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The Epistemology of Yoga



There is a certain duality to the way our life is lived. On the one hand we have an inner quest and, on the other hand, an outward expression and execution of this quest. Our inner awareness is not adequate for achieving our goal. What follows is turmoil and a lashing of emotions so that, as Sri Swami Krishnananda says, we are terribly dislocated within ourselves.

This inner quest leads us in search for knowledge. Does knowledge reside in the subject or does it reside in the object? Is knowledge a function of the subject’s relating to objects or is it a function of objects’ responses to subjects? Is knowledge relative and therefore situation dependant? What is the basis or foundation for knowledge? How do we know what we know? How does knowledge arise? From where does it come?

There is a constant rush outwards, towards the external; and the more we intermingle with the external, the worse is our entanglement and the more difficult the extrication therefrom. As a result, we are more in things externally than within our own selves. This is residing in a world of death, and this is verily the genesis of all sorrow. This sorrow involves the mind so completely that all thinking is distorted or wrecked. Our every process is consumed and committed to this externality—our mind, our values, our will, our feeling and our reason. The goals of life shift outside and get defined by the ephemeral. Consequently, the inner persona remains unattended, inert, while sorrows increase.

What is the basis for the knowledge of this sorrow, or our understanding of it? Before gaining knowledge of things and beings, one needs to gain knowledge about oneself. Epistemology is the getting to know how we get to know, how knowledge takes place, and how the quest for that knowledge arises in us. Does the genesis for the knowledge processing occur based on what the senses perceive? And do the senses perceive what really is, or only what is perceptible through the multifarious lenses of our psyche?

All knowledge is a relationship of the knower with the known. Our relationships with things, and our conduct in life, depend upon the way in which we understand things. But where does this relationship reside? It is neither in the knower, nor in the known, and yet it cannot be absent in either. Further, we are in a phenomenal world and, therefore, we do not see things as they reallyare, but as they are perceived through the senses.

Thus, the understanding of the process of knowing is very important. Critical to this understanding is the very challenge to the perception of the world as being ‘outside’. Swami Krishnananda says, “Why do we say that we see the world outside? Who told us that it is outside? The obviousness of the fact that the world is outside us shows the obviousness of the difficulty in knowing things as they are. We have been so involved in the error of human knowledge that we have ourselves become a heap of error.”

Another dimension to this understanding of the process of knowing is the dual lens of space and time, through which all perception takes place. Space and time are the forces of which the entire world is composed; and the world is known only through the five senses. Therefore, we are caught between enabling the attainment of the inner quest and the battling of the external consuming attraction and involvement of the so-called outside world, whose creation or occurrence remains a mystery. To come to grips with this ‘outer’ world, we need to apprehend the cause-effect relationship of all things and our own placement in space-time.

We feel separate from everything in creation, and we experience an urge to relate and enjoin with objects. But if the kingdom of God is within us, the whole cosmos is in every speck of space. How then do we resolve the contradiction?

The essence of this book is summed up in one paragraph, extracted here: “All perception, in the epistemological sense, is far, far removed from a true insight into things. Thus, a distinction has to be drawn between sense perception and insight, or intuition. ‘Intuition’ actually means an entry into the object— through the whole of our being, to the whole of the object. The entirety of us contacts the entirety of the object—not through sensation, but through a commingling of being. Being enters being.”

True yoga is, therefore, a harmonising of our relationship with the environment in every aspect of the term, knowing the Ultimate Reality of the universe and, by the yoga of meditation which results in Samadhi, encountering thereal nature of everything.

This is the struggle that is dealt with in this book, with great precision and care, beginning by defining the problem, moving to a recognition of its causes and the misconception that has laid its roots, and thereafter gently unravelling the knots of the human mind one by one in an attempt to lead the individual from misconception to conception to supra conception, wherein he enters into the Ultimate Reality.