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The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice


Chapter 2: Philosophy – The Art of Correct Understanding

The conditions of life, whose basic characteristics I tried to expatiate upon on in the previous talk, would logically and necessarily direct us to a study and investigation into the causes of the experiences we are undergoing in life. Why should things be as they are? Why are we what we are today? And what could be the reason behind our inner impulsion to search and to quest for solutions of difficulties – obviating problems? And, what could be the reason behind our restlessness, our endless asking for endless things? What is the mystery of life? What is it that man is aspiring for? Towards what is the universe moving finally? What is the secret behind human history?

Are these questions capable of being answered? Whether or not they are capable of being answered under normal conditions, they have to be answered one day or the other. If they cannot be answered at all, they cannot arise in our minds. Totally impossible things do not occur to the minds of man. The occurrence of possibilities as ideas, or even merely concepts, should act as a great consolation to us that these possibilities have to be actualities under other conditions. In the present condition of our thinking and living, certain aspirations of ours may not appear to be capable of being fulfilled; but our asking is itself an answer to this asking. How could we ask for a thing which is impossible? Even if we want to catch the moon, if this asking is a sincere longing from within us, there should be some way, at least as a remote possibility, of contacting even such a distant object like the moon. Perhaps a human longing, surging from the heart, defies everything that can be called an impossibility. There is perhaps nothing impossible finally, under given conditions, though it may not look like that under existing circumstances.

If you remember the few words I spoke to you last time, you may perhaps have gathered that we, as human beings, live in two worlds at the same time – a world of actual experience, and another world of possible experience. There is something we are undergoing, and there is something else which is possible for us, and all our efforts are towards the actualisation of this so-called remote possibility. All the efforts of mankind, right from the beginning of history, should be considered as an unremitted effort for the materialisation of possible values – to bring the ideal into the real realm of experience. Here is the beginning of what we may call philosophical study or even the foundations of yoga practice, because yoga is based on a deep philosophical foundation. Our studies in this course will, therefore, comprise the systematic investigation into the very rock bottom of human experience, which is what is called philosophy, and the instruments of action that we may have to employ for the purpose of our expected achievement, which we may call a study of psychology, and the subject matter proper which seems to be in our minds, namely, the practice of yoga. What we call yoga practice is the fine fruit which has to be churned from this widespread tree of the total life of man – of everybody – arisen out of the root of a deep philosophical perspective of all existence.

To continue from where we left last time, the question that we posed before ourselves was, how do we know anything at all? How does anyone know that there is a world outside? And how is it that this inscrutable knowledge or perception of a thing called a world outside sits so tightly upon our minds that we have taken it for the whole of reality, and for us the reality is nothing but this world and our involvement in it? How come this predicament? Our involvement in the world arises on account of our giving a value to the world, which again is a consequence of our perception of the world as a truly existent something. How have we driven ourselves to the conviction that there is a world outside us? This has been taken by everyone as a hypothesis, and is something which is taken for granted.

The sceptical mind, the scientific outlook, which always seem to be very logical in its approach, is rooted finally in something which cannot itself be proved – namely, the world that is there outside us. We cannot prove that there is a world outside, while we expect everything else to be proved. How is it that we are compelled to accept the existence of something whose reality is not capable of logical proof? Here again we come to a dual aspect operating in our own nature – the logical and also the super-logical. While we are very logical and scientific, and even mathematical, in our outlook and enterprises in life, the very base of our conviction is itself not logical because there is no logic behind the existence of the world. It is there, and there the matter ends. We have to take it for what it is. But why should we be forced to accept the existence of a world as it appears to our eyes or our senses, while we want logic and mathematics for everything else?

This impulse from within us compelling us to accept the existence of a world outside as a reality, in itself arises out of a nature which is super-natural. There is something in us which is not merely natural, not merely logical or intellectual. We are not merely arithmetic, geometry, algebra, logic. There is something in us which is beyond all these methods we employ in conducting our enterprises in life. Man is not merely empirical; he is also trans-empirical. He is not exhausted in this world. He also belongs to some other realm; else, questions concerning the other world or something beyond this world cannot arise in the mind. These are conclusions that we deduce from the implications of certain experiences that we are passing through in this world.

