Swamiji on Facebook Swamiji on Twitter Swamiji on Youtube

The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 64: Disentanglement is Freedom

What is attempted through the practice of yoga is to gain an insight into the misconception that has arisen on account of an admixture of characters which belong, on the one hand, to the principle that is responsible for seeing, and on the other hand, to the principle that is responsible for anything being seen. How is it that something is seen? And, how is it that something sees? The character of seeing is different from the character of being seen. One is called drasta; the other is called drishya. Draṣṭṛdṛśyayoḥ saṁyogaḥ heyahetuḥ (II.17) is the sutra. But for common understanding, no such difficulty seems to arise because everything is clear. “I am seeing things,” is a very glib statement that one can make in respect of the perceptual experience. The feeling ‘I see an object’ is not a simple phenomenon; it is a tremendously complex arrangement of various features which constitute an apparently single compound of an experience of ‘I-ness’ in respect of the phenomenon of perception. Even the very consciousness of ‘I’ in this process of perceiving an object is an effect produced by a confusion, as has been pointed out in our earlier studies, and is designated by the term ‘asmita’ in the sutra of Patanjali.

It is impossible to have consciousness of an object unless one has made oneself susceptible, in the very beginning itself, to the process called perception. It is necessary that the perceiving subject should have the characteristics necessary for the process of perception. That which is perceived is an object, and the subject which perceives the object should have sympathetic characters, not dissimilar ones. On par should be placed the subject as well as the object. If the object is phenomenal, the subject that perceives the object also should be equally phenomenal. A super-spatial and super-temporal subject cannot perceive a spatial and temporal object. That which is metempirical cannot be the subjective consciousness which perceives an empirical object. There should be a concourse between the seeing and the seen principles, by means of features which are common to both. Both should be in space, and both should be in time; that is one condition. Secondly, the abstraction of a particular point in consciousness, which goes by the name of individuality, is essential prior to the attempt at perceiving an object. In other words, we have to be conscious of our existence first, in order that we may be able to be conscious of an object outside.

First of all, we are aware that we exist; and then everything follows, as the case may be. We have inwardly a conviction of our being something endowed with certain special attributes. Even when we get up in the morning after being fast asleep, the first experience would be a sensation of being, and not sensation of the world outside, which comes later on. There is a faint feeling of one’s existence, and then a more distinct feeling of one’s existence as a special entity – a particular something. Sometimes when we get up from deep sleep, we do not know where we are – in which place we went to sleep. To find out where we have slept requires a few seconds – “Oh, I am in such and such place.” Sometimes we forget the direction. We do not know where the door is. We go and hit ourselves against the wall, thinking it is the door, if we are fast asleep. There are people who forget the locations, directions – everything – and it takes a few minutes to know where they have slept.

Then, we come to a distinct consciousness of our being something – at some place, in a particular manner, for a particular purpose, and so on. After that, the activity starts as it would be required by the circumstances in which we are located. Likewise, there is a subjective consciousness, first of all,  which  places  itself  under  peculiar  conditions  due  to karma of the past, as I mentioned earlier. We noted that the experiences one passes through, the conditions into which one is born, the span of one’s life, etc., are all determined  by  those  factors  which  are  responsible  for  the very birth of this psychophysical individuality – this body-mind complex. Therefore, the circumstances in which the individuality finds itself are also responsible for the conditions under which perception of objects would be possible.

First of all, initially, there is the assertion of a specific type of individuality. The adjective ‘specific type’ is essential, inasmuch as perceptions vary from one individual to another and are responsible for the different types of experience which people pass through. While it is possible that different objects may attract the attention of different subjects, it is also very well known that the same object may cause different types of experience in different individuals, according to the conditions of their minds and other circumstances which govern their lives. Hence, there is a specific conditioning of the individual by innumerable factors which consequently conditions the type of experience which the individual passes through in respect of a given object or a set of objects.

It is this conditioned individuality, the specific type of asmita, that allows itself to be subjected to the ways in which the medium of the mind works. The mind, or the antahkarana – the psychological organ – is the medium through which perceptions are made possible because every perception, whatever be its character, is an externalisation of consciousness. The refracting medium of consciousness which externalises it in respect of an object outside is the mind. The mind is a peculiar lens, as it were, placed in the proximity of consciousness, which detracts it in a given direction. We can focus the consciousness in the direction of the object only when the mind is tending towards that object.

It is the tendency of the mind towards a particular object that is responsible for the consciousness of that object, just as the inclination of the bed of the river will determine the way or the direction in which the water flows. The bed is already laid, and the water only has to flow over it – that’s all. It cannot flow in any other direction except in the direction of the bed. Likewise, though the objects are innumerable in number (they are located everywhere in space), the consciousness tends only towards certain objects on account of the bed that is already laid before it. The direction is already pointed out, and the tendency is chalked out and laid down specifically by the structure of the mind.

