The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 5: Cosmology According to the Sankhya and the Vedanta

Yoga is a very secret practice, and the word ‘yoga’ has mostly been misunderstood, misconstrued, misapplied, due to a popular usage of the term these days, almost like a slogan of politicians. It has lost its meaning due to repeating it often for every blessed thing in the world and not knowing what it actually connotes.

Yoga is a mysterious application of ourself to the task of life. It is mysterious and secret because it is not the usual commonplace empirical way of living. It is an application of science, logic and intuition to the utmost, to the furthest limit practicable; hence, in our understanding and–also in the application of the techniques of yoga, we have to use not only our common sense but also a carefully conducted understanding.

Yesterday I referred to two important systems of philosophic thinking in India, known as Sankhya and Vedanta. Inasmuch as the application of yoga techniques depends upon a foundational doctrine, we may say a theory of the universe, it is necessary for us to know this foundation. What is the ground on which yoga practice stands? What are its presuppositions? These are explained principally in Sankhya and Vedanta, which are complementary systems or logical stages of understanding the structure of creation as a whole.

The Sankhya doctrine of the evolution of the universe is especially important to understand the stages of the practice of yoga because yoga is actually a gradational communion established between ourselves and the universal setup of things so that when the height of yoga is reached, we stand in perfect communion with all creation. We do not stand any more outside it as observers or even as participants. We live inseparable from the law that operates. This effort on our part to commune with the internal constitution of the universe in all its graded manifestations is yoga proper. Particularly the system of yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga, or popularly what is called the Yoga of Patanjali, is directly rooted in the Sankhya doctrine. It is also based on the Vedanta conception of the universe.

The evolutionary stages mentioned constitute the levels of perception and observation by the consciousness of the individual of what is there as its content. There is a mysterious arrangement of our own interior personality to some features of which I made reference last time when we discussed the three states of consciousness, waking dream and deep sleep. We are not a compact marble statue seated here, but internally constituted arrangements of patterns and layers or levels of densities of being, so that our personality – this ‘me’, this ‘you’ here – is not a solid indivisible substance, but an arrangement of several particular facets, features, conditions, circumstances, layers or grades. Our consciousness, the true being of ours, passes through these constituent layers of our personality when we observe, see or understand anything, as the light of the sun may pass through a prism and get conditioned by the structure of the prism.

Thus, our observation of things, our understanding of anything in this world, is restricted to the manner in which our deep being-consciousness passes through this prism of our complicated personality arranged in the manner mentioned. Hence, the world beheld by us is not directly beheld by the Atman, or Being proper. To refer to our old analogy once again, here we have a set of spectacles through which we look at things. Previously we were told that we wear the spectacles of space and time and other conditions of understanding, and now we also seem to have many other spectacles with us, which are part and parcel of ourselves. Just as our skin is a part of us and we cannot remove our skin as we remove our coat or our shirt, these internal constituent layers of our personality, which act as peculiar spectacles of the true Being in us, cannot be thrown out because due to some peculiar juxtaposition and misplacement of values, our deepest being has got muddled up with these spectacles.

Do you not think that if you love a thing very deeply, you are disturbed by whatever happens to that thing? The object that you love deeply can upset your mind or raise your mind to heights of joy, as the case may be. My son, my daughter, my wife, my husband, my property and so many my-things, which are dear to me whatever be the circumstance in which these dear objects are placed, may react upon us so powerfully that it would appear that we ourselves are passing through the conditions of the object. If the object is happy, I am happy; if it dies, I also die. This happens even in a psychological attachment of what we call intense longing, love, affection, craving, and so on.

Deeper is the mistake that has taken place in us in our attachment to this body and the inner constituents thereof. We do not merely love our body and these layers of ours as we love anything in this world, but this attachment of our true being to this body-mind complex has become so intense that it is not possible to regard it as something outside us. It is not that we merely love the body and the mind and our personality, we are the body and the mind and everything that it is. We can imagine the difficulty that we may have to face in freeing ourselves from this misconceived relationship with what we really are not. This will also explain to you how difficult yoga practice is. You are dealing with your own self, the only thing which you can never understand fully. These conditioning layers of our personality compel us to visualise the whole of creation also in a corresponding series of gradations. Whether or not the universe is made up of layers or planes, it matters little to us, because for us they are made in that way because the world of perception is real and meaningful to the extent to which it becomes a content of our consciousness; otherwise, we are not concerned with it in any manner.

Therefore, in the practice of yoga – or, for the matter of that, in our dealings of any type – we are concerned with our own world, not the world as it is in itself. Nobody knows what the world is, as it is in itself; but there is a world with which we are connected, which we have wound around ourselves as a silkworm winds a cocoon around itself, and we are very much concerned with it. This world is the subject of our study. Our bondage is that entanglement which is a part of our conscious experience. That which is not a part of our experience does not become a part of our study or concern in any manner.

