spoiling it, without
comparing it with something else, without corrupting it by words, by the description.
This is called the meditative state of mind or total attention.
How do we apply this in our yoga practice.
In the meditative state of mind or total attention the mind is completely occupied with the
movement of the moment. As the Zen Buddhist says: ‘When you eat, eat, when you sleep, sleep’.
There are no thoughts or distractions.
It is the mind that does something for the first time, even though it has done it a thousand times
before in the past.
What does this mean?.
Every movement that you do is the first time you are doing it, every asana you do is the first time
you are ever doing it. There is no referring to other times in the past that you did this movement,
this asana, there is no ’re-cognizing’. ‘Re-cognizing’ means to again know, so it refers to the past,
when you ‘knew’ this movement.
Instead in the meditative state of mind you do the movement, the asana, as if it is the first time
you are doing it, and therefore the mind is free, fresh, innocent, curious. As Suzuki says: Zen mind
– beginner mind.
With the mind in this way, innocent and free, the physical exercise, the asana, becomes a meditation
Only in this state of mind can learning take place.
In a video in the section ‘video’ of this web site I have explained that learning is not an
accumulation of ‘knowledge’, but a ‘catastrophic’ breaking with the past, in which everything you
do and see is completely new, never seen or done before. It is that break between the past and the
future where the new can happen, where learning takes pace, after which you are no longer the
For further reference see the video: ‘On learning’ in the video section of this web site.