This is the means of perception, while the cause of perception is pure consciousness, drasta. This is the purusha tattva in us – ultimately what is called the atman, which is impersonal in character, like the water in a river. It has no personality of its own, but it can be channelled as if it is personalised on account of the media through which it is directed.

The psychological organ is the restricting medium. The consciousness, when it is not so restricted, can simultaneously become aware of everything, anywhere, while the restricted medium through which it is channelled compels it to be aware of only those objects which are within the purview of the mind, so there is a limited perception instead of cosmic perception.

When the consciousness passes through the medium of the mind, it identifies itself with the mind, just as light passing through a mirror becomes indistinguishable from the shining character of the mirror. We attribute the shining character to the mirror itself and say the mirror is shining, while the mirror is not shining – it is the light that shines. The mirror is only a medium through which the light has been reflected, but they have been identified to such an extent that the one is practically inseparable from the other. Thus, the subtle faculty of the psychological organ, which is the buddhi in us, the intellect, does various things simultaneously – namely, reflecting the consciousness in it, limiting it, distorting it, and channelling it towards a particular object. All these things are done at one stroke. It is pulled, as it were, with great force.

This identification of consciousness with the psychological organ is the first stage in the process of a perception of an object. An identification has already taken place. The limitation of the consciousness has been effected thoroughly, effectively, and then it is drawn towards a particular location which is called the object. We have studied enough about this earlier – how the mind pervades the form of the object, identifying with the form of the object, and then there is an awareness of the formation of the object. Then it is that we say, “I am aware of an object.” In this I-am-aware-of-the-object experience there is, therefore, a limitation of consciousness to the circumstances of the object on account of the peculiar way in which the mind functions.

The identification is, therefore, twofold. Firstly, there is the identification of consciousness with the psychological organ, and then a subsidiary identification of it with the object, which takes place afterwards. In this consciousness of an object, self-consciousness has already been lost completely. One loses one’s consciousness first, in order that one may be conscious of an object outside. Self-loss is the condition of the gain of an object. One cannot concentrate one’s mind on an object unless one has forgotten oneself first, because one has moved away from the centre which is one’s self. The self has transferred itself to another location, found itself somewhere else, and the object becomes the subject of phenomenal experience. This is called samsara; this is called involvement. Consciousness gets involved. It is not an ordinary kind of involvement; it is an identification which makes it impossible to detect of the phenomenon that has taken place. That is the very meaning of identification.

Hence, in the awareness of an object, or world-consciousness, there is a total loss of the original status of the seer, or the pure drasta, and a getting mixed up with the means of knowing, as well as with the object that is known. The purpose of yoga is to disentangle consciousness from this involvement. It is because of the entanglement that one is unable to detect the cause of suffering. The suffering is caused by this involvement. The changes that are characteristic of the object are attributed to consciousness, which is changeless, and then there is a feeling that one’s Self is undergoing modifications. There is birth and death even, which is really not capable of being ascribed to consciousness as such, but this is being done on account of the transference of the transitory characters of the object to the unchangeable character of consciousness.

The endeavour in yoga is to properly gain an insight into what has happened, what sort of involvement has taken place, and what the truth of things is, ultimately. The present state of awareness – the nature of knowledge that we are endowed with at present – is not the real nature of the true Seer, the Ultimate Seer, because it is impossible to condition the Seer in any manner whatsoever. The first mistake is that there is a false notion of the principle of consciousness as being projected outside, as if it is an object. Consciousness can never become an object. It cannot be externalised because to be externalised is to be dissociated from oneself. There is no such thing as dissociation of consciousness from itself, because the very process of dissociation requires another factor which is other than itself, and the nature of consciousness is such that something alien to it cannot exist.

Thus, there is a fundamental mistake involved in the very notion of this dissociation and the consequent perception of an object outside. Hence, all suffering can be attributed to a kind of misconception or error that is there in the very experience through which the individual passes. There is, therefore, a necessity to withdraw oneself gradually from the effect to the cause by a recession of the effect into the cause, as was mentioned in an earlier sutra. How the bondage has arisen and what are the stages of the development of this bondage is to be understood first. Then, the freedom of the soul can be achieved by a reversal of process: the way in which we got down, in the very same way we get up – backwards, through the very same process. Though there are multitudes of causes which have brought about this involvement and suffering, broadly speaking, as it was mentioned, there is an initial identification of the pure consciousness, which is infinite, with the limited psychological organ, and then there is a subsequent identification of consciousness through the medium of the psychological organ with the object outside.

