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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Knowing

We observed that our inner world is constituted of the psyche; it is a mental world, and that is the real world of ours, of which we are citizens primarily. We are nationals of a psychic world, more properly than the way in which we belong to the physical world of social beings. Our psychic apparatus is a complicated structure, because it has connections with almost everything in the world. It is like a main switchboard. We are not so much detached from things as we appear to be. There is a subterranean relationship between our inner contents and the whole cosmos outside. The moment we begin to enter the realm of yoga practice, we also start operating upon our cosmic relationships. This is something important to remember. At present we believe that we are isolated individuals with no connection whatsoever with others. But meditation is adventure, which opens up a new vista before us and surprises us with our relationships which were not apparent in our waking work-a-day life.

Our mind is not made up of any simple substance. It is rather a process than an entity. It may be compared to electric energy, if we would like to associate it with something known to us. We cannot say that it is a substance, or a body, or something existing in one place. It is almost like a fluid. At present it pervades our entire body. That is why our thinking is connected with every part of the body. The whole body thinks, as it were, because of the pervasion of the body by the mind. This mind which is not an entity or a substance like physical objects, and appears to be a moving process, is our inner working faculty. We live a psychic life, rather than a physical life. Our joys and sorrows are psychic and not physical. Our activities, also, are psychic. Physical activities are no activities if they are divested of the psychic content. It comes to this finally, that the mind is everything.

The whole world is nothing but mind operating in mysterious ways, in its wondrous relationships of variegated types. Western psychology particularly distinguishes between three aspects of the psyche: (1) Understanding, (2) willing, and (3) feeling. But in Eastern psychology, a further diversity of this content has been noticed. It has infinite varieties of expression but in the main outline we may say that our psyche consists of many functions on account of which it takes various names. Even these aspects of nomenclature as understanding, willing, and feeling are the outcome of the different functions that the one psyche performs.

When the psyche decides, by a clarity of grasp, upon a particular situation, we call it understanding. And the affirmation which follows the decision that is taken on the basis of the understanding of the situation is the will. Then something more significant takes place. When we understand that a thing is such-and-such, and we also decide to act upon this situation in a particular manner, our whole being reacts in a given proportion. That reaction is emotion. There is a welling up of our whole personality in regard to the existent situation outside. We begin to feel, and not merely will or understand. Now, this activity of the psyche, in the form of understanding, willing and feeling, is rooted in what is usually known as the ego-principle. The ego is the faculty of self assertiveness or self-affirmation. As a matter of fact, it precedes all other functions. Before we can understand, will or feel, we have to be sure that we exist. This certainty of the fact of our existing as an individual is the activity of the ego. The word ego gets translated in various ways. When we generally speak of an egoistic person, we mean thereby a proud person, for instance. But the ego does not and need not necessarily mean 'pride'. Pride is only a gross outer expression of it. Its essentiality is something subtle, far more invisible than the outer expression as the so-called pride of the individual. The ego is a sense of individual being, our confidence that we exist as an individual independent of other individuals. The conscious confidence in us that we are isolated individuals, quite different, in every way, from others, is the ego-principle in its essentiality.

What, then, is the ego? It is a consciousness of our individual existence, isolated from other individuals. And this self-assertiveness concretises itself in various levels of our life. There are different kinds of egos. There is a metaphysical ego; there is the psychic or purely volitional ego; there is the physical ego; there is the social ego; and, finally, it becomes the political ego. All these are expressions of a single impulse from inside to affirm oneself as distinct from others, to dominate over others, to absorb others into oneself. This desire to be distinct from others is the disease of man. It is a primary evil and yoga psychology calls this principle of the ego, 'ahamkara'. This word, 'ahamkara', is very interesting in its connotation. In the Sanskrit language, 'aham' means 'I', 'kara' means, 'one who does'. One who causes everything to feel that it is, is the ego. It is that 'which is developed from' the sense of 'self-consciousness'.

The ego does not rest quiet merely by an affirmation of itself. It becomes grosser, when it operates in external life, until it reaches the most concrete of its expressions.

The ego exists originally as a principle of awareness, a simple consciousness that one is. That is why it is then called the metaphysical ego. It simply 'is', but 'is' as distinct from others. The consciousness of "I am" is the primordial empirical and it is the philosophical ego. Then, this simple principle of self-affirmation in its primary capacity of isolation begins to operate as the psyche which starts to think objects outside. It does not merely think of itself as an isolated being. It has become something worse now. In the beginning, it was content with being only aware of itself. Now it wants to be aware that 'others are'. So, there is a further consequence following from the affirmation of oneself. If "I am", others also are, as distinct from me. This distinction between oneself or one ego and others expresses itself as distinction between physical personalities. The physical ego is the bodily ego which identifies itself with the bodily encasement.