Philosophy is a study of implications of experience, and thus it differs from science. Science is concerned only with sensory experience, which has to be corroborated by intellectual analysis, but philosophy is not merely a study of experience; it also deeply studies the suggestions that are imbedded beneath the experiences of mankind. There is something called ‘reading between the lines’. If we read only the lines, it is science; but if we are able to read between the lines and grasp what is implied, suggested and hidden, then we are philosophers. Now our perception or knowledge of the world – which we all take for granted that it is actually there – is to be studied. The question of how we know anything at all is the beginning of philosophy, and the answer to this question has come from various sources. The schools of philosophy, the systems of thought throughout the world, are man’s attempts to answer this question.

What is knowledge? What do we mean by knowing anything at all? What is our concept of the process of knowledge? When we say, “I know this,” what do we actually mean in our minds? “I know that there is a pillar in front of me.” When I make this statement, what do I actually mean? Can I explain myself in greater detail? The pillar is not me and I am not the pillar, but I know that there is a pillar in front of me. How do I know that there is a pillar, and what do I mean by ‘knowing’ that there is a pillar? This simple instance of the procedure of knowing a simple thing like a pillar in front of us, will answer the question of any type of knowledge of the whole universe itself. From one instance we can extend the conclusion to all instances that are practicable in life.

Knowledge of an object outside, whether it is a pillar or any human being – or anything, for the matter of that – is a very intriguing procedure. It is a very complicated process, and not as simple as it appears on the surface. We cannot define the word ‘knowledge’ by looking into dictionaries. Dictionaries give synonyms which perhaps tell us that knowing means being aware of, understanding, comprehending, being conscious of, apprehending. These may be our thesaurus ideas, dictionary meanings, all of which do not take us far. Whatever be the substitute of a word that we use to describe the process of knowing, the intriguing feature behind it remains forever.

We are not here only to know the dictionary meaning of the word ‘knowledge’. What is actually happening when we know an object? Such a philosophical procedure is something to which mankind is not accustomed. We are not used to thinking like this. We are not interested in these questions, because we can get on in life merely by imagining that there is something in front of us, whatever be the way in which we have come to this conclusion that there is something in front. Why unnecessarily go into answering difficult questions which do not concern us in practical life? This is the ordinary man’s approach. But a philosopher is not an ordinary man. He cannot be satisfied if he feels there is something which he cannot understand. Ignorance is a great sorrow. We do not like to be idiotic, and we never want to feel that there is something which we cannot know. We want to probe into it. There is a curiosity in the mind of man. There is a pressure from within us to know everything. We do not want there to be something that we do not know. It irks us, and we cannot sleep. What is it? “This is something I cannot understand. It must be known.” So we go exploring, investigating, and delving deep into things so that we can sleep well with the satisfaction that there is nothing which has defied our understanding. We do not wish to be defeated by the world; that is a sorrow to us. “I have been exploited, defeated, thrown out, and there is something which has been hidden from my view. This I do not want.” Nothing should be hidden from our mental vision, and we want to know everything. This is a philosopher’s attitude.

Now, about philosophy in general. By philosophy, I do not mean any particular school of thought. I mean a general philosophic attitude of the impulsion from within the human mind to know all existence at one stroke. From this point of view of the definition of philosophy as a general enterprise of mankind as a whole, the process of knowledge seems to be a kind of involvement of the knower with the object of knowledge. We are somehow involved in some way in that object, without which fact or feature, we cannot explain how an object is known at all. It may be a brick pillar or it may be the whole universe; whatever be that content of our knowledge, unless we are involved in the object in some intimate manner, we cannot know it. So knowledge of anything is an involvement in that thing which we know.

