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


Chapter 69: Understanding World-Consciousness

What is known as the perception of an object is really a reading of some meaning into the object by the perceiving consciousness. It is not merely a bare reflection of the object in the mind, as something may be reflected in a mirror without the mirror having any say in the matter. It is not simply a featureless, bare, unconscious reflection. If it were a mere mechanical reflection, there would be no attachment towards objects. For instance, I may physically touch an object and yet I may have no contact with it, because psychological contact is different from physical contact or proximity. The bondage of the soul is not merely the physical contact or the proximity of one thing with another. It is a psychological transformation which affects oneself wholly. That is what is known as the bondage of the soul.

Hence, the perception of an object is of a very peculiar character. It is not merely a meaningless perception. It is a consciousness of an object with great significance behind it. It is this significance that is read in the object that causes the transformation in the mind – otherwise, there would be no bondage. The self must be connected with the object; and as the self is consciousness in its essence, if this aspect is withdrawn or is absent, physical contact may not bring bondage.

A thing with which one is not psychologically connected may be sitting on one’s own head, and yet may not cause bondage; but a thing with which one is psychologically connected may be millions of miles away, and yet it may cause bondage. Therefore, bondage is not a physical distance, remoteness or proximity. It has nothing to do with the physical character. It is something which is evaluated by the mind as meaningful in itself, as having something to do with its own process of existence; and then it is that there is a change or transformation taking place within oneself.

The perception of the object is a mental act, not merely a physical contact. And, as the mind is perpetually illumined by consciousness, which is one’s own essential nature, the mental act looks like the act of one’s own self. While it is the mind that perceives the object for a particular purpose, it is made to appear that we, as total individuals, are the perceivers of the object – and then we say, “I perceive the object.” It is not that ‘mind’ perceives the object, but ‘I’ perceive the object, because the ‘I’ is, for certain reasons, one with the mind. The mind’s reading meaning in the object is also based on certain circumstances which have brought about the birth of individuality. The causes of the incarnation of the individual in this particular world phenomenon are the determining factors of the manner in which a mind or a particular individual will react towards certain groups of objects, because perception is more a reaction of the mind than a kind of action. It is a stimulation of the mind in respect of certain circumstances, forms, shapes, colours, sounds, etc.

This stimulation of the mind is really the perception of the object, and it is caused by certain urges within oneself with which one is born, and which are really the causative factors of the birth itself. We have referred to these urges as karmas. There is no English word, unfortunately, to bring about the proper meaning of what this word ‘karma’ means. The word ‘karma’ has been associated mostly with an action that we do, such as walking, grasping, etc. But as we had occasion to observe, the forces of karma are different from the mere movement of the limbs of the body which are usually called actions, or karmas. What we are concerned with here is an impetus that is generated within oneself, an impulse that urges itself forward for various purposes. It is ultimately a complex urge which cannot be attributed either to the body, to the mind, or to the soul independently. The Upanishads, especially the Katha Upanishad, mention that the experiencer is a complex of the soul, the mind and the senses: ātmendriy-mano-yuktam bhoktety āhur manīṣiṇaḥ (K.U. I.3.4). It is not one thing alone that acts; and what is known as the individuality of a person is also this complex.

Hence, the peculiar urges which are engendered by a particular sense perception become the forces that create further experiences of a similar nature, and inasmuch as the span of physical existence is not long enough to provide occasions for the fulfilment of all these urges that have been engendered in this manner, there comes about a necessity for rebirth. Death is nothing but the exhaustion of the forces which could be fulfilled through a particular body. And when the instrument, which is the body, has fulfilled its purpose of the fulfilment of a set of urges, its work is over. Then it is cast out and there is the reconstitution of the existent urges into a new pattern altogether. This new shape that they take according to their inner structures is the cause behind a new type of body that is born. Then, this body that is born once again becomes a new instrument for the operation of these urges.

Why do they operate? The purpose is self-exhaustion, as it was stated earlier. They want to exhaust themselves by experience. The coming in contact of the senses and the mind with the object is called experience; it is called bhoga. And, the purpose of this bhoga or experience is apavarga or moksha – liberation.

This contact with the objects cannot cease as long as the mind continues to read significance into the objects. If there is a value in a thing, we cannot abstain from seeing it, because it is the value that draws one’s attention towards it. What is the value? It is that the object can subserve a particular individualistic purpose of the subject. Some needs of the subject can be fulfilled by the object – whatever be the needs, according to the circumstance of the case. The value of the object is nothing but the capacity of the object to fulfil the needs of the individual, and when the capacity is not there, it has no value. When there is no value, one is not interested in it, and then there will be no psychological transformation in respect of the perception of an object. There would not be attachment.

