The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: The Character of the Ultimate Reality of the Universe

The study of human experience is, in a very important sense, the study of life. Bring back to your memory all that has been discussed along these lines up to this time, and recollect where you stand in this arduous adventure of the analysis of human experience. These processes of self-analysis are difficult to remember inasmuch as analysis and rational judgement, with a due consideration of the pros and cons of every act and thought, is not the usual way in which we operate in our lives. We are generally driven by instincts, impulses, sentiments and habits of the past, and are not necessarily guided by reason and a considered judgement of values.

We are now here, not to be driven by instincts and to be pushed by old habits of our social environment and social living, but to consider in a more logical form the causative factors operating behind our experiences, in all the aspects of the dimension which they occupy in the scheme of things. We have come to the point of confronting the universe before us as a large body of experience which has ever managed to place itself in the position of an object. Even just now, at this very moment when we are speaking and listening, it remains an object of our consciousness. People around us are our objects of sensory perception and mental cognition; and things around us are of a similar nature. The world as a whole refuses to be recognised in any other manner than as a content of our awareness and an object of our experience. To resolve this mystery of our relationship to things is the hard task that is before us.

We cannot understand the correct relationship that obtains even between ourselves and our own neighbour. How is this neighbour related to us? “Who is my neighbour?” was a question put by an inquisitive person to Jesus Christ. How do we know what sort of relation is there between us and the next man? We are not in a position to easily probe into this difficulty. That there is some sort of a connection of one thing with another goes without saying. No one will gainsay this fact that there is a relationship among people, a sort of cause and effect relation among all things. But, what do we mean by ‘relation’? I have tried to touch upon the intriguing character of the very concept of relation. We cannot understand what it actually means, where it stands. Does it belong to the subject, or to the object, or is it independent of both? We found that it cannot belong to the subject; it cannot belong to the object; and, also, it cannot stand independently.

Thus, the world is a world of relativity, inscrutability, indeterminability and unintelligibility. Nothing can be understood to the core, inasmuch as relation stands as a concept which cannot be explained and cannot be understood. How am I related to you, and you to me? Nobody knows. Again, there is a psychological habit which takes for granted that there is such a thing called relation, whatever that relation be.

This difficulty is the difficulty of all life—any kind of life, anywhere. It boils down to another difficulty: our inability to understand what we ourselves are, and what anything is—what the world is, what creation is, what life itself means. Life stands before us as a mystery, because the mystery is hidden within our own selves as the incapacity to understand anything whatsoever, within or without. All this difficulty arises because our probing is shallow. It is not an in-depth analysis. The senses are so powerful, our social instincts are so rapacious in their demands, our hunger for name and fame, authority, power and wealth is so intense that these pressures will not permit the mind to go deep into its own self. It requires a herculean effort on the part of the seeker of Truth to resist the onslaught of these cyclones of sensory movements. No one can withstand them. When a tornado blows, we, too, will be blown out, together with its movement. But, by abhyasa and vairagya, as the Bhagavadgita and Patanjali put it—by persistent, tenacious practice and an attempt to cut off the internal connection of the senses with the so-called externality of things—we can, with intense hardship, no doubt, go deep into ourselves.

The going deep into ourselves is also, at the same time, a going deep into anything in the world. To know ourselves is to know all people, all things—the whole world. Researchers in biology have demonstrated that the whole man can be seen in one cell of his body; the human body is a macrocosm to the cell which is the microscopic mini-representation of the human organism. We are told that in one drop of blood the whole history of a man can be read, right from his birth to his death. And it is not for nothing that our scriptures have told us that the whole history of man is written when he is in the womb of the mother. The length of life for which he has to live, the experiences through which he has to pass and the relationships in society which are to decide his experiences—these are written in invisible characters by the mystery of the cosmos even before the child comes out of the womb, because every child is a child of the universe. It is not born to one person, one individual called the father and another called the mother. Every event is a cosmic event; every baby is a child of the whole cosmos. It belongs to the universe. Everyone belongs to the universe—myself, yourself, all people. Neither you belong to me, nor I belong to you. Nobody possesses anything here. One cannot be the object of possession and enjoyment of another. Such a thing cannot obtain in this world, where everything belongs to one single centre of operation, the government of the cosmos. Perhaps we cannot conceive of a greater socialistic form of administration than the way in which the universe operates, where each one is for everyone, and everyone for each.

