by Swami Krishnananda
Contact with Reality, which is the aim of yoga, involves a divesting of ourselves from erroneous notions of what Reality actually is.
Broadly speaking, we may distinguish between two kinds of erroneous notions. One is commonly experienced; we mistake one thing for another. For instance, at dusk, when the light is not sufficient, a telephone pole may look like a man, and a coiled rope may look like a snake; and in deserts, the refraction of sunlight on dry sand may produce the illusion of there being water. These are types of illusion about which we are familiar.
But there are more serious errors, such that we cannot even know that the error is taking place at all. When we stand apart from the object and see it erroneously, as in the case of the illustrations I mentioned, that is one kind of error. But when we are ourselves involved in the error, we will not know that the error is taking place. For instance, when you see a movie on a screen, you are outside it, so you can visualise what is actually taking place on the screen. Imagine for a moment that you are inside the screen. You will never see that you are involved in the very process of the perception of the movement, because you are moving at the same speed as the film. This is a very interesting feature, which may be called a transcendental error. It is transcendental because it surpasses human understanding—because the understanding itself is part of this error.
What is this transcendental error? We have certain types of prejudiced confirmation that everything is only in some place and not everywhere. Everything has length, breadth, and height. Everything was yesterday, or it is today, or it will be tomorrow. The dimension that we see in objects—length, breadth, height—is the work of a spatial expanse, about which we know practically nothing. We simply say there is space, as if the matter is very clear to us. The most tremendous conditioning factor in our life is the character of a power that creates the imagination or the notion of distance. Everything is distant; it is different from everything else. One object does not touch another object because of their individuality, characterised by the spatial qualification—or the mode, so to say.
Apart from this, there is also the time factor, which makes us feel that everything is at some time, and not always. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, particularly, are very cautious in telling us that we cannot contact the reality of a thing unless it is divested of characters which do not really belong to it. Because of the location of an object in space, it looks like an isolated something; and it is dressed up by the notion of size, weight and features which distinguish one object from the other. All the things in the world do not have the same features. That is the reason why we are able to distinguish one object from another.
Firstly, we have to be careful in analysing our process of perception, and try to detach ourselves from the perceptional process—which has involved us to such an extent that we are involved in the very process of perception. Independent, free judgment of a thing is not possible because every judgment, so to say, of the nature of an object is determined by the structure of the perceiving faculty itself. Totally isolated apprehension of an object, independent of this involvement, is practically impossible. Because of the almost impossible task that we have before us in this regard, it looks like a transcendental mystery and an enigma to us.
Is an object by itself exactly as it appears to our perception? This is the main question that has to be raised even before we try to know how we can contact an object. No contact with anything is possible under the prevailing circumstances because everything stands apart from everything else; spatial distance operates between everything in the world—yourself, myself, and so on.
If spatial distance is an inveterate characteristic of an object, nothing can contact another thing. The spatial description of an object will vitiate even the very attempt to contact it. Thus, we cannot contact anything, really speaking. Even if it is in our grip and we imagine that our hand has contacted it, really there is no such contact, because the object is quite different from the grip of our hand. It is totally different. Even if we hold something tightly in our hand and imagine we are contacting it, it is not really 'contact', because it is still outside us and it will drop from our hand. If that is the case, Reality cannot be contacted if we are to view it with descriptive qualities such as isolation of one thing from the other, and location at one particular place.
If you can remember what I told you earlier, these discussions must have revealed that there is an interconnection of all things. Thinking that there is no such interconnection is a transcendental error that we commit in the perception of an object. I am I, you are you, it is that—this is not the truth. The undercurrent of interrelation of the very substance of all things is withheld from our ordinary perception. Because all perception is externalised, that which is internally, organically related to another thing cannot be externally perceived. There is a difference between interconnection and externality of perception. The doctrine of the Sankhya that prakriti is the matrix of all things in the world, in the form of its potential properties called sattva, rajas and tamas, indicates that nothing can be isolated from another thing. They are, as it were, waves in a vast sea of material presentation. Though all the waves in the ocean are many, many in number, they are vitally connected to the bosom of the whole ocean, which does not permit a substantial and real distinction of one wave from another.
The sense organs, about which we were discussing the last time, prevent us from thinking along these lines. Just as when a river is in flood and we are caught up in that flood—there is only one direction of movement permissible to us, and we have no choice over what direction we will move because we are carried away by the force of the waters—so is the case with the power that is exerted by the sense organs that compel us to see with blinkers, in one direction only, and in one manner only.
We were discussing the necessity for self-control, which means the restraint of everything of which our personality is made. Self-control is not closing the eyes or shutting the ears. The very consciousness of externality is contrary to the necessity for self-control. The descriptive characteristics of things and persons are not actually the essence of persons and things. Contact with Reality is actually the contact within the essence or substantiality of things which, unfortunately for us, eludes our grasp because of the fact that it underlies both our own selves as perceivers and the objects that are perceived. We are caught as the objects are caught, and one cannot be seen or judged independently, freely.
