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The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 105: Absorption Into Universal Subjectivity

While the mind is a very valuable instrument in the acquisition of knowledge of things, and thus it stands in the position of a subject in respect of all other things which are its objects, it is not usually known that under certain special conditions of investigation, the mind also will be observed to be an object. It is not an ultimate subject, though it has a tentative function to perform as a subject of empirical knowledge. Ordinary psychology deals with the mind as if it is the ultimate subject, and this has come about on account of the inability of ordinary investigation to go deeper into a level removed from the operational field of the mind. Yoga takes us beyond the mind, and does not end merely with the mind, as is the case with other branches of learning.

A sutra of Patanjali tells us that the mind is not self-luminous. It appears to be luminous, but it is not really so, as is the case with a mirror or a glass which cannot shine of its own accord, though it may look as if the mirror is shining. The glass is transparent and, therefore, is illumining in its nature. The illuminating character of the mind, or the cognitive function of the mind, is only a temporary assumption of power which it has taken on for purposes which are transcendent to its own nature. The mind is something like a ‘clearing nut', as they call it, which allows the dross or dirt in water to settle down, and then finally settles down itself. Likewise, the mind performs the functions of investigation objectively, but when it comes to a matter of investigation into its own nature, it dwindles into nothing and it becomes ultimately a mere tentative tool, employed like an ‘x' in an algebraic equation, which has no meaning in itself but has tremendous meaning in bringing about results by means of calculation.

The mind is ordinarily a subject of knowledge, and it is the mind that knows the things outside, the objects of the world. But, that the mind is not self-luminous and is not capable of knowing things independently is a fact which cannot come to relief ordinarily. In advanced contemplation and heightened forms of knowledge, this fact is revealed that the mind is as much an object as are the other things of the world. In fact, the Samkhya cosmology maintains that the mind is one of the evolutes of prakriti. And inasmuch as prakriti cannot be a subject, the mind also cannot be a subject. The mind is only a rarefied form of matter, like clean glass, but it is nevertheless matter; it is not intelligent. The intelligence of the mind is an apparent assumption which has come about on account of its reflecting the true illumining factor, which is what is known as the purusha, the principle of consciousness. That which is at the back of the mind – the illuminer of the mind itself – is unknown to the mind because the mind cannot decondition itself from the limitations into which it has been born – space, time and cause, etc. – as we observed previously. Unless the mind is freed from these limitations, it cannot recollect or recognise the presence of something whose illumining character it borrows and only passes on to the objects outside.

The sutra is: na tat svābhāsaṁ dṛśyatvāt (IV.19). Because of its being an object, it is not self-luminous. The mind does not function under certain conditions, and yet existence is not abolished. In deep sleep, for instance, we cannot observe the function of the mind, and yet we can infer the existence of a consciousness independent of the operations of the mind. The presence of something which is absolutely independent and transcendent to the mind has to be accepted on account of it being impossible to explain the fact of knowledge without such a position. We cannot regard the mind as the ultimate cogniser of things, on account of itself being cognisable under certain states of deep contemplation and meditation. The faculties of the mind, the vrittis or the psychoses, can be observed analytically, and it is possible to change their modes of movement by the application of a new power which is different from the power of the mind.

But, there are certain quibbles in logistic philosophy which sometimes make out that though the mind is not self-luminous and, therefore, cannot be regarded as an ultimate subject, there is no need to assume the presence of a purusha or a transcendent subject, as yoga makes out. The quibble points out that this is because it is possible that this mind, which is assumed to be an object, may be cognised by another subtler form of the mind itself. There may be another mind inside the objective mind. And, why do we call it the purusha? It may be another subtler form of itself, as sometimes it is said that the higher mind observes the lower mind, and so on. This theory is refuted by the sutra, which tells us that the assumption of a mind behind the mind may lead to infinite regress, because the acceptance of the doctrine that the first mind is capable of being observed by a second mind may imply that the second mind may have to be observed by a third mind, and the third by a fourth, and so on, endlessly, which is an illogical position. This is called infinite regress – a fallacy in argument, where we go on anavastha, or regressing ad infinitum, as they call it; therefore, the sutra refutes this doctrine of the possibility of there being minds behind minds, inasmuch as it may lead to chaos in the process of perception. Firstly, there will be the confusion of anavastha. We go on counting minds behind minds until we come to a tiresome endless process, which is not a conclusion at all. Secondly, there will be confusion of memory. We cannot remember anything, because which mind will remember what? As there are links behind links, the conflict of the functions of the different minds may end in a chaotic mess so that there cannot be memory of any kind of experience or perception.

