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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 104: The Double Activity in Mental Cognition

The nature of an object is being discussed here in a few sutras. The philosophical status of an object has much to do with the practice of samyama in yoga, because yoga samyama is nothing but the resolution of the factors of relation between the subject and the object. The philosophy of yoga has a unique concept of the nature of the object, on the basis of which its psychology is directed and its practice is conducted.

What is an object? We have studied something about its nature previously, where it was said: pariṇāma ekatvāt vastutattvam (IV.14). The local presence of an object – the position of an object in space, the isolated existence of the object – is regarded as a kind of temporary presentation before the senses of a form taken by the cosmic prakriti in its manifold movement of the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. A kind of concretion, we may say, a concentration of the three gunas in a particular manner, at a particular point in space and time, is the object. The outcome of this analysis is that every object has a cosmic significance. It is not something cut off entirely from other things.

Therefore, it is possible, through the samyama practised on any object, to enter into the heart of any other object also. This is a very great point that is made out here by this philosophical analysis of the nature of the object, because otherwise it would be difficult to understand how cosmic knowledge or omniscience can be the outcome of meditation on a single object, as there would be no relation between the two. The point made here is that the relation does exist. One can enter the ocean through any river in this world, because all rivers meet the same ocean. Likewise, one can enter the cosmic through any object, even if it is only a pencil or even a pin. It does not matter what it is, because this little thing called the pencil or the pin looks so small only from the point of view of our empirical sensory perception. But even this little pinhead has a cosmic background behind it, and it is only a projection of the forces of prakriti – called sattva, rajas and tamas. This subject was studied earlier in some detail.

Now, the question arises: how does an object become known? How are we aware that there is an object? It is stated in the subsequent sutra, vastusāmye cittabhedāt tayoḥ vibhaktaḥ panthāḥ (IV.15), that varieties in perception of a single object depend upon the varieties of the constitution of minds. The various stresses through which the minds of individuals pass determine the variety in cognition and perception of objects. Though the object may be one and the same in respect of the perception of it by many others, its reception by the different minds may be variegated on account of the variety in the nature of the minds themselves. This means to say, the impression formed by the object upon minds is not always uniform, because though the force of the impress by the object upon the minds of perceivers may be uniform, the way in which this impress is received by the minds may be variegated on account of the different receptive capacities of the perceiving minds. I will give a crude example to illustrate this point. The same sunlight falling upon different kinds of mirrors may appear differently. A broken mirror, a coloured mirror, a dusty mirror, a mirror that is painted with pitch, etc. – these may allow the light of the sun to pass through them in different ways.

The moods of the mind – the vrittis of the manas – have something to do with the reaction which they set up in respect of the impress that the object makes upon them, so that even if the object is the same, the perceptions and cognitions may be variegated. This is a little point that is brought out here in connection with the psychology of perception. Objects are structurally different on account of the various constitutions of the gunas in different ways; that is one aspect or one side of the matter. The other side is that the same object can create different impressions on different minds, on account of the difference in their make-up. Not only that, even on the same mind the object can make different impressions during different moods or different stages of the manifestation of the vrittis of that particular mind.

Patanjali tells us that it does not mean that the mind which is aware of an object creates the object. The object is not manufactured or produced by the mind; it is only aware of the presence of the object in a particular manner, and the manner has been described. What is the manner in which the object makes an impression upon the mind? Here is a great point in philosophy – namely, the relationship of the object to the mind, and vice versa. Entire schools of philosophical thought may be said to be labouring on the solution of this one question: what is the relation of the mind to the object, or the relation of the object to the mind? Who is the determining factor of what? Does the mind passively receive any impression that is made upon it by the object, and the mind has nothing to contribute to the nature of the object? Is it only a featureless and passive receiver of the impressions made upon it by the object? Is it the case? Or is it true that the mind has something to contribute to the nature of the object, so that we may be right in holding that in the perception of an object, the character of the mind influences the object, and the object as it is in itself is never cognised?

These two theories, technically called the theories of realism and idealism in philosophy, are opposite schools of thought. One holds the independent existence of the objects outside, making the mind only subservient as a percipient; the other holds that the objects are subservient and the mind is the superior controller and determiner. We cannot take any of these two sides, because they are only partial expressions of a transcendent position which the objects and the minds occupy in the structure of nature. It is not true that the mind entirely and wholly determines the character of the object, so that the object is whatever the mind thinks. Nor is it true that the mind is a passive receiver of the impressions from the object. The mind has something to do with the object in the nature of cognition, and that is the reason why minds have different feelings and reactions in respect of the same object. But if, on the other hand, the objects were entirely determined by the mind, we would be the manufacturers of various objects, and whatever we think would crop up in our presence.

