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In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: How We Perceive

We are in a thoroughgoing misapprehension about ourselves in all our dealings with life. We start with errors and therefore we end with errors. The whole of our lives in this world has been a contradiction and a confusion, a kind of march towards an apparently unrealised destination, because of an erroneous notion that we have about our own selves. We think we are something, and then we start acting based on this hypothesis. Unfortunately we are not these things—we are something else. That we regard ourselves as different from what we really are should be enough explanation for all our troubles in life. There is no need to go further into the details of our problem. Here is the answer to our question. We have started with the wrong premise and therefore end in a mess.

This is samsara. The tremendous entanglement in which one finds oneself is generally called samsara. A knot with which we have tied ourselves to an experience from which we are unable to extricate ourselves is samsara. A mire into which we have been sinking and from which we cannot rise up is samsara. This samsara, this earth-existence, forces the involvement of our false personality in a false set of experiences. To rise from samsara, to rise from earthly existence, therefore would be to endeavour to reach our true self and to be what we really are.

There should apparently be no difficulty in being what one truly is. The difficulty is in being what one is not. To put on a false self is difficult, but to be true to one's own nature should not be difficult. To tell a lie in a court is difficult; to tell the truth is not so difficult. We know what it implies, but the involvement in the apparent notion of the self is so intricate and complicated that ages have been spent in trying to disentangle oneself from this complication. Today we shall try to study a little of the nature of this complication into which we seem to have entered because of this false self. This is the beginning of the psychology of yoga. Psychology is the study of the thinking apparatus of the human being. It is not so much a study of the ‘being' of man as it is of the ‘thinking' of man. I have given a bare outline of what the true being of man is, and we'll have the occasion to look a little more into this mystery a little later. For the time being we shall leave this subject and try to understand what our practical problem is in spite of the logical, inferential conclusion that that was arrived at by implication that our true nature is something different from what we ordinarily think ourselves to be.

We concluded earlier, by way of inference and implication, that we exist as an unrelated something, not as a related mass of complications. We are something existing in its own right. We have something we can call our own, of which we are, apart from what we have and what the world has made of us. We are something of which we can be confident at all times, and of which we can have no doubts. Also, we realised that our being is intrinsically valid by its own right and status, and it is an indivisible unrelated awareness which extends into an almost infinitude of experience. The indivisible awareness should be another name for infinitude, because anything that is finite is divisible. All finite objects, anything that is limited, is divisible into space and time fractions. The awareness of ours is not divisible. We decided yesterday that it cannot be divided into parts. This implies again that the awareness, the Being-Consciousness-Freedom that we really are, is an unending mysterious Absolute that transcends space-time. We are taken by our own conclusions to the heights of wonder, the wonder of all wonders, a surprise in regard to our own selves. “I never imagined that I am such a thing—I thought I was something else,” would be our wonder.

In an anecdote that we are sometimes told, a lion's cub was reared among sheep, imagined that it was also a sheep and bleated like a sheep. But when it came in contact with another lion, the cub was told, “My dear child, you are a lion's cub, why do you bleat like a lamb? Because you have been living with the lambs, you think that you are also a lamb. Come and see your face in the reflection of the water. See, your face is like my face—a large lion. Why do you bleat like a lamb?” Then it taught the cub to roar rather than to bleat. Such would be our own surprise, like the cub realising that it belongs to the lion's group and not the sheep's group. When we are awakened into this light which stimulates our imagination to such an extent that we cannot believe our own thoughts, we seem to be entering in an ocean that we ourselves are. Nothing can be a wonder equal to this wonder. When this wonder catches hold of us, it will not allow us to stand on this earth anymore. We cannot control this experience. We cannot bear this feeling of being able to overstep the limits of space. “Such a being am I!” This stirs up our imagination so deeply and with such intensity that we rise into ecstasy.

This is what devotees, yogins and masters of wisdom call intuition, or at least the borderland of the higher life. This comes to us only occasionally or rarely, but these rare moments have to be made more frequent. This is the purpose of yoga. Now, this wondrous being that we truly are seems to be psychologically involved in something, but it is not really involved in anything external. It is involved in its own net. Who can bind that which is infinite? What involvement can there be for that which is not in space and time except when it chooses to be? Nobody can live with us unless we want to live with ourselves. Nobody can imprison us unless we choose to imprison ourselves. Nobody can do any harm to us unless we choose to harm ourselves. This seems to be our true status and position.

