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The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 60: Tracing the Ultimate Cause of Any Experience

These impulses and instincts, which are the manner in which the creative urge manifests itself, have to be purified and transformed into their respective causes so that they can be subdued in an intelligent manner. This is the meaning of the sutra: te pratiprasavaheyāḥ sūkṣmāḥ (II.10). The only way of controlling anything is to bring it back to its cause. Pratiprasava is the recession of the effect into the cause. First of all, an impulse, an instinct, a desire, an urge, or any event for the matter of that, has to be diagnosed as to how it has arisen. What is the reason for its manifesting itself at all? What is its intention? What does it seek? What are the conditions that have contributed to its rise?

This is the etiology, the diagnosis, or we may call it the pathological investigation of a psychological condition that has arisen. No event takes place by a single cause. Many causes come together to produce an effect, just as it is in anything that we see in life. Even a headache does not come due to a single reason. There is a susceptibility of the system – the season or the climate that is pervading outside, the mental condition, the social status, the function or the work that one performs, and so on. These become various factors that are contributory to a single phenomenon which is experienced.

To bring an effect back to its cause is a difficult thing because the cause cannot be easily discovered. If there is a single cause for a single effect, and they work in a mathematical fashion absolutely, we may be able to revert the effect into the cause at once, by turning on a switch. But, the cause and effect relationship is not as arithmetical as it may appear. They do not follow any logic in the way we understand it. Suddenly, a phenomenon can arise. Though it is a very logical consequence of certain causes, it will remain outside the purview of our understanding because the logical deductions that we make are linear in their fashion and not organic in their structure. But, the world is organic. Everything is organic in life, which means to say there is an interrelatedness of causes mutually determining one another, so that anything can be called a cause if it is pinpointed exclusively.

As is the intention in the teaching of this sutra, the remote causes, though they cannot be easily discovered, will come to the purview of one's vision if the immediate causes are first discovered. There are immediate causes as well as remote causes. The remote causes can be ignored for the time being, and we can concern ourselves with the immediate cause. What is the immediate reason behind a particular event that has taken place, as far as it can be visible to the eyes or intelligible to the mind? Then, a proper step has to be taken to rectify the situation which has become the immediate cause of a particular experience. The experience that we are referring to here is nothing but the manifestation of a vritti in the mind in the direction of an object of sense, or any kind of individualistic satisfaction.

Generally, an impulse is not absent in any person. Every impulse is present in every person, just as every disease is in everybody, only it manifests itself in some and in others it does not manifest itself due to unfavourable circumstances. Likewise, everyone has every desire. No one is free from any desire; but in some, certain desires can manifest themselves, whereas in others they cannot, due to the circumstances in which they live. The physical, psychological and social conditions, etc. have something to say about the time and the manner in which a particular impulse can reveal itself outside. When a particular urge is felt inside, it means that favourable conditions for its manifestation are ready, on hand. Unless conditions are favourable, the urge will not manifest itself.

The very fact that we have an impulse inside shows that there is a chance of its fulfilment; otherwise, it will not show its head. It is very clear. The chances of the fulfilment of an impulse may be very remote. The fulfilment of an impulse may not be immediately possible, but the impulse is more intelligent than our intelligence and it can sense the presence of contributory, helpful factors more easily than our intellect, in its gross functioning, can understand. The instincts are more powerful than our understanding. That is why the understanding goes down into the pit when the instinct comes up. The instinct is very sensitive – extremely sensitive – to the presence of the objects and the instruments which will help in its fulfilment. We have to infer the proximity of these factors which are necessary for the fulfilment of an impulse when the impulse rises. Then it is that we have to go into the diagnostic action of the case. “Why has this impulse arisen? Something is happening; I am in the proximity of something.” When we feel the warmth of the atmosphere, we must infer that the sun is about to rise; otherwise, from where has this warmth come? – and so on. The presence of an impulse in the direction of a particular form of satisfaction is the indication that we are in the midst of certain types of atmospheres which are helpful to its fulfilment.

Then, what are we supposed to do? There are two things to be done. Number one, an investigation has to be made immediately as to why this has happened. A careful probe into the psychic atmosphere will reveal what sort of factors are present in our proximity which have brought this impulse out – just as a magnet, by its mere presence, can draw iron filings to itself, and when we find a restlessness of the iron filings, we can infer the presence of a magnet nearby. If we hear the chattering of monkeys in a tree, we can imagine there is either a snake nearby, or a very violent dog that they have seen, or that something which is frightening them is present; otherwise, they will not make this chattering noise. Likewise, a very dispassionate, inward analysis has to be conducted. But, this is almost an impossibility for most people because nobody would like to conduct an investigation into pleasurable circumstances. They try to conduct investigations into painful ones, because an investigation into pleasurable circumstances is an attempt at stopping the very possibility of this satisfaction. Otherwise, why do we conduct the investigation? Who would like to counteract the chances of a pleasurable experience?