The difficulty is that which subsists between the relation of the individual to the cosmic. What is the connection between the individual and the universal? This question, if it is answered, will also answer the question of the relation between the mind and the object. Here we have a judgement passed on the quarrel between the realistic doctrines and the idealistic theories. The whole problem arises on account of an inability of the individual minds to comprehend the cosmic relationship that seems to be there behind them, notwithstanding that they are individual perceivers. The relationship between the mind and the object is twofold. It is empirical as well as transcendental, and we should not mix up one with the other. The difficulty arises on account of a mixing up of these two levels of perception. The object, as well as the mind that cognises the object, has an empirical feature, or a form and a relation, and also a transcendental location. It is the transcendental status that the minds and the objects occupy in the scheme of things that sometimes makes it appear that the objects are idealistically located and determined by the percipients. But there is also an empirical realm, the realm of ordinary perception where the objects do not seem to be entirely under the control of the minds. They stand outside the minds and, therefore, it is not possible to deduce that they are entirely determined in the process of cognition.

In every mental cognition there is a twofold activity that takes place simultaneously. In India, in the schools of Vedanta, for example, this subject has been thrashed out threadbare, and such Vedantic works as the Panchadasi, for instance, have devoted an entire chapter to the discussion of this subject. It has been concluded by these teachers of philosophy that every object is transcendentally ideal and empirically real. It has a real character as well as an ideal character. Empirically it is real, but transcendentally it is ideal. The point is that every object is contained both in the cosmic set-up of things as well as in the empirical realm. Or we may say, the heads of people are in heaven and their feet are planted on the earth, so that we belong to both realms – heaven as well as earth. The perception of an object, both in its psychological character as well as its philosophical nature, is difficult to explain, and this is the entire problem of philosophy.

There is no philosophy except this point: how do we know things at all? The knowledge of a thing or an object is the recognition of the presence of something, as conditioned by the process to which the perceiving mind is subject. There is the necessity for the existence of something, and without that existence the mind would not be cognising anything, because it cannot perceive an airy nothing. The existence of something prior to the operation of the mental activity in perception should be there, and yet the mind cannot cognise that something as it is in itself. The mind cannot cognise an object as it is in itself because the mind is conditioned by space, time and causal connections. It can know an object only as it is determined by this threefold network of space, time and cause. An object cannot be known in any other manner. This is conditioned perception. The object is modified in perception by the structure into which the object has been cast, so that when we are presented with an object of perception, it is already cast in the mould of space, time and cause. It is the shape that it has taken in space, time and cause relation that is presented before the mind. We do not see the object as it is in itself. Not only that – even the mind is cast in this mould. The mind cannot think anything which is not in space, which is not in time, and which is not causally connected. There is a restriction imposed on the mind by these conditions of perception. Space, time and cause: these are the conditions. They operate objectively as well as subjectively. They are universally present, so their world is phenomenal. We call this world phenomenal because it is conditioned. Conditioned by whom? By this thing called space, time and cause. Minus these things, objects cannot be known. And yet, there is something which presents itself as an object.

What is that ‘something’? That something which is cast in the mould of space, time and cause is the real object. Some philosophers call it the thing-in-itself – the thing as it is in itself, which is impossible of cognition by the minds of individuals merely because they are cast in the mould of space, time and cause. While there is a necessity to logically admit the existence of something which is non-conditioned by space, time and cause, because of the fact that even conditioning would not be possible unless the objects exist in some status of their own, yet it is true that they cannot be known. Thus, the object as it is in itself would be a kind of inference rather than a perception. What is perceived is a process which has been introduced into this relationship between the mind and the object by the fact of space, time and cause.

What is the outcome of this analysis? The outcome is that the objects have a status of their own. As I mentioned, in our Indian technical Vedanta phraseology this existence of the object in its own status is referred to as what is called Ishvara sristhi – God’s creation. God creates the world, and the world that is created by God, or Ishvara, is the real nature of the world. But the way in which it is presented to the minds is a little different. That manner in which the object of the world, Ishvara sristhi, is presented to the minds of individuals is called jiva sristhi, or the individual’s creation. It is not that we perceive the world in the same way as God perceives things. I perceive a table, and God also perceives it. But there is a difference in the conception and the perception on account of the position of the perceiver. The Supreme Perceiver, who is God, is cosmical and, therefore, his reaction to things is quite different from the individualistic reactions of persons like us, who are placed outside the realm of the objects.