Well, this is another psychological mystery. All our difficulties are psychological involvements and not material limitations, even within the four walls of a prison. You have heard it said, “Stone walls do not a prison make.” Stone walls cannot make a prison. Even here in an ashram, we are living within stone walls, and we don't call this a prison. A prison is something else, apart from merely the enclosure of a stone wall. Bondage is therefore something connected with a particular form of inner consciousness, and this is the interesting subject of study in yoga psychology. We should, for the time being, forget the usual psychology of the West. We have looked into its outlines in the very beginning of our lessons, and they are inadequate and are not going to help us much. Not even psychoanalysis in the present sense of the term will be of much aid to us, because it is all analysis of the waking state of the mind and partially of the subconscious levels; but we are deeper than all these manifestations of the surface mind.


I mentioned last time two Sanskrit terms, adhyatma and adhibhuta. I shall now mention another Sanskrit term which is co-related to these two—adhidaiva. These three terms, adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva are mutually related to one another. To put it in simple terms, they mean the ‘within', the ‘without' and the ‘above'. Adhyatma is the within, adhibhuta is the without, and adhidaiva is the above. We have only these three outlooks in life. We either look above, or outside, or within, and one cannot do anything else. We have been trying to study the nature of the without—the adhibhuta—independently, as modern science does and the Samkhya philosophy did. We found that it was not very helpful to us because the purely objective analysis either lands us in a diversity of perceptions or a thick wall of indeterminability and inconnectibility, and as an agnostic attitude of reality something stands before us finally through which we cannot penetrate. An unbridgeable gulf between the subject and the object was what we confronted in the physicist's analysis and also in the Samkhya analysis. And then we turned to the adhyatma method, and to our surprise we realised here that we seem to be something more than what physics reveals or Samkhya revealed. Our conclusion through the adhyatma analysis is that we have a basis of infinitude of existence. Taking into consideration our actual waking experience—not what we logically concluded by an analysis of deep sleep—considering only the practical experiences of our mind in the waking condition, we seem to be standing opposed to an object in front of us in the form of the world.

The adhyatma and the adhibhuta have many layers of manifestation. The deepest adhyatma is that unrelated infinitude of consciousness in us. To know this is true knowledge. It is in this sense that we are told that adhyatma-vidya, or the science of the adhyatma, is supreme among all branches of learning because when one knows it, one knows everything else. We found by an objective analysis that in space and time there are the five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—and then we are told that inside these five elements are molecules, atoms, electrons, forces, energy, relativity and many other things, one inside the other. Degrees of objective reality were revealed by way of observation and experimentation carried out through scientific methods. Just as we have these degrees of objective manifestation, there also seems to be degrees of subjective manifestation. These degrees reveal themselves through our analysis and not by the use of instruments like microscopes, etc., because we cannot study our own selves with such instruments. Scientists began to discover the inner content of matter by observation through powerful instruments, and they realised that there were smaller and smaller elements in the apparently outer material complexities. There are subtler and subtler layers of matter, all of which finally get resolved in an indeterminable universal energy of which every configuration of matter seems to be a manifestation and a form. This was the discovery through the objective analysis of instruments.

Our subjective analysis of experience also reveals a similar series of layers of personality. Our immediate perception is a physical body—heavy, lumbering and weighty. In a physical and physiological analysis, the physical body reveals that it is constituted of the elements of earth, water, fire and air, and there is also a lot of space inside. We are told by biologists that the actual solid content of our physical body, were it to be completely compressed, could be contained within one cubic centimetre of space. Though we look so big, there is so little matter in the body. We are only blown up like a balloon with space, air and water within. That is the material element of our body, and it is made up of the very same matter which constitutes the physical world outside. We are then made up of earth, water, fire, air and space, just as bodies or objects outside are constituted. But how do we know that we have a body? Tentatively, it can be said that we see the body with our eyes. Just as we see objects outside, we see this body also, and therefore this body is one of the objects of the world. Because it is seen as other objects are seen, the body is not only a subject—it is also an object. One can touch it, smell it, see it and hear sounds made by it. It has all the qualities of the elements.

The perceptional process is the way in which we come to know that we have a body. We can see, hear, touch, etc. The senses are the avenues of the perception of the body and also the perception of all objects of the world. We have in addition to the physical body certain means of knowledge called the senses. The senses are not merely the outer organs or the limbs, as will be revealed through further analysis. When I say, “I see the body,” it should not be taken to mean that the eyes are merely the eyeballs. The ear does not mean the eardrum; the nose does not mean the nostrils; taste does not mean the tongue; touch does not mean the fingers. These are all external instruments which are made use of by a sensational power within us. The sense of feeling, seeing, hearing, etc. is different from the organ which the power of sensation makes use of. So the organs are different from the senses. The organs are physical, and they belong to the body, but the senses, which carry on the sensations, seem to be certain powers. We have within us certain peculiar capacities called sensory reactions, and by means of these we are able to know things, including our own body.