This is an empirical difficulty, and also a philosophical problem. Where everything is hanging on everything else, thinking is not possible. Yoga drives us to this point where thinking is not possible. It is thinking that is our doom—thinking in terms of perception, doubt, memory, sleep, etc., which are the psychic operations in man. A great aphorism of Patanjali puts it plainly before us that every psychic activity is a hindrance to the impulse to the practice of yoga. Yoga is not a psychic operation, not a mental activity. It is not thinking. It is a tendency to being in a larger dimension.

When we enter into the field of yoga, we expand the ambit of our existence. We do not merely start thinking of something as an object outside us. We think ‘being’ as such in the various degrees of its expression. We are individuals, and in that sense we are also a sort of being. I am. This consciousness of ‘I am’-ness is an affirmation of the being of the isolated individuality. The rise of the yoga consciousness is from this level of being to the next higher state of being, where it includes the environment of the individual’s perception and experience —not in the sense of a contact with the environment outside, as it happens in ordinary sense perception, but in an inclusion of this atmosphere in the ambit of one’s experience. This is called yoga samadhi, samyama—the art of uniting one’s being with the being of that which tentatively appears as an atmosphere around oneself.

The environment around us is a being in itself; it exists. This existence of the environment around us is inseparable from the being of our own selves, as we appear to ourselves. Unfortunately, this environment stands outside us, so we struggle with the environment. We are in conflict with the environmental atmosphere. We struggle to exist because of the fear of the unknown motives behind the way in which the environment operates. This fear vanishes when the environment becomes a part of our existence.

Yoga is the art of union with every content of consciousness. That which the consciousness apprehends as an existent something is its content, and may also be called its environment. When I am conscious that I am placed in an environment of people around me, of air blowing, sun shining and earth under me, all these ideas that occur to me are ideas of an environment which is physical, social, political, and every blessed thing. This complicated environment of the perceiving consciousness, which stands outside in space and time as an object thereof, has to get absorbed into the being of the perceiving consciousness by deep meditation.

This is a difficult art. Meditation is a difficult job because the mind insists on affirming that the environment is outside, that people are external and things are unconnected. The obsession that things around us are unconnected to us will not leave us until the end of our life. The child born of our egoism affirms the isolatedness of our being. The ego is hard, like flint. It will not melt, even by the application of the heat of meditation.

Yet, it has to be effected. The day has to come when we shall have to achieve this purpose. All our desire, all our ambition, all our conflict, all our love and all our hatred in life is a multi-formed expression of our attempt to seek a union and harmony with the environment around us. But we bungle in this attempt. We fumble and fall, and get defeated and receive a kick in our attempt to establish this union between ourselves and the environment around us. Thus, we feel frustrated and come back. But, nevertheless, our activities in life are a blind groping in the darkness of ignorance in the direction of a communion that we wish to establish with the universe outside —which we never achieve because of the difficulty in controlling the senses, which insist on saying again and again that the environment is outside us and we can never have union with it.

Our desire is nothing but a desire for union with things. When we love an object, we wish to enter into that object and absorb that object into ourselves, as a part of ourselves. We wish to get absorbed into that object, as a part of that object. All fulfilment of affection and love is the fulfilment of union with the object of affection. Hatred, animosity and conflict are only the negative side of this affection, which operates like the obverse side of the same coin of the human attempt to encounter the world—its environment.

This is the outcome of our study of the internal relation that obtains between us and the world outside. We have, to some extent, conducted an analysis of our own selves. Then, we studied, in a measure, the process of knowledge—what we call the epistemological predicament. We encountered the universe. I tried to explain in some detail the internal structure of the cosmos in its various planes of expression. Now we are coming to a crucial point in our spiritual adventure—namely, the character of the Ultimate Reality of the universe, which is a more difficult problem for us to understand, encounter and analyse than anything that we have been discussing up to this time.

What is Truth, finally? What exists finally, ultimately? Everything passes, everything is transient, everything moves. Everybody who is born also dies. We have never seen Truth in this world. That which perishes, demonstrates its unreality. “I am not true. I go.” That which goes, goes with a proclamation of the inadequacy of its own being. Everything moves; everything is a flow of energy, a force. We cannot touch the same water in a flowing river the next moment, nor can we touch the same fire in a moving flame. Perhaps, we may not be able to touch the same object the next moment. It transforms itself in an impulse of movement which carries it onward, forward, towards a destination which no one knows.

