by Swami Krishnananda
The stages of Yoga, as a practice, are actually in direct correspondence with the stages marked by the descent of the soul from God, which now become, in the reverse direction, the stages of the ascent of the soul to God or the Supreme Reality. This is the reason why we should have a philosophical background of the structure of the universe, and the nature of this descent and ascent, before we actually take to a serious study of the practical techniques of Yoga.
The whole of our experience in this universe is made up of two aspects, namely, Purusha and Prakriti, consciousness and matter, the seer and what is seen. The Yoga texts tell us that our experience, as constituted of the seer and the seen, is what can be called in Sanskrit Vyavaharika Satta. It means empirical experience. It is empirical, Vyavaharik or of practical utility, because, though it is workable and seems to be the only reality available to us, it is not the whole of reality. The aspect of the seer and the aspect of the seen, the consciousness aspect and the object aspect, the Purusha aspect and the Prakriti aspect, are often designated in the ancient texts as the Adhyatma and the Adhibhuta. The Adhyatma is the inward perceiving, seeing consciousness; lodged with the individuality of the seer. The Adhibhuta is the universe of objects, or what appears as the material expanse before us. The classical Samkhya, as propounded by the sage Kapila, confines itself to these two categories, Purusha and Prakriti, and does not feel the necessity for anything else. But the Yoga texts are not all based entirely on the Samkhya as propounded by Kapila. There is a modification, an improvement rather, of the concept of Samkhya in other texts such as the Manu Smriti, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. A deeper analysis of this circumstance of there being the Purusha and the Prakriti as the only possible realities in experience leads the Upanishads particularly, and also the Bhagavad Gita, to proclaim by way of implication, the necessity to accept a third principle which may be called the Adhidaiva or the superintending Divinity, transcending the subject and the object, Purusha and Prakriti. Because, the connection between the seer and the seen cannot be explained merely by the seer and the seen. The subject relates itself to the object and vice versa, in the awareness of the object. This relationship is inexplicable on the assumption that there are two isolated realities, the seer and the seen. Two demarcated principles cannot come in contact with each other and cannot know each other. The possibility of the perception or awareness of something as an object outside by the consciousness within can be accounted for only by the presence of something that is there as a connecting link between the subject and the object. This is invisible to the limited eyes. But, logical deduction requires or demands the presence of such a principle, without which it is not possible to explain how we are aware of the existence of the world at all.
How can anyone know that there is something outside, something that is totally cut off from the one that beholds that thing? That things are not entirely severed from the seer of the things implies again that there is a link between the seer and the seen, which is something transcending both the seer and the seen. So, beyond the Adhyatma and the Adhibhuta, there is the Adhidaiva. The one infinite Being or the Adhidaiva appears as the two, namely, Purusha and Prakriti, or the Adhyatma and the Adhibhuta, the subject and the object. But it remains yet as a unity. God does not become the world as milk becomes curd. Because, once the milk becomes curd, it cannot become milk again. There is no internal transformation of the Supreme Being into the world. If that had taken place really, there would be no possibility of the world returning to God, in the same way as there is no chance of curd returning to milk. Such a transformation has not taken place in God, and it cannot take place, inasmuch as the Supreme Being is indivisible, and indivisibility cannot undergo transformation of any kind. Thus, the unitary aspect of the Supreme Being is maintained in spite of its apparent division into the seer and the seen, the subject and the object. Thus, behind the diversity of experience, there is the unity of a transcendental principle which persists in spite of the multiplicity and the duality of existence. So, there is a tripartite creation, we may say, over and above the dual concept of creation which we considered earlier. On the one side we have the universe which is the Adhibhuta, on the other side there is the Adhyatma, the viewer, the beholder of the whole universe, and above these two, we have the connecting link, the transcendental. We may call it the Divinity, we may call it the Devata, we may call it God, we may call it the Angel or the Spirit of the Cosmos. Plato, for instance, speaks about there being a superintending archetype as he calls it, transcending the world of opinion, sensory perception and mental cognition. Two things cannot relate to each other, unless a third thing is there. This third thing was called by Plato as metaphysical principle. And, in Indian philosophical parlance, we generally designate this third principle as the Devata or the Divinity.
Generally, people think that in the religions of India there are many gods, resulting in a sort of polytheism. This is a thorough misconception of the philosophical foundation of India. There are not many gods. The many gods are the manifold levels through which the one Supreme Being manifests Itself by different densities of descent, becoming grosser and grosser, coming further and further down, for the purpose of maintaining the relationship between the subject and the object. As there are several levels of descent, it appears as if there are many gods, but they all are but different levels of the one supreme connecting Principle. Several levels of manifestation of one and the same thing cannot be regarded as many things; so, there are not many gods. This wrong idea of many gods should be brushed aside from the mind. There is only one God and this superintending Principle is the Adhi Devata, the very, very essential Reality without which no experience can be accounted for.