The 'I-amness' is not merely a consciousness of 'my being'. It is also a consciousness of others' being. It is a specific affirmation of this body as the 'me' and a distinction drawn between this body and other bodies.

Then there are the various social distinctions extending to almost endless details. We cannot even count how many social distinctions there are. There is a great variety of the differences that we draw between one and the other in our social life and we need not go into the forms of these, because they are all obvious. Then there is the worst form of the ego, which intends to exercise authority, power, by way of political manoeuvres, which may begin with one's family management and end in a desire for world-government by oneself, until the farthest limit of it is reached, wherein it seeks to affirm itself to the exclusion of others. One of the important features of the ego is not merely self-affirmation and distinction of self from other selves, but a resentment of the presence of other selves.

This follows as a consequence of the structure of the ego. The self-affirmation of the ego is charged with a deep impulsion towards survival of itself at the cost of anything whatsoever in the world. If we believe in the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, the ego says, "I am the fittest, and, so, I alone should survive, and nobody else". Naturally, if every ego has this sense of the fittest in itself and if each one is the fittest, the consequence is battle and the wars that history records. These wars are nothing but the conflicts of egos, each ego wishing to assert itself as the fittest, whether it is an individual ego or a group of egos. These create a chaos of circumstance and if one goes into the inner secret of the sorrows of life, one will realise that all these are rooted in the ego principle. Understanding, willing, feeling, and the other psychological functions are the rays of the ego, which is the parent of all these manifestations.

We have heard that yoga is 'union', a common definition that is given in all textbooks. But union with what, and who is to be in union with which substance, or reality? This cannot be made clear unless we know the basis of this definition itself. In our study of the objective world, we concluded that in the farthest analysis of the universe outside, we come face to face with the reality of the perceiver getting involved in the perceived, inasmuch as nature is a whole, a complete continuum, and the bifurcation of the seer and the seen is foreign to the structure of Nature. Nature in its wholeness may not even be aware that there are such things as the seer and the seen, even as we cannot say that the right hand is the seer of the left hand or the left hand is the seer of the right hand in one's own body. These appellations would not apply to an organisation of parts which belong to a whole, in an inseparable manner.

Under the circumstance that in the end a distinction between the seer and the seen cannot be drawn, because of the fact that such a distinction does not exist, and also under the circumstance that the distinction between the seer and seen is really made in practical life, there is a contradiction between practical life and life as it really is. Our present way of living is far removed from the truth of life in its essentiality. We make a marked distinction between the seer and the seen by the operation of the psychic apparatus. The mind thinks the object; the object is outside the mind, which means that the object seen is different from the mind that sees it. We are so sure that this is the case that we work in the world with the certainty that the world is outside the mind, that the seer is completely cut off from the seen.

But this is not going to be a lasting conclusion in the event of a further analysis of the deeper structure of life. Reality is quite different from what we see with our eyes or even what we think with our minds. What we see with our eyes is not reality, and what we think and understand is also not reality. So, yoga, when it is defined as union, should naturally be understood in the sense of the union of the seer and the seen, because the seer and the seen cannot be isolated. If they are really different, there cannot be a knowledge of the seen by the seer. In this connection there is an important theme discussed in philosophical circles, known as "The theory of knowledge".

How do we know the world? How are we aware that things are? This is a vast subject which takes us into deep waters. We cannot easily explain how we are aware that the world is there at all. This awareness takes us by surprise; we suddenly become aware that there is a world. The way in which we become aware of the world is comparable to the way in which we wake up from sleep. We are fast asleep, where we are oblivious of everything. When we wake up, we have only a general awareness of our having woken up. We become aware that there is no sleep, sleep has gone, and there is a general awareness without knowledge of details of either this or that particular fact. After this, the general awareness concretises itself. We begin to feel that we are; we become conscious of our own self, after some time. But we will not be much aware of the things outside, the table and the chair etc.; even the windows and the doors we will not see properly, because we have just woken up from sleep. We do not know even the exit from the room, sometimes, because of the deepness of the sleep. There are deep-sleepers who often perch upon the window, thinking it is the door, and hit their head against it; so deep was the sleep.

Well, the point is that we become aware of ourselves first; only later we know things outside. After we become aware that things are outside, we become also aware as to what those things are. From a general knowledge of things, we reach to the specific knowledge of things. "It is not merely some things in a featureless bareness that are in front of me, but this is a chair, this is a table, this is a wall clock, this is a person." Then, the awareness becomes more specified. "This is my son, this is my daughter, this is my friend, this is so and-so," etc. Then it becomes further more expressed in the form of an impulse to action with regard to the things seen. This is also, in a way, the process of the creation of the world.