Thus, a psychological necessity arisen on account of the conjunction of our consciousness with this psychophysical personality makes it also necessary for us to conceive a corresponding cosmic series of layers of being. The world which is the macrocosm is organically related to us as the microcosm. In Sanskrit we say the Brahmanda, the cosmic egg so-called, is an expanded form of this little personality, the individuality of ours – or rather, the other way round, we are a specimen of the cosmos. Each individual, each organism, each particle of sand or atom is a symbol of the whole cosmos. Everything that is in the universe can be found in one sand particle, in one particle of anything, even in an atom.

The individual setup is what we are and, for the reason we have noticed in our earlier lessons, this individual setup of ours has been somehow given the position of an observer of the external universe. We noticed in the previous session that a mistake has been committed in a highly metaphysical sense, we may say, in considering ourselves as observers of the universe. The object, so-called, has managed to remain outside the subjective consciousness. The purusha has become mixed up with prakriti; consciousness is entangled in matter, and according to one system of yoga at least, freedom or liberation consists in the extrication of the consciousness from its involvement in matter, purusha freeing himself from prakriti-consciousness, not feeling the necessity to see things only through the prism of individuality.

When we understand things through this prismatic individuality of ours called cognitive or perceptual understanding, and we can behold the fact as such directly through the centrality of our being, the Atman so-called, we are supposed to have intuitional knowledge. Intuition is direct apprehension of Reality, and that is the act of the soul, the Atman, the Self, the True Being – Pure Consciousness. But in ordinary circumstances of our life, this does not happen. We have no intuition because the Soul, the Atman, Consciousness, the true Being of ours beholds the fact of the universe through the medium of our psychophysical individuality – this body, this mind, and anything that we are made of.

In the description of the gradational arrangement of the universe, corresponding to the arrangement of our own internal personality, the Sankhya and the Vedanta are in agreement, except in their terminology. There is a difference between the final solution which the Vedanta arrives at and the Sankhya understands, but that final conclusion is not our final concern at present. We are now directly interested in the process rather than the aim that we are going to experience in the end. In the process, Vedanta and Sankhya agree. They have different ways of describing these conditions and stages of experience, but the fact remains the same. In Sanskrit theology this system, or the doctrine of the creation of the universe, is called srishti. God created the heaven and the earth, says the Bible. God was sitting alone, unbefriended, and He said, "Let there be light," and there was light, and then the five elements and everything came, earth and heaven included. This is a theological doctrine of creation which is familiar not only to Christianity, but to Hinduism and several other sympathetic religions. This system of thinking in terms of creation of the universe by an ultimate reality is philosophically called cosmology. This is a very important subject for us to keep in our minds always.

Modern science – such as astronomy, physics and biology – is concerned with cosmological arrangements of the universe. When we speak of molecules, atoms, electrons and electromagnetic forces in scientific language, we are speaking of cosmology. When astronomers tell us that the Big Bang took place at the origin of things and nebular dust of the cosmos spread itself into the Milky Way, the galaxies, the many stars of which the Sun is one, and so the planets came about and there was a gradual arising of life on Earth from a state of bacteria, amphibians, etc., to animals, to the human state, etc. – we are speaking of cosmology. Any theory, any doctrine or system of thinking which discusses the rising of evolutes from original causes, in any manner whatsoever, either by way of descent or ascent, is called cosmology. The doctrine of the arrangement, the coming and the going of things in the universe, is cosmology. It is something very interesting and important. All science is based on this way of thinking. From where do things come? How do they come? How many things have come? Why do they come? All these questions are discussed in cosmology.

Briefly I will tell you what Sankhya says about this. According to the Sankhya, the supreme intelligent principle is purusha. It is infinite in its nature, all-pervading; everywhere it is. Consciousness cannot be divided, partitioned or cut into parts. This consciousness, this supreme purusha is absolutely independent, kevala, and sometimes this attainment of supreme independence is called kaivalya, a word which is synonymous with liberation, freedom, moksha, etc. A total absolute independence attained by consciousness of the purusha is kaivalya. Kaivalya means the state of being kevala. Kevala means totally independent. Such is the purusha – infinite all-pervading, omnipresent in its being. This is the true nature of pure Being, which is the true nature of every one of us also. We are the purusha. The purusha does not mean a male or a female, or any such thing. It is only an unfortunate usage of word in ordinary parlance to mean the male gender, but for want of a better term, is used here to describe a centre of consciousness, which has no gender, no sex, no form, no shape. It is not in space, not in time, and it is not anything we or anyone can think of or conceive. It is radiance which is spread out everywhere. That is the essentiality of the purusha, and that is the essential being of everyone and everything.

The Sankhya posits the existence of a content of this infinite consciousness of the purusha, by which it becomes aware that there is an objective universe. This is the beginning of creation. In theological or religious language, we may say it is the will of God operating. What is meant by the will of God? It is God intensely thinking the potentiality of an objective creation. This is described in a dramatic manner in certain other scriptures such as the Upanishads, and in larger concrete details in the epics and the puranas of India. Now we are concerned with the basic factors involved in Sankhya and Vedanta. The consciousness of this infinite purusha conditioned by this universal material content –is the beginning of the creation of the universe. It is a cosmic will, cosmic thought, cosmic ideation with the potentiality or the latency of the future form that the creation has to take. This can be made clearer by an example in common work-a-day life.