Thus, attachment cannot cease as long as meaning is there in things, and meaning cannot be absent as long as needs are felt within, and needs will not be absent as long as we are what we are – which is a situation that is arisen on account of avidya: tasya hetuḥ avidyā (II.24). We have originally committed a sin, a mistake, which theologians call the ‘original sin’ – the primitive fall of the individual from the cosmic, the isolation of the conscious subject from the Universal subject. This is the real fall; and this is avidya, specifically as well as generally.

As long as the subject-consciousness is isolated from Cosmic-consciousness, there cannot be a remedy for this situation. The remedy is, once again, a resetting up of the old constitution – namely, the harmonious adjustment of the subject-consciousness with the Universal. But, this cannot easily take place for various reasons. It cannot take place because the asmita, or the ego principle, is very vehement. It is very forceful, very powerful, adamant, and it will not listen to any argument. Philosophy will not work here because the intellect, which is the philosophising principle, is itself a servant of the forces which are the causes of the birth of individuality which are seeking satisfaction through contact. Therefore, tad abhāvāt saṁyogābhāvaḥ (II.25), says the sutra. The contact of the subject with the objects outside can cease only when ignorance ceases, and not before. As long as the root is there, the cause is there, and so the effect must be there.

We cannot, by any amount of individualistic effort, wrench ourselves from contact with objects. Merely because we close our eyes, it does not mean that we are not thinking of the objects. Even our consciousness that we exist is an object-consciousness, because self-consciousness is objectivity itself. Whatever be one’s effort, it will not succeed here because the efforts do not ultimately obviate the possibility of space-time-cause awareness and the consequent object-consciousness. Therefore, avidya must go. If avidya goes, asmita goes. If asmita goes, raga and dvesha go, and then everything goes – all bondage ceases. It is raga and dvesha that are the causes of the perception of things.

We may wonder how the perception of a stone can be due to attachment. We are not attached to a stone that is on a hill, or to a tree that is standing in the forest. In what way are we attached to it? How can it be said that attachment is the cause of perception? If there is a small pebble on the top of a hill, we are not attached to it; and yet, we see it. Attachment here does not mean a conscious motivation of emotion; it is a deeper thing altogether. We may not be consciously aware as to what is happening. Love for an object philosophically, metaphysically, does not mean an active movement of the emotion towards the object on the conscious level. The personality of the individual, as we have been repeating again and again, is not merely on the conscious level. It is something very, very deep. Hence, whether there is attachment to an object or not cannot be known merely by studying the conscious level of the mind. It may be completely clean like a slate and yet it may be turbid at the bottom. It is this inside structure or the deep-rooted nature of the individual that is the cause of reactions in the form of perceptions.

We react totally, and not merely in a mentation aspect. It is not merely the thought that is reacting, or the will that is reacting in an isolated manner, but the whole thing that we are reacts. Every time the whole thing starts functioning, even when merely the conscious level is operating, it is urged by the subconscious and unconscious layers which are at the bottom, and which lie unconscious but yet are very active. What we call the unconscious or the subconscious level is not really unconscious like a stone or a dullard – it is a very active principle. It is called unconscious only for the purpose of psychological analysis because it does not take part in the active operations of the individual in respect of experience. But it has another kind of activity altogether.

As we studied in the Samkhya, there are three gunas of prakritisattva, rajas and tamas. When tamas, or even rajas, is predominant, sattva gets submerged. Therefore, there is no proper consciousness of what is inside, or what is happening inside. When tamas is predominant, consciousness is obliterated. There is a complete darkness, as in sleep. In sleep we are aware of nothing, but it does not mean there is a total absence of things. We are not absent in sleep; we are very wholly present. Everything is there, and yet we are not conscious. We are wholly present in sleep, but we are unconscious. It is also a fact that everything that is worthwhile, everything that is meaningful, everything that will cause pleasure and pain is also there.

Sleep is not a dead condition; it is a very active one. Therefore, it is also called a vritti in the Yoga Sutras: pramāṇa viparyaya vikalpa nidrā smṛtayaḥ (I.6). Even nidra is a vritti; it is an operation of the mind in a particular manner. Even if the army withdraws itself, it is an action that it is doing; it is not simply a cessation of activity. Likewise, there are various stages in which the personality manifests itself. Inasmuch as the very atmosphere into which we are born – the world phenomena of which we are contents or citizens – is regarded as the necessary field for experience of the individual, it goes without saying that even a bare perception of an object has a cause behind it. That cause has come from the deep-seated urges of the individual.

Thus, in a highly philosophical sense, we may say that every perception is an attachment. And, it is held that a total absence of attachment would bring about a total cessation of perception of things. We will not be even aware that things exist when our attachment completely ceases. But this is a very advanced condition of the mind where it will be completely oblivious of externality, because that state supervenes only when the unconscious comes to the conscious level, as psychoanalysts tell us, and we become complete masters of what we are. At present, we are not masters of ourselves; we are slaves. We think we have freedom, though our so-called freedom is only a conscious motivation of unconscious urges inside.