What happened cosmically must have been something like this individual phenomenon that we pass through every day after we wake up from sleep. The point at issue is, how do we become conscious of the world? We become conscious of the world by an expansion of our consciousness gradually from our selves outside. What is this 'outside'? The so-called 'outside' is the world, really speaking. The world is not constituted of mountains and trees, human beings, cows and asses.

These are not the world. The world is an 'outsideness' of things, the externality, the so-called 'thingness' in all things, a peculiar separation of one thing from another, and this feature becoming a content of our consciousness. The consciousness of externality is the world. If this externality were not to be there, there would be no world.

If there is no space between you and me, we would not see each other, and space and time go together. If the one is, the other also is there. So, the space-time structure is the world. What we call the world is nothing but space-time. If this were not to be there, there would be no externality of perception, and if the externality were not to be there, there would be no world-experience. World-experience is nothing but externality of experience. If we are to somehow divest ourselves of the consciousness of externality of every kind, we will 'enter' into the world at once, and the world will 'enter' into us. The whole problem is of the externality of space-time, and we are given here a lot of information in the theories of knowledge of the various schools of philosophy, as to how we become aware of things outside. The things are not really outside; that is the point. That they are not outside should be clear from the analysis of Nature itself. Things form one organic whole. We cannot say that our leg is outside our body, notwithstanding the fact that we are seeing it. Merely looking at things cannot be regarded as a proof of their externality, because I see even my fingers, but I do not say that they are outside me.

The outsideness of a thing arises on account of a distinction between the consciousness of the seer and the existence of the seen. We begin to feel that our consciousness is different from others' being. When we speak of the distinction between the seer and the seen, we actually mean a distinction between beings in their essentiality. But, how does one know that another being exists? The space or the time content between us cannot be the cause of this perception. An undercurrent of consciousness is necessary. If there is not going to be a secret connection of consciousness between me and you, I cannot know that you are sitting in front of me. The wind that is blowing on my face through the fan that is moving cannot be regarded as the cause of my awareness that you exist. The wind has no consciousness; it cannot make me know that you are. Nothing that is visible to our eyes, as that which exists between me and you, can be considered a cause of my knowledge that you are. There is nothing, practically, between you and me, there is only empty space. How do I know that you are there? This is a strange phenomenon. My eyes, physically constituted as they are, are spatially cut off from your physical existence. You are not sitting inside my eyes. How do I know that you are and how do you know that I am here? Nothing that is visible to the eyes can be regarded as a cause of the perception of an object.

We may say, there is the mind, and we have finally to bank upon this aspect of our being. The mind is thinking that we are. But, then, where is the mind? Where is it situated? Mostly, we think that it is inside our body. My mind is inside my brain or at least within my body; it cannot be outside. Now, if my mind is inside my body, naturally it cannot be of any help to me in my knowing that you exist, because you are outside me, at least a few yards away from me, and the mind is inside my body; it has not gone out. But if you say that perhaps the mind is going out and is touching the bodies of others, and then it becomes aware, it would be curious that the mind can exceed the border of the body. Why speak of people before me? I know even that there is a sun shining in the sky, 93 million miles away from me. Does it mean that the mind is extending 93 million miles outside my body? If we accept this doctrine that the perception of the object is due to the operation of the mind and the mind has to touch that object in order that one may become aware of the object, then the mind should reach the stars, which are several light-years away. This is a revelation, indeed.

If this is a fact, the mind is not our mind merely, it is a mind that reaches up to the distant space, the stars, or whatever it is; if we do not accept this theory, we cannot explain how we are aware that the stars are shining in the sky. This is a tentative answer to this pressing pragmatic question. But more important than this issue is the thing that follows. What is mind? Is the mind capable of knowing that things exist outside? We have said so much about the mind, but what is mind? What is it made of? Provisionally accepting the position that the mind knows objects, we have to attribute the mind with some sort of consciousness because knowing an object is the same as being aware of the object, and if the mind is aware of the object, it is conscious. It cannot be an inert substance.

The mind has to be charged with some kind of consciousness, in the same way, perhaps – to give a prosaic example – as a copper wire may be charged with electricity. We need not say that the wire is the same as electricity; the two are quite different things. But the wire is filled with the flow of electricity, on account of which we call it a live wire. If the electricity were not to be there, it becomes an ordinary wire, on which we can hang a wet cloth for drying. It is to be accepted that the mind has to be endowed with some consciousness. If that also is not conceded, the chance of knowing anything does not arise. It should follow that the mind is inseparably connected with consciousness. It has to be pervaded by consciousness, and, so, my being aware that you are in front of me is due to the movement of consciousness towards you, even in the intermediary space between you and me.