The existence of an object is to be distinguished from the value that is attached to it. What is called Ishvara sristhi is the existence of the object, and the value that is recognised is the jiva sristhi. Gold – a lump of gold, for instance – is Ishvara sristhi, we may say. It exists by itself. But that it has a value – the value that we attach to gold, the meaning that is seen or significance that is there – is a manufacture, or product, of the individual’s mind. Every other relationship is of that nature. A human being, as he or she is there independently, may be said to be Ishvara sristhi. But the way in which there is reaction among individuals, and the relationship that is there as an outcome of this individual reaction, is jiva sristhi.

Thus, there is a confused perception of an object when the mind starts operating in respect of an object. Neither is it a perception in a vacuum based on nothing, so that we can say the mind is simply imagining something there, nor is it true that the object is as it is perceived. We are in a very difficult situation. We do not know what we are seeing. We are seeing something, and by the perception thereof we recognise, or anticipate, or infer the existence of something behind this perception. Yoga, in samyama, wants to break through this complex which is there between the perceiving subject and the object as it is. This complex, when it is broken, results in identity. That identity is the object of the practice of samyama.

Now we come back to the sutra of Patanjali where he makes out that the object is not created by the mind. It has a status of its own, and what status it has, we have already tried to see. Again he repeats, in the subsequent sutra, that the impression made by the object upon the mind is the cause of the mental cognition of the object. And, inasmuch as the mind is not able to function independent of the vrittis or its psychoses, it cannot have a uniform perception of objects. The perception is always variegated. The mind is a subject of perception from the point of view of all individuals, but it is also an object from the point of view of a higher level of vision.

Sadā jñātaḥ cittavṛttayaḥ tatprabhoḥ puruṣasya apariṇāmitvāt (IV.18). The purusha,who is supreme and absolute, is the knower of even the vrittis of the mind; therefore, the purusha is all-knowing, while the minds of the individuals are not all-knowing. The minds are limited to the particular vrittis which they are undergoing at different times and, therefore, they have only conditioned knowledge of things limited to the capacity of their own vrittis. But the purusha has omniscience because the purusha is unconditioned. The purusha’s knowledge is not a knowledge through the vrittis or psychoses of the mind. There is no mind in the purusha. The difference between the individual jiva, or the ordinary mind that cognises things, and the purusha who is aware of all things is that while the purusha is a transcendent being, independent of mental operation, the minds require the help of the purusha in being aware of objects. The light of the purusha is reflected through the minds of individuals, and the reason behind their perception of an object – what we call the illumination of the object in cognition – is the purusha, or we may say the atman, as the Vedanta would put it. But the limitation which is concomitant with the perception of an object, and the absence of omniscience in mental cognition, is due to the character of the mind itself.

Thus, two things happen in the cognition of an object by the mind: there is a limitation imposed upon the cognition, and there is a light that illumines the object. The light comes from the purusha who is supreme but is unknown to the mind – unknown to the mind because it is the background of the mind. The purusha is transcendent in the sense that the mind, which is projected extrovertly, cannot turn back and cognise the presence of the purusha. The purusha is a name that we give to the Universal Subject – very important to remember. The purusha is universal and also subject. The mind cannot cognise the presence of the purusha, who is universal, because the subject cannot be known by the mind, the reason being that the mind is conditioned by the activity of the senses which always try to drag it towards objects outside in space and time. The mind is not really a subject in the ultimate sense; it stands in the position of an object when it is thoroughly investigated into. It is an object because it is also capable of being known, so that we may know what is happening in our minds. We can think the faculties. We can have an idea of the moods in the mind and the notions occurring in the mind. The movement of the vrittis of the mind is known to us. In the light of this fact that the vrittis of the mind can become objects of cognition, they are objects. In deep contemplation, which is of the nature of an abstrsaction, the mind can be observed as if it is an object. We can stand outside our mind and visualise its movements; this happens in high states of meditation.

The mind usurps the status of a perceiver, or a knower of an object, by the egoism to which it is attached, due to the asmita from which it is inseparable. And then, for all practical purposes, it appears that the mind is the cogniser of the object and the mind is the knower of things. “I am the knower of an object,” is the statement that generally is made. When we say, “I know the object”, we are mixing up various factors. The ‘I’ is the individual perceiver, and the individuality of the perceiver is due to the interference of the mind in the act of perception, whereas the knowledge aspect of the perception is the purusha present. So there is a double activity in mental cognition: the light of the purusha passing through the mind, and the conditioning of the perception of the object due to the limitations imposed upon the mind itself by the factors of space, time and cause.

This is an interesting analysis coming from a study of a few of the sutras which try to show the true character of an object in its relation to the perceiving minds.