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


Chapter 17: Objectivity is Experience Finally

As we have been trying to understand, the mind is a total force of what we ourselves are, and not something outside us requiring an external observation or an outward mode of contact. For centuries, philosophers have been trying to discover the proper relationship between the mind and the self, the mind and its object, etc., and everyone has differed from everyone else on this subject. There is rarely unanimity of opinion on this subject among thinkers, the difficulty lying precisely in the enigmatic character of the mind. It has been held, for instance, that the mind is a synthesising, intelligent element lying at the background of all sense functions. According to this doctrine, the mind is nothing but an organising power which does not introduce anything new to the reports of the senses, but merely collects them, arranges them and gives them a shape.

Generally, in the process of the knowledge of any object, three stages are involved – sensation, perception and cognition. In the beginning there is what is known as the sensation of the object. We begin to have a faint idea of something being there in front of us. We say, "I sense something." This sensation is not something merely in a psychological form inside, but is external as well. The senses themselves begin to have an inkling of something being in front of them – very, very indeterminately, generally, and without any kind of a specific identification of the object. When this sensation gets more concretised by the intensification of attention on what is being present in front, it becomes a perception of such-and-such a thing. Here the mind is silent, though it is sitting at the back of the senses, and when the perception is complete, the mind begins to act. It conceives, directly acts upon the senses, and connects intelligence with a bare perception of the senses.

It is here that the trouble really takes place – that when intelligence is connected, we ourselves are connected, because we are intelligence. Our essential nature is intelligence. We may call it by any name – intelligence, consciousness, understanding or awareness. All of these various names are synonyms meaning almost one and the same thing ultimately. We ourselves seem to be drawn to the object when the mind begins to cognise the object through the senses. The mind synthesises the sense perceptions in this manner. For instance, the eyes see a shape and a colour. Along with the perception of shape and colour through the eyes, there can be a connected perception of sound through the ears. The skin, or the tactile sense, may feel the sensation of touch of solidity or substantiality of the object that has a shape and a colour, etc., as visualised by the eyes. It may have a taste, and it may have a smell, etc. One sense cannot do the work of another sense. The eyes cannot hear, the ears cannot see, etc., but the mind can bring all these together and focus them on a single perceptual data. Then it becomes a complete awareness of such-and-such an object with so many complex characters.

The five senses act like five agents, bringing five different types of reports regarding one and the same thing. These five reports are brought together into a single consciousness of five aspects of the given object, and the mind begins to perceive that the object is one, though the reports are five. Then, of course, many other processes take place inside – judgement, etc. – which is the work of the intellect. After all, what is the purpose of this perception of the object, and what is the intention of the mind in synthesising the perceptions and sensations of the senses? The purpose is to pass a judgement, ultimately: "What is to be done now?" Such-and-such a thing has been seen possessing such-and-such a character. "Oh, I see," the intellect says now. "It is a snake. I will run away from this place." A judgement has been passed. To find out that it is a snake, so much time has been taken by the activity of the senses and the synthesising function of the mind. Or, it may be some pleasant thing: "Oh, my friend is coming." Then we are so happy, and we go to greet the friend. If it is a tiger, we run away from that place. Varieties of judgements are passed by the intellect in various ways under different conditions, as the case may be.

The mind is a peculiar intermediate principle between the object outside and the pure self within. Many thinkers have felt that there is no such thing as the mind, that it is only the self acting directly upon the senses. But others have held that this kind of doctrine has a defect in it, because if the self is is immediately connected with the senses, there would be perpetual perception of objects, and there would be no such thing as non-perception of objects. Because the self is permanently there – it has no modifications, it of a uniform character – if it is connected directly to the senses, we will be aware of things always. There would be no time when we would not be aware of them. But there are occasions when we can perceive and non-perceive, etc.