The Yoga philosophy tells us that the objective side is to be visualised as constituted of five subtle forces. These forces are termed Tanmatras. 'Tanmatra' is a Sanskrit word meaning the basic essential building brick of any substance in this world. As electric energy is supposed to be the foundational reality of all physical objects according to modern science, Tanmatras are regarded as the basic foundational essences of all objects. Perhaps, they can be equated with what we call today the electrical continuum of the cosmos. Now, again, we have to remember that this fivefold classification of the foundational force does not imply that there are five different forces. Even as the many superintending divine principles do not mean that there are many gods, and the manifoldness is only an appearance of the levels of descent, likewise, this appearance of five forces constituting all things is because of the five senses that we have, the five senses by which we perceive objects. Corresponding to the faculty or sensation of hearing, we have a Tanmatra of Sabda or sound. Sound is the object of the sense of hearing. Unless this object is present, hearing is not possible. We have only five senses of cognition or knowledge, and so, we have to conceive the object also in a fivefold manner. Perhaps, if we had one thousand senses, we would have imagined that there were one thousand foundational principles. Corresponding to the sensation of touch or tangibility, there is the Tanmatra of what in Sanskrit goes by the name of Sparsa. Sparsa is tangibility. There is a corresponding outside principle, called Sparsa, which causes this sensation of touch. Corresponding to the sensation of sight there is the objective principle of Rupa or colour. Similarly corresponding to the sensation of taste, there is the liquid form of things, called Rasa, or things that contain this liquid essence in some percentage or proportion. Then, finally, is the sensation of smell which requires a solid substance from which the smell can emanate. This solid substance or principle is called the Tanmatra of Gandha. So, the five senses of cognition correspond to the five basic objective elements known as the Tanmatras – Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha.
The objects that we see with our eyes, namely, those which are hard, substantial and solid are constituted of a further intensified density or formation of these five basic elements obtained by mixing them in certain proportions by permutation and combination. This mixture of the basic principles – Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha – is supposed to be the reason behind the formation of the five gross elements known as ether, air, fire, water and earth. These are known in Sanskrit as Akasa, Vayu, Agni, Jal or Aap, and Prithvi. We have only these things in the world. We may cast our eyes all around and we will see only these things and nothing else. The variety we see in this world is only the variety of the formation of individualities basically constituted of these five elements, which again are the outer manifestations of the basic principles of Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha. Thus we come down to the lowest material level, called the earth.
Let us now consider what is called the doctrine of evolution as propounded by the West especially. The Western outlook of life does not consider the aspects of reality which we have analysed up to the level of the earth. The Western theory of evolution starts from the lowest material level, from which there is a rise into larger and larger organisms manifesting life, mind and intellect which can be seen in plants, animals and human beings respectively. Now, the Western education which has been imparted to us may make us think that we are advancing from a lower level to a higher level. We are always told that there is an ascent, and therefore an improvement, from matter to life, from life to mind, and from mind to intellect. Man is always supposed to be the pinnacle or summit of creation. We are superior to animals in every way, animals are superior to plants, and plants are superior to inorganic matter. This is the way we generally think. Rather, this is the way we are made to think, as we are repeatedly told about it by our educational syllabi. But, this is not true wholly. It does not mean that we are moving towards Reality if we are rising from matter to life, life to mind, and mind to intellect or the reason of man. Why it is not really an improvement can be known only to the subtle thinking to which a little hint is given in an Upanishad known as the Aitareya Upanishad. The subtlety of this idea is almost unparalleled and cannot be easily found in other systems of thought.
This can be illustrated by an example. Number two is more than number one; three is more than two; four is more than three; five is more than four. If we have two dollars, naturally we are richer than the one who has only one dollar, and so on. So, if we have five dollars, we will feel that we are richer than the one who has four, three, two or one, merely because five is the larger number. But, minus two is not larger than plus one. Minus two is less than plus one, though two is larger than one, ordinarily speaking. Mere quantitative measurement is not the only criterion in our judgement here, in this process of analysis. There is a kind of reflection as it were. And there is this characteristic about a reflection that it removes the reality from its base into an opposite direction, and so, the more we go away in the direction of the reflection, the more also may be said to be the distance that we maintain from the original reality.
