Imagination consists of the usage of words that are devoid of an actual object
Sabda-jnananupati vastu-sunyo vikalpah (in Sanskrit)
The Yoga Sutras - Chapter 1, Sutra #9
Let us continue our study of the Yoga Sutras.
Five types of “vrttis” or changing states of mind such as right knowledge, error, imagination, sleep, and memory, constantly absorb the pure consciousness or our soul away from its pure nature. Today we will focus on the third vrtti - imagination (“vikalpah”).
Imagination is a metaphor, words or expressions that do not correspond to any actual physical reality but are understood in general. The great examples of imagination are such commonly known phrases such as “the sun rises and sets” or “time flies”. The sun does not either rise or set, nor there is time flapping around with wings, but common usage assigned meaning to these imaginations.
In this sutra, I would also like to focus a bit deeper on the three “gunas”, stands or qualities. They are crucial to an understanding of citta-vrttis-nirodha (yoga is the cessation of the activities of the mind) as well as yoga meditation and practice, so they require attention. The three gunas are: “sattva”, lucidity, “rajas”, action, and “tamas”, inertia.
The gunas are inherent in prakriti, the matter, and they are the catalysts in the evolution of the mind and the material matrix of prakriti. The material world is constituted by these three gunas. The gunas also have psychological manifestations, in our minds, in citta. Thus, sattva, the purest of the gunas, when manifested in citta, is characterized by lucidity, tranquility, wisdom, detachment, happiness, and peacefulness. Rajas is characterized by hankering, energetic endeavor, power, restlessness, and all form of movement and creative activity. Tamas, the guna least favorable for yoga, is characterized by ignorance, delusion, sleep, and disinterest. These gunas are in continual tension with each other, one guna becoming prominent in an individual for a while and suppressing the others until the other guna comes to its place.
One of the goals of yoga meditation is to maximize the presence of the guna of sattva in the mind and minimize those of rajas and tamas. As all three gunas are inherently present in all the materials world including the mind, citta, so rajas and tamas can never be eliminated, only minimized, or, at best, reduced to a latent potential. But, to repeat, yoga is overwhelmingly about cultivating or maximizing sattva, which should control whatever degree of rajas and tamas are indispensable for healthy survival. When all trace of rajas and tamas is stilled, the mind attains the highest potential of its nature, which is sattva, happiness and peacefulness.
Meditative concentration defined as keeping the mind fixed on any particular object of choice without distraction, can still the fluctuating states of mind and thought. By concentration, the distracting influences of rajas and tamas are suppressed, and the sattva aspect of the mind can manifest to its full potential.