Such being the case of things in this world, such being the character of the whole world which perishes every moment like a bubble that bursts, what can be Truth? We live in a world of untruths, transitory right to the core. Mortality is gripping everything relentlessly. Mrityuloka is this; everything dies. Why one dies, no one knows. Why should one be reborn? No one knows. What is birth; what is death; what is transition; what is all this drama of the universe; what is anything at all? This is a question which will point to the possibility of our solving this mystery of the Ultimate Reality of the universe. If nothing is possible, if everything is transitory, no question will arise because the question, also, will be transitory.

There is something which speaks within us in the language of eternity, not merely in the language of transitoriness. The consciousness of the transitoriness of things is an indication of the presence of a non-transitory eternity. This is a subtle voice that speaks within us, but it gets stifled, smothered by the mud that is thrown over it and the dust that is kicked up by the activity of the senses which blinds our eyes until we cannot see what is hidden behind this profundity within our own selves.

The art of yoga is the procedure which the deepest in man adopts towards the solution of the mystery of life. I mentioned at different times that yoga is not what we actually do as a human being. It is the art of being. We will not be able to make any sense out of this mystery of the art of being. What does it mean, after all? What do we mean by ‘being’? Being is that which is to be distinguished from becoming; a subtle distinction has to be drawn between them.

The world that we see, that we are experiencing before us, this body in which we are caught up, this visible life, is becoming, because it is a movement. It becomes; it never is. We, also, become, every moment of time. We have been growing and growing, right from our babyhood, and we are growing, decaying, moving, undergoing transformation. Even our human individuality is a becoming; there is no ‘being’ in ourselves. But, the fact that we are able to know that we are involved in becoming is an answer to the question as to what is behind becoming. All becoming, all movement, all evolution is an impulse to being, so that becoming is the response of the universe to the call of that which is Pure Being—that which we call Eternal, that which we consider the Infinite, that which is beyond the transitoriness of perception, space and time—that summons all becoming towards Itself just as the periphery of a circle may be summoned by the centre thereof.

We are pulled, in spite of ourselves. We run fast in a direction of which we have no consciousness. All the religions of the world and all the philosophies have racked their brains in trying to know what is this call that keeps man restless from moment to moment. Why should we be restless, if we are totally involved in becoming? We die every moment of time, and in this perpetual process of dying, there is no time for us to get restless. There cannot be any such thing called joy and sorrow in a world of total transitoriness. This stands to logic. But, there seems to be a secret hidden behind the transitoriness and the dying process of things. That secret keeps us ever restless.

The feelings of joy and sorrow, and the anxiety, insecurity, and difficulties that we experience in our lives cannot be explained if everything is really passing, because a thing that passes cannot have an experience that it passes. Then, there cannot be any experience at all. No one can know anything. Even the thing that tries to know a thing cannot know that it is doing so. It would be a fool’s paradise to the core. But, it does not appear to be such. Even in the contradictions of life there is an impulse from within us to resolve these contradictions. Otherwise, why should there be organisations, conferences or efforts of any kind whatsoever? Why should man do anything at all, and think anything at all, if everything is passing, dying, and nothing exists, finally?

Here is an indirect answer, arising from within our own selves, to the question of life as a whole. We are the answers to our own questions. Not the books, not the scriptures, not even the Gurus of the world can help us, finally. We have to stand on our own legs. Finally, we will find that the Guru is within us; God is within us; the secret is within us; immortality is within us. That which we struggle for is being carried by us from place to place every moment. The treasure is within us. But, this within-ness of ours is, again, a mystery that eludes our understanding. We are empirically brainwashed. The empirical-ridden senses tell us that the within-ness of experience is nothing but the within-ness of the body. That which is inside the body is within; that which is outside the body is without. The existence of the body is the reason behind our entertaining notions of inside and outside. If the body were not, there would be no such idea. But, can wethink as Pure Consciousness, which we seem to be?

The conclusion we arrive at is by self-analysis itself. The three states of waking, dream and sleep, when they are analysed thoroughly, threadbare, reveal to us that we do exist under conditions bereft of the awareness of even the body and the mind—for instance, in deep sleep. There is a subtle suggestion in the state of deep sleep that we do exist independent of body encasement and mental restrictions. In what condition do we exist in deep sleep, except as a bare minimum of the awareness that we were, that we existed, that we are—nothing more, nothing less? I existed; I was; I am. Nothing more can be said about the condition in which we persisted at the back of the condition we call sleep.