An important point is made out by certain thinkers in the West, like Henri Bergson, for instance. Bergson is very sure that animals are nearer to Reality than man, for important reasons which may not occur to the minds of people ordinarily. The instincts of the animals are nearer to truth than the reasons of man, because the reasons of man are laboured, are mathematically calculated with tremendous effort. Whereas, animals have sudden responses, albeit those responses may be blurred and not clarified. This instinct of the animals, however dim, is supposed to be nearer to Reality than the clarity of the so-called intellect of man. There is this instinctive sensation in the lower creatures which is not available to man. Even dogs and cats have a peculiar sense of contact with Reality, which sense is not accessible to us. There are, it is said, very minute insects, like the snails, living some three or four kilometres below the level of the ocean waters, a depth which moonlight may not reach and sunlight may not touch. These insects there, crawling at the base of the ocean, might not have seen even the light of day. Such insects are now discovered to be guided by the waxing and the waning moon, moving in the sky, two hundred thousand miles away from the surface of the earth. We are very dull in our brains, compared to all these sensations which the snails feel and the ants feel and the honey bees feel. Even when the rainy season is one month away, the ants know that the rains are to come; whereas, we cannot know even if it is to rain tomorrow, unless we go to the meteorological department. Even there, something goes wrong oftentimes. Even the plants know what vibrations are around them. The great discoveries of Sir J. C. Bose are a standing refutation of our old belief that plants do not feel, do not think, and know nothing.
The Aitareya Upanishad tells us that there has taken place a kind of catastrophe when individuality asserted itself. This, in my opinion, is the same as the fall mentioned in the Genesis of the Bible. The fall is nothing but a catastrophic isolation from the Supreme brought about by an affirmation of egoism. The isolation is bad enough. But, something worse seems to have taken place, by which we cannot even know the fact of the isolation. The point that is made out in the doctrine of the isolation of the individual from the whole may make us feel oftentimes that the part is at least qualitatively the same as the whole. One grain of sugar is qualitatively the same as the mountain of sugar. One drop of the Ganges river is the same as the whole river qualitatively. A little bit of the ocean is the same as the whole ocean qualitatively. So, are we qualitatively the same as the Supreme Being, though we are a little jot or a fraction thereof? This is not so. While it is true that we are isolated parts or cut-off parts from the Universal Being, it is not true that we are qualitatively the same as That. We are not little gods thinking here. It is not so. We do not have that godly or divine thinking in our minds even in the smallest fraction, notwithstanding the enunciation of the scriptures that we are isolated parts of the whole. A sudden reversal of perception has taken place, which is the unfortunate thing that has happened to everyone. The reversal is difficult to understand. We have been exiled from the Garden of Eden, thrown out from the realm of Godhood, banished totally from the angelic status which we were occupying in Brahma-Loka. We have been ousted out completely from our original status. We are now away from our home.
Now, normally, when a member of a family is away from home, he does not cease to be a human being. He is still the same, though he is not in the family. But, here, we have ceased to be, in quality, the thing that we were originally. Otherwise, we would be thinking like God in our little fractional bodies. It has not been possible for us. This situation is very enigmatically and very picturesquely and very rapidly mentioned in the Aitareya Upanishad. Hunger and thirst possessed the individual the moment his isolation from the Supreme took place, says the Upanishad. This hunger and thirst, at first of a philosophical nature, condensed itself into the well-known hunger and thirst, the gross hunger and thirst we are acquainted with in our daily life. There was an agony, an anguish, indescribable in human language. The loss of all the property that we have in the world may not be such an agonising experience to us as the loss of our contact with the Supreme Being. The latter agony is indescribable; our heart will be rent asunder even by the thought of it if we were to know what it is. We are in the most wretched of conditions considering this description that is available to us in the Upanishad. We are the most miserable of individuals.
God has punished us in two ways. It is said in the Bible that a flaming sword is kept so that Adam and Eve may not enter the Garden of Eden. The flaming sword is there, no doubt, so that we cannot think of God at all. This inability on our part to think of the Whole, of which we are a part, is called Avarana, the complete veil that has been cast over us. The veil is bad enough. That we cannot think of what the Truth is, is bad enough. But the worse misfortune is that we are thinking what is not there. It is like a person who has gone mad, and at the same time, is possessed by a devil! Madness is bad enough, and on top of it, a devil also has possessed the person afflicted with madness. So, on the one hand, there is a total forgetfulness of our relationship to the Whole. This is Avarana. On the other hand, there is what is called Vikshepa or the distractedness of consciousness, which projects itself vehemently outward in space and time, and sees Reality as if it is outside consciousness. The wholeness or the integrality of the cosmic structure is made to appear as an object external to the sense-organs of the individuals. One commentator on a passage of this Upanishad tells us that this reversal can be described as something similar to the reversal that we see in the reflection of our own body in a mirror. There, our right appears as the left, and our left appears as the right. Similarly, because of the reversal that has taken place on our separation from the Supreme, what is inside appears as being outside. The universe, the world, is not outside us; it is impossible that the nature of things can be external to consciousness. But, what is it that we see with our eyes except externals? Only externality and nothing but that.