This is very difficult to understand because when we are completely subject to a particular force, we cannot know that we are so subject. That is the difficulty. But this is what has actually happened. The automatic functions of the body are themselves proof of our inability to control the system. We cannot change the course of the movement of the heart, or the lungs, or the digestive system, or even the brain cells; they have to work according to their own fashion. So what control have we over ourselves, although we say we are masters? Well, that is a different question. The point is that there is a subjection of the very structure of the body-mind complex to the forces that are responsible for its birth. And, these forces are responsible for the experiences thereof in respect of objects, and they are the causes of perception.

Therefore, go back to the cause. We will find that there is a cause behind every cause. There is a long linkage of these causative factors, and unless the precedent cause is rectified, the ensuing effect cannot be controlled. While abhinivesa is caused by raga and dvesha, that again is caused by asmita, and asmita is caused by avidya. Thus, this ignorance, the source which is avidya, has to be overcome by deep meditation, for which purpose the sutras are expounded.

Tad abhāvāt saṁyogābhāvaḥ (II.25). Samyoga, or contact with objects, ceases when avidya ceases. Then, we will not desire things. The desire for things is due to the loss of the essentialities of our own being. Some aspects of consciousness have been screened over by the presence of the urges within. And, these aspects of oneself, which have been so screened, become causes for desires.

Every effort is born of avidya, so the question is: How are we to work on this avidya? Even the understanding of the intellect is permitted by the structure of avidya at a particular time. For this, graduated steps are suggested. A sudden stroke cannot be dealt to avidya; that is not possible. It is a very slow process of a gradual digging into the depth of our difficulties. These stages are what are known as the stages of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. A very scientific recipe is provided to us here, for gradual extrication of consciousness from the clutches of objects. The extrication should be very gradual. It should not be suddenly done, because if the conditions of the previous stage have not been fulfilled, the next step cannot be taken. Every level of existence has a law of its own, and we have to fulfil the law of that particular stage in which we are. We cannot go above it and say, “I belong to another realm.” That will not be possible, because we belong to that realm of which we are conscious. If we do not belong to a particular realm, we will not be even conscious of it.

There is no use saying, “I do not belong to this world. I belong to Brahmaloka.” This is not true, because we do belong to this world, which is proved by the fact that we are aware of the existence of the world. And so, we are controlled by the laws of this world, and the world is not merely a physical substance of earth, water, fire, air, ether. It is a mix-up; it is an association. What we call world, or samsara, is an association of consciousness in a particular manner with the atmosphere outside. Therefore, the extrication of consciousness from bondage is an extrication from associations. It is not a giving up of things, as we usually say in a mood of vairagya. We do not give up anything. We are only trying to release ourselves from the bondage into which we have entered on account of having no control over ourselves, no mastery over the processes of thinking, feeling, willing, etc.

The stages through which we have to pass, which are very gradual, are also very scientific. That is, the most concrete of facts is taken into consideration first. The immediate reality – which we cannot gainsay, which hits upon us as the only reality – is taken into consideration first, and our debts to that realm are paid first. That the most insistent demands are to be provided for before the milder ones, though they may be deeper, is noticed further.

The world-consciousness we are speaking of, which is the real bondage of the soul, is a very complicated matter. World-consciousness does not merely mean mountain-consciousness, river-consciousness or building-consciousness, etc. This is only a very glib way of describing a crude aspect of it. But the real world-consciousness is a very complicated involvement. This is why we cannot understand ourselves thoroughly by a mere look at things, nor can we understand the causes of this involvement, just as a disease is not caused by one factor merely. It is brought about by various susceptibilities, external as well as internal, and a medical diagnosis should observe these factors carefully before treatment is done. Likewise yoga, which is the treatment of the illness of samsara, has to first of all diagnose the case in all its aspects, internally as well as externally. This is because world-consciousness, which is an involvement of consciousness, is an external involvement as well as an internal involvement. We cannot say which came first and which came afterwards. They appear to have arisen simultaneously.

However, whatever be the philosophical or the scientific truth about this involvement, the teacher here gives due regard to the sentiments of the individual. We know very well that reason does not work always. Sentiment works very quickly, so the sentiments are noticed and dealt with in an appropriate manner. The sentimental feeling of the individual is towards the social atmosphere in which it exists. The very first consciousness of a child is of a social environment, which is physical as well as human. That we, as individuals, also are involved in our own external environment and have contributed much to bring about our social and physical experiences is a different question to be dealt with later on. But, as I mentioned, the very gross aspect of this experience is observed first and treated at the very outset.

The physical world and the social world are the first things that we observe, and we are associated with them in a particular manner. They bind us in a particular way. We have a bondage in respect of the physical world and also to the social atmosphere. Patanjali discusses first what bondage is, and then the prescription for it is provided accordingly.