How would we know that we have senses apart from the external organs? We can see that under certain conditions of our personality our attention is withdrawn, and the senses do not function. The attention accompanies the sensations. The state of dream is a great help to us in realising that we have something within us apart from the physical body. There is the eye, the ear, the nose, etc. even when we are in a state of dream, but the physical eyes cannot see in the state of dream. There are some people who sleep with open eyes, but they cannot see anything while they are sleeping. The ears are available and they are not being blocked during sleep, but nevertheless one cannot hear. One may not have any kind of sensation when asleep, although all organs are there and all are intact. If this ‘something' is not connected with the physical ears, if it is disconnected from the organs, there is no sensation. In the same way, an electric wire will not do anything when the current is off. The wire has no capacity to do anything and cannot provide energy or move a machine. The power that passes through the wire is what gives the energy. Otherwise it is just a piece of metal and rubber which has no value other than as a physical, inorganic stuff. So are the organs. They are vehicles to convey the power of sense from within us. This power of sense is realised to be different from the vehicle itself.

That the sensations are different from the organs which belong to the physical body is one discovery, but this is not the whole truth of the matter. There seems to be another necessity behind the powers of sense, namely what we call ‘mind' or ‘thought'. We can open our eyes, be looking at something and be thinking of something else at the same time, and we will not even see if people are passing in front of us. If we are working at a difficult mathematical problem, we will not hear sounds made near us. If we are deeply engrossed in a difficult question of any kind, we will not know events taking place outside us, though the ears and eyes are open. Sense, though healthily functioning, may not reveal knowledge of the outer world if the mind is not connected with the senses. While the organs are to be related to the senses, the senses are to be related to the mind. This is another very important thing in perception. The body is necessary as a vehicle. Yet, the body alone cannot work unless the senses vitalise the body, and the senses alone will not do, because the mind has to connect itself to the senses.

Prana Shakti

We have five senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. With this fivefold apparatus of sense we begin to know that there is a world of objects outside and that we have a body, and so on. This function becomes successful on account of the mind being connected with the senses. Just imagine how many things are within us—the body constituted of the five elements, the five sensory powers, and the mind connected with the senses. There is another mysterious element within us which seems to be at work even when the mind is not thinking. In deep sleep, for example, we have no idea of our bodies or of the senses and the mind, but something is there which keeps us alive. That is called the prana. We do not die in sleep, though we do not think, do not see, and do not even have any such experiences. Life persists even in deep sleep.

Another name for that life is what we call the prana shakti. We have what is called the prana within us, which is externally manifest as breath. When a person was declared dead and it was said that there is no life in the body, people used to verify this by holding a little piece of cotton near the nostrils of the person to see whether breath was there or not, or really the prana had departed. Now they use scientific instruments, but previously people used to have this little cotton kept near the nostrils to see whether the prana was still present. Prana is life, ordinarily speaking. People say that they have prana, which means that they are alive. Prana is a shakti, an energy, power. That by which we are able to lift our fingers, walk about on our legs, speak, or do any kind of activity is prana. This is what we call strength, energy, vitality and power. Usually when we say, “I have power”, it means we have prana shakti.

This power, strength or prana is not only the energy that we gain from eating food. People think that prana shakti can be increased by taking more of certain kinds of food. It is not so. There is a slight difference between the caloric intake of the diet, the weight of the body and even the health of the body, from the vitality of the body. A person may be very healthy and yet lack vitality. This is a very important thing which yoga students should understand. We should not think that we have vitality merely because we look healthy. We may not be suffering in the medical sense—we may not be sneezing, we may not have headaches, we may have good appetite and all that, but we may have no vitality within. If vitality is wasted or lost, it cannot be recovered by diet, though weight can be increased and it may appear that we are healthy. Prana is different from the outer condition of the body—prana nothing but a manifestation of our true nature. What we truly are cannot be increased or decreased. This is also very important to remember. We cannot increase what we are, or decrease what we are—we are what we are. We may increase or decrease our possessions, but we cannot decrease ourselves or increase ourselves. This ‘something' which we really are manifests itself outside through the mind and the senses towards the extremities of the body.

The manner of the manifestation of what we really are—and we are something wonderful, we already know—has an impetus conveyed through the senses and the mind to the body. This manner of the expression of our real nature through the external avenues of the mind, the senses, etc. is prana. It is a vibration of our own self. Prana is therefore a vibration; it is not merely a gross electric energy—it is subtler than that. We have a shakti or a power within us with which we are born, and though it cannot be really gained or lost, its connection with the body can be diminished by certain errors that we may commit in our daily lives.