The reaction that is set up between the perception of the object and the nature of the object creates the illusion of there being real perception and that we have really contacted something. What we call physical contact is only the phenomenon created by electrical impulses. You will be surprised to hear that such a thing is possible. When we touch a physical object, actually we may be under the impression that it is an object that we are touching, but actually the object is a mass of electrical impulses that rush outward in one way, and our fingers are also nothing but sensations of electrical impulses. When one impulse touches another, it looks as though there is a hard substance, and we believe that there is a solid object in front of us. If we get an electric shock by touching a high voltage current, we may feel that a huge mountain is hanging on our hand. A very heavy weight seems to be actually tied to our hands, while no object is there. Sensations are electrical impulses, actually speaking, the prana vibrating in a particular given direction. In this way, we may say the world is an illusion. It does not exist as it appears to our eyes. There are only the forces of objective substance we call sattva, rajas and tamas, of which we practically know nothing.
We have heard these words sattva, rajas and tamas a hundred times, yet the meaning of them may not be clear. They are three forms of the action of force which constitutes matter. Matter—prakriti, as it is called—itself is not a hard substance. In modern terms, we may say it is a potential for manifestation in the form of electrical activity. And we are completely befooled in this sort of appreciation of objects on account of the consciousness that we ourselves are moving together with the mental activity of perception.
When we see an object, two things take place. The mind takes the shape of the object, the form of the object. But merely the mind taking the form of the object will not result in the consciousness of the object. Consciousness has to pervade the mental modification, by which we are able to contact the object in a psychological manner. Consciousness is pulled, dragged by the power of the sense organs in the direction of their movement. And the perceiving consciousness, like a slave of the impetus of the sense organs, takes it for granted that it is moving in the direction of an object. Because of its all-pervading nature, consciousness does not really move anywhere, but it is made to believe that it is an accomplice or a participant in the mental activity which forces the senses to move externally.
The externality, so-called, is also a great mystery. Everything is outside. But what is the meaning of this 'being outside'? We can have some idea of how this outside-ness creeps into our mind in a most dangerous manner when we compare our waking experience with our dream experience. We know very well that when we are conscious of objects in dream there is space, there is externality, there is individuality of objects, and one is different from the other. But is there really individuality of things, one cut off from the other? Is there really distinction created among objects by the so-called space that we observed in our perception? The externality, which is the cause of the perception of dream objects, is also an operation of the mind. It is a trick that is played by the gyrating activity of the mind involving itself in a dance of which it is itself not conscious, and compels anything connected with this dance to imagine that it is also involved. We daily pour ourselves on objects in order that we may be aware that they exist at all.
How do we pour ourselves? The whole being of ours, which is psycho-conscious, wells up like a wave of the ocean and dashes against the form we considered as an object. The so-called object is only a form, it is not the substance, so we cannot think that we are able to possess any substance in the world. The so-called externality is the real object which looks like a substantially-existing something. Yoga tells us a very intense analysis of the process of perception has to take place, and then we unite ourselves with the substance of things. This union of our true nature with the true nature of things is called samadhi in yoga language. samadhi is not an unconscious trance, as we may imagine. It is the real union of one thing with another in their essence, minus the forms or the temporal characteristics that may be invested upon them.
We define an object in a particular manner. This is the object; it has these qualities. The qualities that we see in a so-called object are nothing but the projections of the structural pattern of the mind itself. The mind thinks in four ways: everything is a quantity; everything that is a quantity also has a quality; everything is externally connected in some way to another thing; everything is in a particular condition. These are the four ways in which we can think. Everything is in a particular condition or mode, as they say. Everything, including ourselves, exists in a mode, a circumstance, and everything is definable in terms of certain qualities which distinguish the object from other qualities.
Then there is the concept of the quantum of an object. It is of this size, this weight, and only in this location. This peculiar intrinsic, vehement character of the mental structure also imposes itself upon what it wrongly perceives as other things. In this involvement of prakriti, which is all-pervading, there are no things called other things. Everything is everywhere. But this otherness of a thing, which compels the senses to come in contact with what they regard as outside, is an imposition inflicted upon the spatial form of an object by the mind, which itself is the source of the nature of the perception of an object. We see what we ourselves are in our mind. Whatever we are, that is our perception.
The Yoga Sutra tells us this descriptive affirmation in respect of an object, which is called the idea of an object, should be withdrawn. That is, we should not look at anything with a prejudgment. Without any kind of previous notion of a thing, is it possible to associate ourselves with the thing? The idea we have of an object—or our idea about anything, for that matter—cannot be regarded as a completely justifiable idea. The idea that we have about anything arises on account of the very nature of the structure of our psychophysical personality. When we change in the process of evolution, our ideas of things also change. There is a total change taking place, and the whole world evolves higher and higher into the further levels of the evolutionary process. Therefore, with intense analytical power it should be possible for us to adjust ourselves to the true nature of an object without any kind of description or ideational quality about it.
We also give the object a name. This is Rama, this is Krishna, this is Govinda, this is John, this is Joseph, this is a tree, and this is a mountain. Things have no name, really speaking. Name is a necessity that has arisen in the process of determining the nature of an object as distinguished from another object. When an object emerges, it does not come with a name attached to it. You yourself have no name, really speaking. You are Govinda, Rama, Krishna or Joseph, but who told you that you are that? The basic characterisation of ourselves as somebody, and not somebody else, gets infused into our existence right from the beginning, at the time of birth. This naming quality introduces itself to us so intensely and vehemently that we cannot think that we are someone else. Joseph is only Joseph; he will not think that he is John, though there is no great philosophical justification that he should be only Joseph and not John. This applies to the nature of every object in this world. It need not be called by that name. Its name is a convenience that we have created in order to distinguish one thing from the other, but the convenience itself becomes the nature of the object. Hence, we have to divest ourselves not only from the idea of the object, but also from the name or definition that we attach to it.