Look at an artist who paints a picture. What does he do? He has an idea in his mind about the way in which the picture should appear. This idea of the form of the painting, which is to take a concrete shape afterwards, is the beginning of the creation of the picture. God, the supreme purusha, the ultimate Reality, is supposed to be associated with the universal material content. When we use the word ‘material’, we have to be very cautious. It does not mean matter such as brick, stone and wood. It is pure possibility of being, objectively aware, just as when modern physicists speak of a material universe they do not mean the universe of brick and mortar, they mean an indescribable, inconceivable potentiality of what they call the space-time continuum. Much more subtle is this state where we try to understand the pure ideation in the mind of the Supreme Being of the possible future manifestation of the universe. First the artist conceives the pattern of the picture, and in the second stage this idea is projected on the canvas in the form of drawing outlines with a pencil. Then the artist touches these outlines with the necessary ink, making it more visible; and finally, in the end, he fills it with ink of diverse colours. Then we say, here is the beautiful painting of Michelangelo, of Ravi Verma, and so on. But it originated in the thought of the artist; it was already there.

The creation of the universe is supposed to be something that took place in this manner, in different stages. In the beginning it was only an idea, but that idea was superior to the material content. We should not be under the impression that ideas or abstractions are unrealities. We are accustomed to think in terms of hard substances so much that we cannot imagine that there can be a non-material existence. When modern science tells us that the universe is not material, we do not understand what they are saying. They say that the so-called imperceptible mathematical universe is the original universe of which this is a shadow cast. The mathematical point-events, the abstract space-time continuum – which is not space and time, but something more than that – is the original archetype which casts a shadow, as it were, in the form of this concrete universe.

Can we imagine that concrete things are shadows of ideas? Our mind cannot understand this, and will not accept it, because we are prone to think in concrete objective forms only. For us, money means currency notes, a coin, a metal piece which we can touch with our hands. But money does not mean that which we touch with our hands; it is a value of purchase which is in the idea of people only. Money is in the heads of people, it is not outside. If the ideas of give and take, commercial valuation and mutual agreement among people do not exist, paper notes and coins will have no value. Likewise, there are many things in this world which are apparently concrete and substantial, but are really ideas only. Organisations are ideas, governments are ideas, monetary systems are ideas, our loves and hatreds are also ideas, our satisfactions are ideas, our sorrows are ideas; finally, we will find there is nothing anywhere except ideas. Yet we believe that the world is nothing but concrete bricks, cement, iron, wood, etc., which it is not.

Again coming to the point of the origin of the universe, the substantial super-substantial ideation seems to be the beginning of all things. This potency, latency, or the hidden condition of a future universe is, according to Sankhya, called mahat, the great being filled with the idea of the universe, cosmically aware. For all practical purposes, this is the God we are thinking of in religion. What Sankhya calls mahat is cosmic existence, which assumes such an intensive self-awareness of its own universal being that, in the Sankhya terminology, it is further designated as ahamkara.

The word ‘ahamkara’ in the Sanskrit language has a dual meaning, and we have to be very careful in understanding the meaning of this term. Those who have heard of this term may perhaps think that ahamkara means ‘egoism’; this is the way in which it is usually understood. ‘Egoism’ means self-affirmation, and a proud person is called ahamkara, etc. Any type of intense individual personal self-affirmation is called ahamkara. But, unfortunately, again the Sankhya uses the same word with two different meanings. When we speak of the cosmic condition of existence, we have to understand the meaning of the word ‘ahamkara’ in a cosmical sense only, as ‘I am’. When Moses asked God, "What shall I tell people I saw on Mount Sinai?", God replied, "Tell them you saw, ‘I am what I am’." This is God; we cannot describe Him in any other way. This consciousness of a universal ‘I am what I am’ is the ahamkara of the Sankhya, but it is not egoism of man or any kind of individuality. Nothing of the kind is suggested there. Thus, the mahat and the ahamkara are terms which imply cosmical total consciousness and an awareness of that being God’s original act of creation. I do not want to burden you too much with Sanskrit words, but these are certain interesting things and so I mentioned them.

Purusha is the supreme independent consciousness, and prakriti is its objective universal content. In its union we have mahat, and then that itself is called ahamkara when it is assertive in a cosmical sense. Here we have a complete picture of cosmical creation corresponding to these terms.

Though Vedanta uses another set of terms altogether, the series is described in a similar manner – Brahman, Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat. Though the Supreme Being that Sankhya calls purusha cannot be classically identified with the Brahman of Vedanta, it can virtually mean the same thing. And the objective content of this supreme Brahman as a potentiality of future creation is Ishvara, who concretises himself into Hiranyagarbha and Virat, almost identical with what the Sankhya calls the mahat and ahamkara. With this, cosmic creation is over.

But we are not very much concerned with cosmic creation. Let God do anything, we are concerned with our difficulties only. Now, what is our problem? God has created the universe, they say. The Vedas say this, the Upanishad says this, and the Bible says this. Let it be so, but what does it matter to us now? Our difficulties are real to us. What has happened to us actually, now? Why are we in this condition, if God created this world in this manner? We will have to study this further on.