The word ‘involvement’ is something very interesting for us to investigate into. What do we mean by involvement? We seem to be moving from one difficulty to another difficulty. We know what involvement is. “I am very much involved in this,” we sometimes say. When we make a statement like this, we know what we mean. We are part and parcel of that in which we say we are involved. I am not totally outside that in which I am involved. “I am involved in this mess. I am involved in this situation. I am involved with this person, in this litigation, in this, in that.” When we say we are involved, we mean that particular content – that object, that circumstance, that person, that thing – has become part of our nature. That is what we mean by saying that we are involved in it, which means, again, that that particular thing in which we are involved is not an outside object entirely.

First of all, we began by saying that we know an object. Now we seem to be heading towards some strange conclusion that it cannot be entirely an object in the sense of a totally isolated thing from us; and if it had been a totally isolated thing, there would be no involvement, and if there is no involvement, there is no knowing it. So the fact of knowing a thing, having an involvement in it, necessitating an organic connection with it, shows that it is not really a totally separated object. Thus, the so-called object of our knowledge is not to be called an object literally. We may call it an object for practical purposes, but really it is not. The father and son are two different individuals. For all practical purposes, one is an object of the other in the sense that one can see the other, but the involvement of one in the other is such that in secret, personal, private life at home, they cannot treat each other as objects. Physically, they may look like objects of each other, but in many other ways they are not objects.

Human involvement, emotional involvement, intellectual involvement, social, political involvement, whatever be the involvement, is nothing but an organic entering into the very circumstance and existence of that thing, so that it is no more a thing, and anything that happens to that thing, happens to us. The world is revealed before us gradually as something which is not totally cut off from us. If it is totally cut off, we cannot be involved in it; we are not concerned with it. Why should I become concerned with that which has no relation to me in any way? We are very much concerned with the world, with every little bit of things. If that concern were not there, there would be no problem of existence. All problems of life, all issues arising out of life, are results of an unavoidable involvement in life, which is involvement in the world. Therefore, we cannot regard the world as something totally unconnected with us. It is part of us.

This is the beginning of a deeper result that is to follow from further investigation. We go deeper and deeper into the Atlantic and the Pacific until we touch the bottom and grasp the treasure that is in the bowels of the ocean of this great mystery called existence. Somehow, we now have a suspicion that things are not what they seem. There is some mystery behind things, apart from the manner in which they are presented to our eyes. The world is not as it appears to our eyes or other senses. The objects of the world seem to be actors in the drama of the theatre of existence, putting on attire; but when the dress is removed, they are different things altogether. All things in the world are dressed up, and they appear to be other than what they are. Don’t you think that you see only dressed-up personalities in a drama, and therefore you are enjoying it? If everybody appears naked as he is, then there is no performance, and the world performance will cease in one second if everything appears naked in its truth. Therefore, we are presented with a picture, a phenomenon, a made-up presentation, which we are obliged to gaze at, look at and appreciate, to consider as a reality in itself, just as we consider dramatic performances as realities, while subtly we know it is, after all, a dramatic performance. He is our own brother, he is a nephew, he is somebody else; he is not Ravana or Rama standing in front of us. We know this very well, yet we enjoy the Ravana and Rama on the stage. ”Oh, wonderful performance!” we say, knowing well that it is something else that is inside.

In human experience, the eternal and the temporal clash with each other. That is why we are partly pulled by this world of sensory experience, and partly kept restless with a longing for that which is above the world. Partially we are longing for this world, and partially we are totally dissatisfied with it because we belong to a world of eternity on one side, and to the world of temporality on the other side. We are mysterious presentations. These little persons seated here are not ordinary presentations; they are great miracles in themselves. Each person is a miracle in himself or herself, in the sense that there is a mysterious coming together of the transcendent and the empirical in each person.

That is why we are pulled in two directions. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we weep; both things we do in this world. We are happy sometimes, and terribly grieved at other times. Sometimes a great consolation comes to our mind, and a solace speaks from inside our own hearts. In an uncanny way, some satisfaction speaks to us. There seems to be some consolation that, after all, things will not be as bad as we thought them to be: “The world is not going to the dogs; one day it shall be better.” Do we not think like that? Or do we think that hell will descend on us? Even if we think that hell is going to descend, it will not be always there. “One day I shall be better.” This feeling in us, coming willy-nilly from inside, that, ‘some day, things will be better than they are today, due to which we are working for the betterment of mankind’, is the eternity speaking through us. But at other times we say that everything is hopeless, wretched, nonsensical, idiotic, good for nothing, and we want to quit this world. This is temporality speaking from inside.