This is the meaning made out by the sutra: cittāntaradṛśye buddhibuddheḥ atiprasaṅgaḥ smṛtisaṅkaraḥ ca (IV.21). Atiprasanga is regress ad infinitum, and smriti sankara is a confusion of memory. This is a kind of mere childish doctrine which is sometimes advocated in certain aspects of logical argument. But this is not an argument. It is only a kind of avoiding of the problem, and it is refuted vehemently by this sutra, which makes out that this is impossible. In order that there is stability of perception and fixity of knowledge, it has to be accepted that there is a permanent background of consciousness which is independent of the fickle vrittis of the mind. The mind is fickle; it is oscillating; it has got various movements in the vrittis. Therefore, if these vrittis, which are undulatory in their character, are the ultimate stuff of which knowledge is made, there would be uncertain perception and merely a movement without a standing base behind this movement. As it is impossible to accept the doctrine of minds behind minds, it follows that there is a purusha, a supreme illuminating principle, whose fixity, eternity, infinity and stability is the cause of a stable knowledge – a permanent cognisability of things, a certainty and an indubitability in all forms of understanding. We have a certainty that we have a knowledge of something. We do not merely oscillate from one function of the mind to another function of the mind.

Also it is said, in another sutra, that the mind cannot perform two functions at the same time: ekasamaye ca ubhaya anavadhāraṇam (IV.20). Though it may look like we can concentrate our minds on several facts and can understand many things at one and the same time, the psychology of the mind will reveal that the continuity, or the simultaneity of the perceptions or cognitions of the mind, is something like the continuity of pictures in a cinema. It is not really continuous. There are discrete links in the chain of movement, and the mind jumps, flits from one function to another with such a velocity that it looks as if there is a continuity of cognition. It cannot think two things at the same time, but it rapidly moves from one perception to another. The velocity of the movement of the mind is such that we are likely to mistake its jumping for a continuity of movement.

Also, the other meaning of this sutra, as some commentators make out, is that the mind cannot be both a subject and an object. Either it is a subject, or it is an object. Now it has been proved that the mind is an object – it is not a subject – and, therefore, it has to be dealt with in the manner we deal with the objects outside. It has to be dispensed with, ultimately, because objects are ultimately not reconcilable with the character of the Supreme Subject. The great doctrine of the Samkhya is that the object gets reconciled with the subject by an artificial contact, and there is no possibility of a real union of the character of objectivity with pure subjectivity. But, this fact cannot be known. Usually we are unaware of the fact that the mind is an object and that there is a transcendent subject which enables the mind to look like a subject under specific conditions.

It is impossible to have knowledge of the subject. All knowledge that we have is objective. Even the intellectual and ratiocinative knowledge that we have is objective because of the fact that the individual is the base of this ratiocination, and the individual cannot be regarded as a subject, as the definition of a subject is something quite different from what it appears to be based on usual lines of reasoning. A pure subject is non-existent in this world. Whatever we have in this world is only object, including the empirical subject. We, as empirical subjects, cannot be regarded as real subjects, because we are able to cognise our own selves. And, inasmuch as there is self-recollection and reflective consciousness in our own minds, we stand in the position of objects. Also, we have all the characters of objects – namely, transience, mutability and movement from one condition to another. We are subject to transition and processes of various kinds – physical, biological, social, psychological and what not. Inasmuch as we are subject to processes, which is another name for saying that we are perpetually dying to one condition and entering into another condition, we cannot be called real subjects. The individual is, therefore, not a subject. It is an object, merely because it has the character of objectivity, being located in space and time, and it is transient in character. It is moving, as a process. But, how can we have knowledge of the subject? Is there a possibility?

What is yoga? Yoga is nothing but the endeavour supreme to turn back consciousness into its pure subjectivity and know the subject as it is in itself, independent of all instruments of knowledge. The aim of yoga is realisation of the subject, which has got involved in objectivity, unfortunately. The realisation of the subject is impossible as long as there is a belief that the mind is the subject. We cannot assume independence, ultimately, as long as our knowledge is a procession of ideas transmitted through the mind in respect of the objects of sense.

The yoga process is a very hard job because it is difficult to get over the limitations of the mind. All effort that we usually put forth is psychological. It is mental. Inasmuch as the efforts are mental, and it is the mind that we are trying to get over, it really looks like jumping over one's own skin, or climbing over one's own shoulders. We cannot control the mind because the mind itself is the controller. The very effort at control of the mind is motivated and initiated by the mind itself. So it is a very great juggler's trick, as it were, a magician's performance – yet, it is so. The practice of yoga is terrific when we actually enter into it. It is terrific because we are not going to deal with any object. We are going to catch the very centre of the problem, which has been up to this time escaping our notice and making us fools in this world of so-called wisdom.

The difficulty of the practice of yoga arises when we tackle the mind itself, and not before. As long as we are able to concentrate ourselves on sense objects, and we are busy only with the acquisition of knowledge in respect of outside objects, we may appear to be very great geniuses and great masters of knowledge. But our mettle is tested when we turn back upon the mind itself and try to catch it. This is like catching our own shadow – a very hard job. But this is the thing that is to be done. In a very simple manner, the yoga sutra of Patanjali tells us that the subject can be known when it returns to itself. When the consciousness, which is involved in the process of the vrittis of the mind, withdraws itself from the process and asserts its independence, it knows itself. This is very easily said but it cannot be practised, because the subject cannot be withdrawn from the mind inasmuch as it has identified itself with the mind to such an extent that even if we tell it, “You are independent,” it will not believe.