In practice, this method will fail unless the intelligence is far superior to the demands of the instinct; which is, of course, very rare to find in people. The senses generally get stirred up in the presence of their respective objects. 'Sense' does not necessarily mean the ear or the eye – even the ego is one of the senses. In an atmosphere where the ego is to be pampered, or can be pampered, where it can be elevated, where it can find its food – in such an atmosphere it gets stirred up. It is activated, and its mood changes. Immediately, it flies up through a pair of new wings. When such a stirring activity within takes place, either of the senses or of the ego, one can infer the presence of a conducive atmosphere. A wise person will flee from that atmosphere; that is what an intelligent sadhaka would do. He would not stay in that place because he has found that his senses are becoming very turbulent due to the presence of certain external things. What can one do, except place oneself in a different condition where such an urge would not manifest itself? The cause of the event, the cause of the effect, is the presence of the personality in a given condition, just as favourable conditions enable a seed to sprout into a small plant while unfavourable conditions compel it to remain under the earth, as if it has no life at all. Likewise, the impulses remain inactive under unfavourable circumstances, and they manifest themselves under favourable ones.

Once we provide these impulses with the conditions that are favourable, they gain an upper hand. Then, we cannot do anything with them. They will rush forth like a river which has found a small outlet. If a river that is in high flood finds even a little outlet, it will break the entire bund and will go wherever it wishes. Likewise, even a little outlet that is provided for the movement of an impulse outside in respect of an object may be enough for it to go out of control.

The cause is thus to be discovered. And what are we supposed to do after discovering the cause? The effect has to be absorbed into the cause – this is the advice given in this sutra. It becomes subtle when it is diverted back to the cause from where it has arisen. Though physical conditions may act as favourable causes for the manifestation of an impulse, the main cause is a psychological susceptibility. Unless we are susceptible to a disease, it is unlikely that we will fall sick even in the midst of atmospheres which are likely to cause such a disease. The inward susceptibility is a greater factor than the presence of outer conditions, though it is true that we have to take notice of both these factors at the same time. Our inner susceptibility, as well as the presence of outer factors – both these are important, though the inner ones are stronger.

Thus, the cause behind the rise of a particular sensory impulse is firstly the presence of an object outside, which is what the impulse seeks, and secondly, a susceptibility of the mind itself towards the rise of such an impulse. The susceptibility may be due to one's not having allowed the impulse to come to the surface of consciousness for a long time. For years and years, we have subjugated it with great power of will by tapasya, by fasting and mortifications of various other types which have kept the impulse under check. This pressing of the impulse down by the force of will for a protracted period might have acted as one of the motive forces behind the impulse finding an avenue of manifestation, because the more we suppress a desire, the stronger it becomes and the greater is the force with which it arises when it finds even the least chance that is given to it – just as, when we press a spring down hard, the pressure with which it jumps back will be equal to the pressure with which we have pushed it down.

The recession of the effect into the cause does not mean the pressing of the effect towards the cause with the force of will. What the sutra tells us is that the effect should not remain as an effect – it should become a part of the cause itself. It gets transformed. But it will remain as an effect if the effort has merely thrust the effect back into a bag and allowed it to remain as an effect for a long time. That would not be a successful practice, because the purpose of the reverting of the effect towards the cause, or in the direction of the cause, is to sublimate it to the extent possible – to refine it and to make it ethereal, as far as possible. The grossness of it has to be lessened so that its vehemence also is reduced. It is difficult to bring about this transformation because, as I mentioned, all this implies an action contrary to the satisfaction of a desire. Inasmuch as the whole world moves towards the fulfilment of desire and seeks satisfaction and nothing short of it, any kind of effort contrary to it is unthinkable. Nobody would work against one's own satisfaction, but this seems to be a peculiar condition of the mind where such an effort, such an action, is called for. Therefore, it becomes very painful, and mostly unsuccessful.

Thus, when the effect is brought to the cause, what is expected of us is not merely a psychological effort to trace the cause of the effect, but also to enliven it with a higher reason, by which it would be possible for us to know the defect or the error that is involved in the very manifestation of the desire. Why has the desire arisen? It is due to an error of perception. Nobody would like to continue in a state of error. If we merely exert to press the effect back to the cause by sheer force of will, that would not be successful, because it will be tantamount to putting an end to the possibility of satisfaction – a most painful procedure, indeed. But, if the cause is probed into a little further in greater detail, we will realise that raga and dvesha have a deeper cause – which is nescience, or avidya.

The pratiprasava, or the recession of the effect into the cause, means the tracing of the ultimate cause of any experience – not merely a single cause, or one or two causes. It will be realised that the ultimate cause is an erroneous movement of the mind which has given rise to a wrong impression that it is taking a proper course. Because of the habit of the mind since years and years, it may look like it is taking a proper course of action; and even a wrong may look right when it has persisted for a long time. If we go on lying about something completely, for years and years, it may take the shape of a truth, though it is not. This is what has actually happened – an erroneous course of action that has been initiated has put on the mask of a right course of action, and that is why it is so insistent.