The senses present one picture, and our deeper spirit presents another picture altogether. Perception, knowledge of an object in the world – knowledge of anything, for the matter of that – appears to be intriguing and incapable of ordinary understanding because of this mixture of two aspects, the eternal and the temporal, coming together in the process of perception. On the one hand, nothing can be known unless it is outside us. That which is inside our eyes and inside our own mouth cannot be known by us as an object; but on the other hand, we cannot know anything unless we are organically involved in it. There is, therefore, a conflict in the process of knowing.

There is an unnatural procedure taking place in every act of knowledge, and therefore also in every act of desiring, without our knowing what is actually happening. When we desire a thing, long for a thing, ask for a thing, want a thing, we are creating a conflict in our minds. As I mentioned, the very process of knowledge is a sort of conflict between the temporal and the eternal. Every desire of man is a psychological conflict because a desire cannot arise in respect of an object unless it is outside oneself, but also, at the same time, a desire cannot arise in respect of an object if it is totally outside and independent of us in every way. We cannot long for a thing with which we have no connection, which has been isolated from us in every way, root and branch, from top to bottom. If something is totally outside us and we have no connection in any manner whatsoever with it, it cannot be the object of our desire. On the one hand, this is the case. A thing that is totally outside us cannot be ours and, therefore, asking for it is a meaningless adventure; but, on the other hand, if it is really one with us, we will not ask for it. So, a thing should be neither outside us, nor in us. We are asking for something impossible in manifesting any desire. We are creating a difficult situation which we cannot solve, and nobody can solve.

Therefore, desires are troublemakers. They can never give us peace of mind because they can never be satisfied. A desire cannot be satisfied because it is a conflict in itself. It is a conflict because we are asking for two contradictory things at the same time. An object should be mine, and yet it should not be mine. We do not know what we mean when the mind asks for this. The object has to be mine – otherwise, the desire to possess it cannot arise – but it should not be mine; only then I can ask for it. A thing which is already mine cannot be asked for, and a thing which is totally not mine cannot be asked for. So a desire is a contradiction, a psychological malaise. This arises on account of an erroneous perception of the object itself. There is an error creeping into the very process of knowing anything whatsoever in the world, on account of which an error called ‘desire’ – love and hatred included – arises. We have to resolve this conflict which is the source of every other conflict in every walk of life – in family, in ourselves, outside, inside, everywhere. All the difficulties of man arise on account of this erroneous perception of things.

Now, when we root our very life individually or socially in some error of perception, our reactions to things so wrongly known also bring about great difficulties. Emotions, cravings, passions, hatreds, and turmoil inside the psyche, which are the themes studied in abnormal psychology, arise on account of a basic metaphysical error, as it can be called, which has been very beautifully studied in pithy sutras by the saint Patanjali. There is, therefore, a philosophical blunder, which I referred to as a metaphysical error, at the back of all the troubles in life. We do not understand things properly; therefore, we are emotionally disturbed in regard to everything.

Philosophy has this objective before it: how can we understand things correctly? Philosophy is the art of correct understanding, knowing things as they really are and not merely taking for granted that they are as they appear to the senses. The knowledge of an object has taken us to a conclusive apprehension that the world is not so much outside us as to be capable of being converted into a tool for our satisfaction or exploited in any manner whatsoever. The world cannot be exploited. We cannot exploit anybody in the world because all things in the world are part of the world only, and if the world is not going to be a tool in our hands, nobody can be a tool in our hands. There is a status that each thing enjoys in this world. The world has a status of its own.