We will have occasion later on to study a particular observance in the practice of yoga called brahmacharya. We will not talk about it now. Suffice it to say that brahmacharya is the art of the conservation of energy or vitality in us. Though it need not be thought of as increasing or decreasing by itself, it may appear to get increased or decreased due to its connection or disconnection with the physical body. Due to certain functions that we perform or by certain errors that we commit, the prana may loosen its contact with the physical body. Yet, we may also increase the strength of our body through its connection with our body. This is another interesting subject which we shall have occasion to study a little later on.

So, prana is the vitality within us, due to which we digest our food, but which is not manufactured by the food that we take. If it were not there, our food could not be consumed. Prana is something prior to the energy which the intake of our diet seems to supply us. Vitality is something sacred. “Prana is God Himself,” says one of the Upanishads. In India, prana is worshipped as the very embodiment of Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic energy. This shakti also is within us, and is an intermediary link between the subtle body within and the gross body without. Life in this world and life in this body are the connection of this prana with this body. Death means the separation of this prana from the body. The mind feels the body through the prana. The prana may be regarded as the tentacles through which the mind feels the presence of an object. Just as the very touch of a magnet can vitalise a rod of iron, the very touch of this prana vitalises the physical body. Finally, this life-principle comes from our true nature, the Self itself. From the empirical point of view, life means the relation of the prana to the physical body, and death means the disconnection of the prana from the physical body. So, we have the senses, the prana and the mind in addition to the physical body made up of the five elements.

The Psychological Organ

Now, in yoga the concept of mind is a little deeper than what our general psychology tells us. It is difficult to translate into the English language what we understand really by the thinking principle within us. Generally, when we use the word ‘mind', we mean the function of general thinking, indeterminate thinking, but our psychological apparatus is constituted also of certain functions other than merely thinking in a general sense. Just as we have tried to remember the three terms adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva, try also to remember four Sanskrit terms indicating the four functions of this psychological organ. Manas is the Sanskrit word for the psychological organ in its capacity of thinking; buddhi is the function by which we understand, judge or decide; ahamkara is that by which we assert ourselves and affirm or arrogate anything to ourselves, and chitta is the function by which we remember the past or retain a memory of a previous experience. These are the four general functions or psychological organs. In the yoga psychology of Patanjali, chitta means all these four things. In the psychology of the Vedanta, this fourfold function is called antahkarana. Antahkarana in Vedanta is the same as chitta in Patanjali's yoga. These four functions can be multiplied into many other functions, but essentially the psychological functions are four.

So within the body are the senses, and within the senses are the mind with the prana—the mind with its fourfold function. The physical body is what we are aware of in the waking state. In the dream state we are not aware of the physical body, and the other functions are carried on independently of a connection with the body. Independent of the body and the mind, the prana and the senses function in the state of dream. In deep sleep no such function is there—neither are we aware of the body, nor of any psychological function. Though the prana is present, we are not aware of it. This is a discovery of the internal layers of our personality. Just as we saw that there are layers of objective reality known through scientific analysis, astronomy and the Samkhya, so there are degrees of manifestation externally in the adhibhuta.

I mentioned another term called adhidaiva. Why did I mention this? What is the connection? Adhidaiva means that which presides over, that which superintends, that which regulates or controls. Daiva means a deity. A superior power generally may be said to be a daiva. Sometimes it is also called devata, or adhidaivata. Why should we introduce the adhidaiva here? This is another thing that we have to learn. What is the part which adhidaiva plays in our study of yoga? Why should it be there at all in addition to adhibhuta and adhyatma?

Here comes the role of religion in addition to philosophy and the practice of yoga. There are some Vedantins and philosophers who think that the gods of religion are myths or fables. That this is not so is what we shall learn by an analysis of the adhidaiva principles. Something more is implied in all these tenets of philosophy, religion and yoga than what we can superficially understand. I think Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophy dreams of.” We should not think that our philosophy can allow us to understand everything, or make remarks that there is nothing or that there is everything. Buddha said: “Both are extreme statements. Don't say there is everything; don't say there is nothing. Both these are wrong statements. Truth is in the middle.” We should be cautious in making statements in this matter. We cannot say what is and what is not until and unless we are confident that we have understood ourselves in the position in which we are placed.