This bare, featureless transparency of consciousness seems to be our essential nature. And, consciousness is an indivisible something. No one can cut consciousness into pieces. It cannot be divided into parts. No one can imagine a division within consciousness. We cannot divide ourselves into two parts or into any number of parts. The very attempt at imagining a division in consciousness asserts the indivisibility of consciousness, because the consciousness of there being a gap between two parts of consciousness is, again, filled with consciousness itself. Therefore, a conception of the division of consciousness is impossible.

There is no dividedness in the being of consciousness. Consciousness is being; being is consciousness. Being is consciousness; consciousness is being. The awareness that I am is also the awareness that I exist. I am-ness is nothing but existence affirming itself as being conscious of itself. We cannot separate being from consciousness, or consciousness from being. When I feel that I am, it is a summing up of the blend of consciousness and the being thereof, and vice versa. So, the minimum of our being is the barest residuum of consciousness.

We are not bodies, not men, women or children—nothing of the kind. The root from which we start the practice of yoga is the operation of consciousness, not of the senses and the psychic operations, all which have to be restrained by nirodha, as yoga puts it—chitta vritti nirodha. The restraint of the senses and the mind is the restraint of those conditioning factors which compel us to feel that we are always bodies, individuals, human beings. We have to melt down these impulsions to the feeling that we are pinpointed to one place through a body and are segregated from others. But, this suggestion and hint at the nature of the Ultimate Reality as Pure Consciousness and Indivisible Being leaves us in a peculiar difficulty, which sometimes overwhelms us with an impossibility to move onward.

The reality of the world persists even here, at the point of our coming to a final conclusion that the final reality of things is Being-Consciousness, Sat-Chit. The winds of life blow so hard upon us, and they will not easily leave us to ourselves. Again and again we have to persist in this meditation upon the conclusion we have very wisely arrived at through this analysis of Being-Consciousness as the final reality of things, notwithstanding the fact that we are tossed hither and thither by the waves of empirical existence, as a person caught up in the waves of the ocean sinks down one moment and rises to the surface another moment, only to sink down again. We, in this ocean of life, go within, and come up to the surface only to see the world again with our eyes. Yet, we should develop within ourselves a hardihood and a toughness of conscious behaviour by which we shall stand firmly on ourselves. We should apply the whole of our will to a dedication of whatever we are in our entirety for this great purpose of bringing to the level of our conscious experience what has remained only as a suggestionat the barest minimum of our being.

Now we have only logically come to a conclusion that the whole universe seems to have at its core the reality of Being-Consciousness, Existence-Knowledge, Sat-Chit; but, logical assertion should become part of feeling and experience. Mere intellectual analysis does not suffice in a world where instincts are strong. We know very well how logically and scientifically we behave in a court of law or in an office in which we are working, but we are poor, instinct-ridden people in our own families, in our little circles of private relationship. Our public life is different from our private life. We know very well that we are not internally what we are outwardly in external relationships. This is proof of the inability of logical conclusions to guide our life wholly. The strong emotions, feelings, instincts and sentiments, which have become part of our living, have to get blended with logical understanding. All the logic and reason should go hand in hand with the deepest feelings within us. We should not feel something and understand another thing. Otherwise, we will be like people being convinced against their own will. As the poet put it: “A person who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” He does not change.

Hence, all the teachings go over our heads, mostly, because the teachings are on the surface of our life. They remain as communications in the empirical realm of our sensory existence. But there is a transempirical being in us which is subliminal and is not merely what we see with our senses. This has to be brought to the surface of consciousness. In a way, we are conducting a super-psychoanalytical inquiry where we bring up to the surface of consciousness not merely what is subconscious and unconscious, but what is spiritual. The Atman, the Self, is brought to the surface of conscious experience, so that the indivisibility of experience which remained only as a suggestion in the state of deep sleep becomes a direct experience in our waking consciousness. When we are conscious, we are not conscious that there is a divided world of isolated individuals. We become conscious of the indivisible connectedness of our being with the whole cosmos. Yoga is a movement towards this larger interrelatedness of our being, so that when we think in yoga, we think in the way the whole cosmos thinks.