Thus, the first attempt in yoga would be to dissociate the mind from the objects so that there may not be attachment. The attachment has arisen on account of not knowing what has happened. What has happened is very clear now, but this is not clear to the mind in the process of perception and experience. There is such a thoroughgoing admixture of qualities between the mind and the object that the mind never realises that it has undergone an inward change in order to get identified with the nature or the form of the object. The object has not become the mind, really speaking. The mind has only transformed itself into the shape of the object, and contemplated the object in such intensity that it has become practically a part of its experience.

The prescription which was originally given in a sutra in the first section, the Samadhi Pada – namely, the practice of vairagya – is the remedy for this mistake that the mind has committed in its identification with the object. We have noted what this vairagya means. It is the discovery of the inner constituents of the very experience of an object, which experience generally is so vehement in its expression that an analysis of this kind is not possible. In the perception of an object, especially when an emotion is involved, we cannot go into an analysis of what has taken place, because the emotion will not allow this analysis. The energy which charges the emotion in respect of a particular perception ties the consciousness to the object with such force that an extrication of it from the object is not practicable under ordinary circumstances. We cannot discover what defect is involved in our perceptions if our mind is intent upon that perception and wants the perception for its own purposes.

Therefore, a detached attitude – a scientific attitude, we may say – may be necessary for the purpose of knowing if there is any defect in oneself. Suppose we are convinced that we are not at all faulty in any way whatsoever, and we have no defect; then, there is no question of analysis. We have already passed a judgement on ourselves in our own favour and, therefore, we cannot further go into the nature of the background of these perceptions. There is, therefore, a necessity for a detached attitude, especially where oneself is involved; and, in every perception we are involved – nobody else. We have, therefore, to go into the roots of the process of knowing itself. How is it that we are able to know an object at all? How do we know that a thing exists?

I am only repeating what I have told you many times earlier – that the very consciousness of an object is an inscrutable mystery, and we simply take it for granted; therefore, it appears as if it is very clear. The awareness of a distant object is especially a mystery because that which is distant – which is spatially remote from the perceiving consciousness, which is located in an individual body – cannot become the content of consciousness by any stretch of imagination, because it is far off. It is remote; it is not in the proximity of the consciousness. So how is it possible that we are aware of things outside? What is the means of connection? How is it that consciousness gets connected with remote objects and becomes aware that they exist? Is it not a wonder? But nobody bothers about it; they take it for granted. It is all very clear – we know things. But how do we know things? This is a question which we have to put to ourselves.

If we enquire into this structural pattern of perception of an object inwardly, we will find that unless some superhuman factor is involved in perception, knowledge of an object is not possible. The eyes cannot see an object, as they have no consciousness – they are inert, fleshy balls; nor can light be their source of knowledge, because it is also unconscious. Nor can the instruments of physical perception, the organs of sense, or the external factors like space and light, etc., be regarded as causes of perception. The knowledge of an object is brought about by factors other than light, space, the physical organs, etc., but these other factors are outside the purview of knowledge because they are involved – and, therefore, they cannot become objects of investigation.

But, yoga requires that the very first step that one takes should be one of non-attachment to the experiences one is passing through. The first qualification of a student of yoga is the capacity to investigate into the causes of one’s experiences. That is called viveka – the capacity to discriminate carefully between the real and the unreal elements in experience. This analytical process will reveal that there is a conscious element involved in perception, and also something unconscious which identifies itself with consciousness, somehow or other – this unconscious principle being what is known as the principle of externality. That is the mind. Nobody can know what the mind is made of. It is not physical; it is also not non-physical. A very great mystery it is! The mind is a peculiar feature which isolates consciousness from itself in a false manner, because consciousness cannot be isolated from itself. It externalises it – that also in a false manner, because consciousness cannot really be externalised – and, consequently, creates a false perception of self-identification with an object.

Inasmuch as some kind of error – a grave error – is involved in object-perception, there is also an error in the notion that there is pleasure in the objects of sense. If the very perception of an object is erroneous, basically rooted in some mistake, the experiences that follow from that perception cannot be other than the cause of the perception. The reactions set up by these perceptions also are equally false, and they are involved in the same error as the perception is. What Patanjali wants to drive into our minds is that the pleasures of sense are not really pleasures; they are errors of perception that have passed for normal perceptions on account of the identification of consciousness with these processes. And so, there is a necessity for the retrogression of the effects into the cause – a withdrawal of the process from the external to the internal, so that gradually there is, first of all, a disentanglement of the mind from the objects of sense, and later on, a disentanglement of consciousness from the mind itself.

This final disentanglement is equal to the resting of consciousness in its own Self, free from identification with this distracting medium called the mind, and free from also the subsequent identification of itself with the objects of sense. Such Self-establishment is called kaivalya, or moksha, or liberation.