Mind, Consciousness, and Self
In this sutra, Patanjali makes his first reference to the almighty Ego without mentioning the entity by its name - Asmita. To understand this sutra, we need to understand the difference between Mind, Ego, and Consciousness.

Sutra 1-4: vritti sarupyam itaratra

At other times(itaratra), when one is not mindful of the thought patterns(vritti), the discriminative faculty of the Soul gets distorted and appears(sarupyam) to take on the patterns of the mind to be Self.

Question: Mind, consciousness, and the Self. What are they?

Our mind is the biproduct of our experiences. It is a mixture of our thoughts, emotions, opinions, and beliefs regarding a subject or experience. The mind is consciousness infused with the consequences of one’s experiences.

Look at it this way, you have a white wall which is pure consciousness. From your first day at kindergarten, start putting a brush of black paint on the white wall for each one of your experiences. Teacher yells at you, another calls you cute, you win kindergarten poker, a girl smiles, you make a move, she slaps, kids push you, you push kids, lunch stolen, hunger pangs...35 brushes of black paint on the white wall on the first day. This black paint is the mind. In the first 10 days of your kindergarten, the entire consciousness is covered with the black mind.

After that it is double, triple, quadruple….several billion coats of black on the white consciousness and you are only 10 years old. Imagine one coat as a particular thought pattern. This may not be a conscious thought, but one present subconsciously ready to seek fulfilment when time is right. Now multiply this over thousands of lifetimes!

How Mind Splits into Ego or Self

Ego is the identity developed over the years through your worldly experiences. Every experience cuts into the psyche and leaves a scar. Future similar experiences roll through the channel of the scar making it deeper - just like water channels through a canyon. Ego is the dividing of the emotional associations of the Mind through opinions, biases, and beliefs in relationship to people, places, and things.

When you identify with a particular experience of the mind by modifying your behaviour and expectations in any way, the Self/Ego is born. This Self begins identifying itself as a single, isolated and discrete entity attached to the contents of the mind and isolated from everything else in the environment. With the birth of self, we humans are easily diverted from living by our highest principles. We do not question anymore if our thoughts and intentions are in harmony with nature. We do anything to ensure the survival of the Ego. This importance that we attach to the Ego is the veil that distorts our discriminative faculties.

Question: What then is the difference between Mind and Ego?

Put simply, Ego happens to be those modifications of the mind that operate on a conscious level as opposed to the mind; which harbours both, consious and sub-conscious population that inhabits the mind.

Birth of Pride

Not all associations of the Ego will result in pride. For example, you link importance to cars, especially expensive ones. But right now, you cannot afford an expensive car so you get a new inexpensive car. Life is normal, friends comment, “Oh, new car?” “Yep, it's nothing much, gets me from point A to B.” Then your husband kicks the bucket and leaves you with lots of dollars, which by the way, you were not aware he had. You buy an expensive car, something you feel will make you look important, while at the same time getting back at the dead ex for lack of transparency within the relationship.

Now you drive down the road with the top down, music blasting, dark glasses on, and recently dyed ageing hair flying in the wind on your way to the best plastic surgeon in town. No one is above you, and soon no one will be more beautiful than you. This is the difference between Ego and Pride. With the old car there was no pretentious public parading, but the new car is a different matter altogether. Not all impressions of experiences within the Ego become pride. It is only those to which you give importance.

It is important you understand that the Ego is not pride. Pride is that one wave that you raise above the rest by giving it excessive importance. When a person is in this ignorant frame of mind, they get cut off from any extra sensory perceptions, or information that is available to them through consciousness beyond the limits of the personal mind.

Difference Between Mind and Consciousness

Consciousness is an energy field that has intelligence and vibration of pure nature as its attributes. It is pure potential. We humans are immersed in this energy field of pure consciousness. When, through worldly experience the purity of this field is sullied, the mind is born.

The mind orients awareness towards materialism and identity building by focussing on the external and working to seperate your's from mine. Consciousness on the other hand focuses one's attention on the importance of universal connection and altruism. Consciousness looks within to find the common element that binds us all, therefore eliminating self-identity.

Think of Consciousness as the ocean which is absolute bliss that cannot be raised or changed. No matter how many of the independent waves you give importance to, you won’t be able to generate any change in the level of the ocean because the rise in your waves will be compensated for by compressions in other parts. When the waves denoting thoughts and emotions - mind - subside, pure consciousness remains.

But keep in mind that even in the face of your most fervent spiritual ardour, you could still remain marred in worldliness; despite being a split hair width away from freedom. Then suddenly, you emerge completely changed - awakened. This sudden change is what confuses the world. We are used to gradual improvements and like seeing little changes along the way. Unfortunately, spiritual awakening does not follow our narrow guidelines.

  • 1.4 vritti sarupyam itaratra
  • VRITTI - modifications of the mind.

  • SARUPYAM - appearance of, identification of form with preconcieved notions.

  • ITARATRA - at other times, when not under the influence of beliefs and prejudices.