We forget that we are a part of the world. Are we outside the world? For some reasons, at some time, under some conditions, we are likely to feel that we are not part of the world, which is why we crave and hate, we want to grab and exploit, we want to possess and reject. Ideas like these arise in our minds because sometimes we affirm our egoism so intensely that we begin to feel that we are totally independent of things. We have nothing to do with the world, and the world has nothing to do with us. We can do anything with it. This is a dictator’s, despot’s and tyrant’s attitude, whose fate, history records very well. The world is not going to be converted into an instrument of our satisfaction in any manner.

The process of knowledge has given us an indication that the very fact of our knowing that there is a world outside involves the conclusion that we are not outside the world, and the world is not outside us. Knowledge is an organic process. It is a whole situation, and not a partitioned linkage of little perceptions, bit by bit, one disconnected from the other. It is an entire situation arising, connecting us with the object and the object with us, so that the longing for an object or the love for anything whatsoever in the world is a love for a wholesome experience in us, about which we have not thought properly.

We are dissatisfied with a limited bodily experience. This finitude of our individual existence compels us to connect ourselves with another object for any reason whatsoever, so that the finitude of our individuality – physically, psychologically, etc. – appears to be broken open, overcome to some extent, by our going out of our finitude in the longing and perception of an object outside, so that there is a larger psychological expanse of our personality created in our possessing an object by knowing it. Knowledge of an object involving the possession of it in some manner creates a satisfaction because we have outgrown our finitude to some extent, at least in our imagination.

All happiness is imagination, finally. It is only a thought operating in a particular manner. Suddenly it works in a particular way, and we are in a state of jubilation. The finitude of our personality is tentatively overcome, for the time being at least, by our coming in contact with another object because we have extended the area of our action beyond ourselves, up to the limit of that object. We have become larger beings; we are not finite to the extent that we appeared to be earlier. A touch of infinitude is injected into our experience when we seem to be in contact with an object by way of knowing it, involving in it, possessing it, and perhaps enjoying it.

Thus, a universal element seems to be entering into our finitude in every act of perception. Otherwise, we would not even know that there is a table or a desk in front of us. The knowledge of an object outside, even if it is a fountain pen or a pinhead, is possible on account of an element which is larger than, wider than, and transcendent to this little knowledge which is creeping within our own brains. Our mind is not only inside our brains. It goes out. If its connection with the outside world was not a conscious process, the world would not be known to exist at all. Our consciousness, which is our spirit, apprehends the existence of an object outside, sees it, and thinks external to it, under some conditions which require that the knower has to exceed his own finitude. If we are locked only within our body, in our consciousness, we cannot know anything in the world. We will be a prisoner within our body. If we were locked up like that within the prison house of our own individuality, there would be no external perception. There would be only a brick wall around us – and not only that, there would not be a desire to break through finitude.

The desire to overcome all finitude in every way, materially as well as socially and in every other manner, is an indication of our belonging to a kingdom of heaven, as it is called, a realm of experience which is transcendent to all limited experiences in life. Essentially we seem to be angels, fallen down into mortality due to some peculiar fate of nature. Else, we would not long to be angels once again. Why do we want to catch God? How does this desire arise? It is because once upon a time we have been with God, and now we have come down for some reason, into which circumstance we have to investigate a little. We were, once upon a time perhaps, on the lap of God Himself. We have been hurled down, as it were, due to some circumstance; else, how would the desire for God arise in the mind? How would it be possible for us to ask for infinite possessions, infinite experience and immortal existence? If we were never immortal, how would the idea of immortality arise in us? If we were totally mortal, scattered beings, unwanted by everybody, how would the desire for immortality arise in us? How would we ask for the Absolute? Why do we want to attain yoga?

These are suggestions from within our own heart, our conscience and our spirit, that each one of us belongs to a realm of infinite, immortal being, God-experience;  therefore, it is a possibility. It is a possibility because it is our birthright. It is our belonging. It is our property, as it were, that we have lost due to a miscalculation in some way – a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of values. We have to regain this original status of that perfection from which we have fallen. The paradise that has been lost has to be regained. Until that time, we cannot have peace of mind. This science, this technique, this art of regaining the paradise that has been lost, is what we call yoga.