The necessity for the introduction of something called the adhidaiva arises on account of the necessity to understand the relation between adhibhuta and adhyatma.. As a matter of fact, adhidaiva is nothing but a relation between adhibhuta and adhyatma. We know through a connection that we establish between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta that there is an objective world. The question which we tried to raise sometime back was, “What is this connection or relation?” and to answer that we had to go through all the processes of analysis over the last few days. What is the relation between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta? How do we know that there is a world outside? Who tells us that there is something external to us? We shouldn't accept immediately what the senses tell us. How do the senses jump to the objects? Our eyes are here within our bodies; how do they jump to the mountain to tell us that the mountain is there? Our senses do not move physically from our bodies to the objects outside, and yet they tell us that there is something outside. How do they tell? What is this non-physical relation between the outer world and us? We know the existence of a mountain in front of us, though not through our physical contact. It is due to a separate relationship that we have. This is the mystery of the process of perception.

This leads us into further mysteries which the world seems to enshrine. The world is a wonder, if we think of it. The external world is a wonder, we are a wonder in ourselves, and the relationship between the world and us is also a wonder. The whole creation is a marvel! This relationship, which we call perception of the world, reveals many mysteries. That we can know the existence of a distant object without physically coming into contact with it shows that our relationship with objects is not always physical. One thing is certain: the connection between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta need not always be a physical connection.

If it is not physical, what else can it be? What have we in this world other than the physical? We cannot see anything other than the physical in a physical world, but we seem to imply that something non-physical is persistent and is involved in at least the process of perception of the world. How do we become aware of a distant object? What connects us with the mountain in front of us? We may say that light rays emanating from the sun, the moon, the stars, fire, a torchlight, etc. travel in space and impinge on the retina of our eyes, and then the image of the object is cast onto our eyes. Once this happens, we know that the object is there. This is may be our explanation. The light rays are unconscious of their function, because light has no consciousness of itself. The torchlight has no knowledge of its own function, and the light that is shed on the object outside is not self-conscious. It is a physical light; and the retina of the eyes is also not conscious.

Just now we learned that the eyes may be open in the state of sleep, but that we see nothing because something within is not connected. The eyeballs are not conscious—they are physical and they are situated in the physical body. Physical rays fall on the physical retina. How can we be conscious of the world outside? How can we know that there is a mountain outside merely because matter has impinged on matter? Light rays impinging on the retina of the eyes is matter contacting matter. This cannot reveal knowledge. The question is: how do we know? What is the process of perception? We may say, “Mind is involved and the senses are involved,” as we mentioned before. It is not merely the eyes that are necessary in perception—light is necessary, the eyeballs are necessary, the senses are necessary, and the mind also is necessary, may be our answer. But are the senses and the mind conscious? Can we say that the senses are conscious, and the mind is self-conscious?

By analysis of our own personality, we have discovered that we can withdraw the consciousness of all these functions while in the state of deep sleep. They are there, but they are not conscious. The mind is not conscious, the senses are not conscious, the prana is not conscious, and the body is not conscious. Yet, we exist as a being which is conscious. Consciousness seems to animate the mind, the senses and the body in states other than sleep. However, there is a condition where the truth is revealed that the mind, senses and body are not conscious. In deep sleep we become aware of this fact.

We are conscious—but not the mind, the senses or the body. These become aware of their existence when they shine as a mirror shines when light falls on it. The mirror is not capable of shining unless light falls on it. The mirror cannot shed light. Light is different from the mirror, though we may say that the mirror shines—likewise are the mind, the intellect, manas, buddhi, ahamkara, chitta, the senses and the body. So do not say that the mind is the cause of perception of the mountain in front, because the mind has no consciousness. Not the light, not the retina of the eyes, not the body, not the pranas, not the senses or the mind help us in the knowledge that the mountain is there in front of us. How do we know that there is an object outside, when nothing that we have has any consciousness? Without consciousness, without awareness, without intelligence and without understanding, how can we know that there is a world outside?

What we learn here is that the connection between us and the object, between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta, should be capable of revealing consciousness. It cannot be an inert material relation. There is actually no material relation between us and the mountain there. We are aware of the mountain through another principle that is functioning within us, which is super-physical and which can vibrate sympathetically through these instruments—the mind, senses, body, retina and so on. The connection should be super-physical and super-psychical also; it is not merely a physical connection. The mind alone cannot reveal the knowledge of an object outside, because it has no consciousness. The relationship between us and the object outside is super-physical, super-psychical and super-mental. If we like to call it so, it is a spiritual relationship. The relation between us and the object is spiritual—not even psychological or physical. It is consciousness that reveals the presence of an object outside. How this consciousness reveals the object outside, is the subject that we have to study later.