We are told in fables, comparable to the fables of Aesop, that a lion cub was living in a herd of sheep. It started bleating like a sheep inasmuch as it was living with the sheep for years together, and it never knew that it was a lion cub. It could not roar like a lion; it only bleated like a lamb. This went on for years together, and one day it so happened, it seems, a lion saw its own kin moving in the midst of sheep, bleating like a lamb. It couldn't understand what had happened to this lion that it was bleating like a lamb. So it called the cub aside and said, “What is the matter? You are not roaring like me. Who are you?” The cub said, “I am a lamb.” The lion said, “You are not a lamb. You are a lion.” “Oh, is it so?” the cub said, because it could not see its own face. How can a lion see its own face? It thought that it was a sheep because it was brought up in the midst of sheep, so it could only make a sound like a lamb. It could not roar like a lion. The lion said, “You are not a sheep. Look at the sheep. Do you see the sheep?” “Yes, I see the sheep, and I am also like that,” said the cub. “No, you are not like that. You are like me,” insisted the lion. “I am like you?” the cub said. “How can I be like you? You have a very terrific face.” “But you are like that,” the lion said. “No. How can I know that?” asked the cub. The lion replied, “Come.” He took the cub to a pond of water and said, “Do you see my face reflected?” “Yes, I see,” said the cub. “Do you see your face?” asked the lion. “Yes,” the cub said, “I am also like you.” “Now roar!” urged the lion. The lion roared and said, “You also roar as I roar!” “I see. Very good,” the cub said. Then it started roaring. It had forgotten that it was lion, and now it was shown that it was a lion because it could see its own face in the water, as pointed out by its master.

We require a Guru like that. We all think we are human beings, just as the lion cub thought it was a sheep. The very same rule applies to us. We require a lion to come and tell us, “My dear friends, you are not human beings.” But we will say, “We are human beings only; what else are we?” If somebody tells us, “You are a superhuman supreme power,” we will not believe it. We will say, “This is all nonsense. I am a human being; I can see it. I am like anybody else.” So we require a leonine master, a great Guru, to come and enlighten us into our true nature.

The yoga practice is terrific in the sense that when we deal with the so-called subject of knowledge which is the mind, we find that we are killing ourselves, as it were. It is like a suicide committed by the so-called empirical subject. And the worst thing that one can conceive of is suicide – death of one's own self. Here, the return of the reflected reality in the form of the individual to its original source – an absorption of the objective character of knowledge into its universal subjectivity – is the so-called death of its empirical existence. Well, it is true. When we become healthy, sickness is destroyed. It is a suicide of illness. There is a destruction of disease when we are to recover health. But it is worthwhile; we cannot say it is suicide. Can we say that the disease is commiting suicide? Well, it is so, in one sense. But yet it is a recovery of the original status of the organism – that is called health.

Thus is the necessity by the practice of yoga to recover one's spiritual health, which is universality of nature and pure subjectivity of existence. Citeḥ apratisaṁkramāyāḥ tadākārāpattau svabuddhisamvedanam (IV.22). This is the sutra in this context. Citeh is consciousness. When the consciousness ceases getting involved in a procession of ideas, as it used to earlier, as it appears to be in ordinary knowledge and experience, and when it assumes its own nature just as the lion's cub would realise its own leonine character, then there is Self-consciousness, not object-consciousness. This is the knowledge of the true Self, by the Self. The whole difficulty here is that there is no means of knowing the Self. While there are instruments of cognition and means of acquiring knowledge in respect of outside things, we have no possible way of knowing the Self by a means which is communicable.

How can we know the Self? What is the means of knowing? Not by the senses, not by the mind – then what is there? Nothing! It is an immediate knowledge, as they call it, non-mediate – without any kind of mediation or instrumentation in the sense of anything that is external to the object that is to be known. The instrument of knowledge is generally different from the object of knowledge. But here, the instrument and the object are identical. So we can imagine the difficulty. The worst form of difficulty is where the object that is to be known is inseparable from the process of knowing, and it is the same thing as the subject that knows. The matter becomes still worse when we contemplate the possibility of the knower of the object being the same as the object, and identical even with the process of knowing.

This is the aim of yoga, and this is the realisation of the Pure Subject. This Pure Subject is not the individual subject, because the individual subject is set in opposition to an object outside, whereas here, this Subject that we are speaking of, referring to and aiming at is not set in opposition to anything else. It is inclusive of everything that is there really. So it is that this Subject is comprehensive enough to include within its gamut everything that is existent anywhere. Such is the ultimate purpose of yoga, which is an inclusive awareness of Universal Subjectivity, and ordinary efforts are inadmissible, inapplicable and insufficient.

For this a novel method has to be adopted, and that novel method is the very same one that was adopted by the cub in knowing its own self. We require a very experienced master to turn our mind back upon itself, and to allow us to perform that circus trick, as it were, of returning to the background of our own knowledge, and absorbing all objectivity into the Universal Subjectivity.