When the ultimate cause of a particular experience is discovered, it will be found that the cause lies in the recognition of the Self in the not-Self. This was the definition of avidya given by Patanjali. The atman is seen in the anatman, and then asmita arises. Then there is love for things, and wild impulses arise. So, the rise of an impulse in respect of a pleasurable experience in the world is rooted in an urge towards it, which is raga – which again is rooted in the self-sense or asmita, which again is rooted in the recognition or the vision of the Self in the not-Self. Now, is this a great virtue to see the Self in the not-Self? Is this wisdom? Is this a course of rightful action that has been taken by the mind? Can anyone say that to see the Self in the not-Self is a correct course, a proper course? But unless the Self is seen in the not-Self, we cannot have pleasurable impulses.

The satisfaction of the senses is possible only if the not-Self is outside the Self. If the not-Self is not there, the pleasure also cannot be there because every contactual pleasure, sensory or egoistic, is conditioned by the presence of an external object. The perception of the reality of an external object is what is known as the recognition of the Self in the not-Self. So, the extent to which we read reality into the location of an object outside is also the magnitude of the satisfaction that we gain by coming in contact with it. The more is the reality of an object, the greater is the satisfaction that we get by coming in contact with it. The more we read the Selfhood in a not-Self, the more is the intensity of the recognition of the Self in the not-Self, the greater is the pleasure that we derive by contact with it. Hence, all the pleasures of the world are ultimately rooted in this peculiar phenomenon – namely, the vision of the Self in the not-Self.

Now we have been awakened to a very terrifying situation in which we have been placed: we see the Self in the not-Self. Is it proper? If it is not proper, why is it not proper? It is not proper because it is quite the opposite of what is. It is the contrary of facts, and inasmuch as it is ultimately the Truth alone that can succeed, this effort of the mind in the direction of coming in contact with the not-Self will not succeed. It cannot succeed because it is contrary to Truth. Satyameva jayate nanritam: Truth alone will succeed. This amrita of the perception of the Self in the not-Self is the basis of the great joys that we have in this world – any kind of joy, whatever it be, whether it is sensory or egoistic, social, personal, or whatever it is.

In this manner, if a diagnosis of the event of experience of pleasure is made, it will be realised that there is a great stupidity behind it. A hideous error has been committed, without which we cannot have happiness in this world. All our happiness is rooted in utter ignorance, and unless this ignorance is present, there cannot be happiness. The joys of the world are not a manifestation of understanding or intelligence. All the pleasures of the world are manifestations of ignorance. They are darkness masquerading as illuminating joys. This is the truth that is dug out when we bring the facts to the surface. And so, in this investigative analysis that we are conducting for the purpose of tracing the cause of an effect, we realise that we have been fooled from the very beginning – a very hopeless situation, indeed.

Also, there is a reason why pleasure is seen in the contact of the senses with the not-Self. The contact of the Self with the not-Self brings about a tension, and the tension is caused by a false circumstance that has been created. The transference of the Self to the not-Self is a false condition because the Self cannot be transferred to the not-Self. It cannot be what it is not – but this is exactly what has happened. An impossible thing is attempted, and so a tremendous tension is created in the consciousness. Therefore, it is unhappy. This unhappiness is due to the tension created by the urge to place itself in what it is not. The loves of the world are tensions of one kind or the other. The release of this tension should be, naturally, a satisfaction. The tension is caused by the movement of the Self away from itself, in the direction of the object. And when we have lost our Self, that is great pain indeed, because the essence of tension is an aberration of consciousness, or a movement of Consciousness away from its own Self. This is what is happening in every kind of attraction or affection.

Hence, there is tension, and the so-called satisfaction that is arrived at by the contact of senses with objects is due to the cessation of this tension. Ananda is felt in the contact of the senses with objects on account of the retrogression of the senses back to their source, under the impression that their purpose has been fulfilled. In the contact there is a notion created in the mind that the purpose of the contact has been fulfilled, and so the forces of the senses return to their cause. Then the mind ceases to function for a while, and the tension caused by the movement of the Self towards the not-Self is brought to a cessation temporarily – so there is a flash of ananda. A conviction arises in the mind that the object has brought the satisfaction required, and so there is a persistent effort to repeat the experience again and again. This has been caused, therefore, by a muddled understanding – a confusion, totally. The happiness has not come from the object, and therefore, the rise of an impulse in the direction of an object is illogical, ultimately.

Such analysis of this type would be helpful in the reversion of the effect into the cause and the sublimation of the effect in the cause, so that the vehemence or the force of the effect in the direction of its fulfilment will be mitigated to a large extent. Thus, effort has to be made. We have to be very vigilant, every day, in seeing that the force of the manifestation of an effect in the form of an impulse in the direction of an object is brought down to the minimum by such intelligent analysis.