This conclusion that consciousness is not limited to the body but is also outside the body follows from another interesting analysis that we can make. We cannot set a limit to consciousness. We cannot say that consciousness is here and not there. Because, to be conscious that consciousness is limited, consciousness has to be outside the limit at the same time. Who is to know that consciousness is limited? It is consciousness itself that knows. The awareness of the limitation of awareness is also a function of awareness. So, the boundary that is tentatively set to a state of awareness is also a content of awareness. One cannot be conscious that there is a limit to consciousness, unless consciousness has exceeded that limit. To imagine that there is division between two parts of consciousness would be to assume that there is consciousness even midway between the two assumed parts of consciousness. Otherwise, who is to be aware that there is a gap between two parts of consciousness? The awareness of a gap between two parts of consciousness is also awareness and, therefore, there cannot be a gap in consciousness, which means that consciousness is indivisible.

If consciousness has no parts, it is indivisible, and so all-pervading. It is infinite in its nature. The presence of the infinitude of consciousness is the reason behind the mind being aware that there are objects. But where comes the question of an outside if there is a pervasion of all things by consciousness? There is an error in the perception of externality in things. If the consciousness that knows things is indivisible, and exists everywhere as subject and object, there must be definitely some mistake in our seeing or apprehending things as if they are outside us. This mistake is introduced into our perception by the operation of space and time.

Meditation is the art of transcending space and time. The moment this is effected, we enter into an infinitude of consciousness. By the various techniques of meditation, we overcome the barrier that is created between us and the objects by the action of space-time. The moment we think of an object, we think of it as it is existent in space and in time. The methods of yoga are the ways of defying the operation of space-time and effecting a union between the subject and the object, the seer and the seen, in their essentiality. In their outward forms, they are distinct; names and forms differ, but the essentiality of the things does not so differ. The content does not vary, only the shape differs. Thus in all processes of the practice of yoga, one thing alone is aimed at, viz., the union of consciousness with being.

There is a single yoga, ultimately, taking forms on account of the difference in the structural patterns of minds. Just as one would like a sweet dish, another a saltish dish, etc., but it makes no difference to the fact that all partake of food for a common purpose, likewise, the essentiality behind meditations is the same, though the outer focus differs due to the needs of the minds of the individuals in the different stages of evolution in which they find themselves. Yoga is union, yes. It is the union that is necessary for beholding things as they really are and for outgrowing the erroneous awareness of the apparent duality of things. Our weaknesses, physical or psychological, are the outcome of our dissociation from things.

Strength is the necessary consequence of a union of ourselves with things. Energy is abundant in Nature. The universe is full of power; it has infinite resources. It is never poor. It is always rich. There is no poverty in the world in its true nature. But we look poor socially, physically, mentally, in every way. We are helpless beings and forlorn. This situation arises because we have blocked the avenues of the entry of forces of Nature into ourselves by the activities of the sense-organs. The senses are our enemies, if at all there are enemies anywhere, because they present us with a picture of the world which is not really there. The friends and foes that we see in the world are the concoctions of the ego and the sense-organs. The five elements we see are also the reports given to us by the five senses. There are no five elements; there is one element only everywhere, appearing in different densities of expression.

The world is seen or known in five different ways because of the five ways in which the senses work. To give an example, electric energy is common everywhere. But, when it passes through a refrigerator, it cools; when it passes through a stove, it heats; when it passes through a railway train, it moves. The various functions of electric energy are due to the instruments through which it is made to operate; likewise is Nature. It is neither sound, nor touch, nor colour, nor taste, nor smell. There are no such things as that in Nature. But our senses abstract certain features of Nature and then become cognisant of these specified features and one sense tells us that it is smell, another that it is colour, and a third something else. If we had a hundred sense-organs, perhaps, we would have seen a hundred things in the world. Now we have, thank God, only five senses, and we see only five things. If we had only one sense, we would have seen only one thing. The sense-organs create a quintuplication of perception, where there is only a uniform reality.

Firstly, the senses deceive us into the belief that things are outside. Then there is a further deception into the belief that there are five different objects. That objects are outside is mistake enough; that there are five different things is a worse form of it. In our practices known as yoga, we have, therefore, to tackle the sense-organs first, which multiply perception into a fivefold operation, and then the mind which tells us that the world is outside us. The whole of yoga hinges upon the operation upon the senses and the mind in such a manner as to enable us to overcome the awareness of externality and its outcome as the fivefold perception through the senses. The task is undertaken either directly or in the reverse order, as is one's predilection.

Thus, yoga leads us to a kind of operation which is not merely individualistic. It is a common affair of all people. There is no such thing as my yoga or your yoga. We are all in the same boat. Our problems are common stock. We are in the same difficulty and we have to seek for the same remedy. Yoga is a common need that will be felt by every individual. It is neither a religion, nor a creed; it is a need of life, as the breath we breathe. Yoga is the science of existence. It neither belongs to the West nor to the East. It is neither Hindu, nor Christian, nor Muslim. It is not any religion at all. It is the very fact of the essential structure of human existence.