The attention and the non-attention that we bestow in respect of objects has made people feel that there is something else functioning between the essential self and the objects outside, and that can be called the mind. Now, what is this mind? Is it a quality of the self? Is it an attribute like the greenness, blueness, etc. that we see in a flower? A blue flower means a flower with blue character, attribute and quality. A heavy object, a blue flower, a sweet dish, etc. is what we speak about when we characterise things. Is the mind a character, an attribute, a qualification or an adjunct of the self, just as blueness can be regarded as an attribute of a flower? This, again, has driven people to great controversy, inasmuch as it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion because it is difficult to conceive of a relationship between attribute and substance. This is one of the great problems in philosophy.

What is the connection between quality and substance? That peculiar term we used, namely, inherence, does not explain matters, because inherence is only a way of expressing the inseparability of the attribute from the substance. It does not mean that the attribute is the same as the substance. We never say that the attribute is identical with the substance. The attribute is a peculiar condition of the substance, or rather, to put it more precisely, the attribute is a condition under which the substance becomes an object of cognition, etc. We become aware of an object under certain conditions. These conditions which are responsible for the specific perception of an object become what we call the attribute of the object. This would amount to saying that the substance has no qualities itself, because these qualities are only certain characteristics perceived by the subject under certain circumstances.

If the circumstances were to change, perhaps the attributes would not be there, or certain other attributes would be perceived. So can we judge the self and the mind in this manner, and regard the mind as an attribute of the self? If this sort of definition is to be applied, then we have to concede that there can be circumstances or conditions under which, alone, the mind could be located as existing. There are no conditions, or there is no circumstance, where we can imagine when the mind is absent.

Previously we were trying to find out the various levels of self, the layers of our personality, and we found that the mind is operating under every condition and on every level. Even in the deepest layer of self there is an element of mentality. The attempt of yoga in controlling the mind thus involves many an aspect which, ultimately, is connected with one's own self. The mind cannot be controlled as long as the precise connection of oneself with things outside is not properly understood, because the control of the mind is nothing but a regulation of one's relationship with things. That, itself, is control of the mind. On careful analysis, we will realise that what we call the mind is only a conscious relationship with externals which sometimes create an unconscious background, a residuum in the form of potencies, latencies – or, as we call them in Sanskrit, samskaras or vasanas. Conscious perceptions can produce memories which can lie in an unconscious condition.

It finally comes to this: any attempt at the restraint of the modifications of the mind, control of the mind, is tantamount to a proper understanding, evaluation and organisation of our relationship with externals. The very precise function of the mind is the contact with externals and the judgement of externals as certain values connected with oneself. We feel a necessity for controlling the mind, and therefore arises the necessity for the practice of yoga, because it has been observed that the usual types of relationship which obtain between oneself and objects outside are not always conducive to the happiness of oneself. All these relationships appear to be untrustworthy modes of contact and undependable sources of satisfaction.

If a particular object of sense, on which the mind and the intellect pass judgement by way of relationship and contact, is really dependable and very trustworthy for all times, then it should be so for every person in the world, and even for one and the same person for all times. It has been seen by experience, observation and experimentation that no object in the world can be regarded as having an identical or uniform value for all people, at all times, and even for the same person at all times. It goes on changing its appeal; or rather, one changes one's attitude towards it for reasons that are difficult to understand. This means that there is something very inscrutable and difficult about one's relationship with things, which makes one conclude that there is a necessity to probe deeper into this subject.

The aim of life is freedom from sorrow, complete abrogation of all pain, and an establishment in the hoped-for perennial joy or eternal bliss. This seems to be such an impossible thing in this world, on account of the unintelligible relationship that the mind has with things upon which it pins faith and which it regards as the source of its satisfaction. Two questions arise here. Firstly, is the object of sense really the source of joy? If that is the case, there is justification in the mind hanging itself upon an object for its joy. But is it true, or is it not true? This question is to be answered very dispassionately. Secondly, why is it that an object, which the mind imagines to be the source of its satisfaction, changes its characters constantly and makes it feel miserable at different periods of its life.

These are very profound psychological issues. Before we try to bestow some thought upon the various methods of the control of the modifications of the mind, which is the main forte in yoga, it would be essential for us to go into the subject of whether any object of sense, upon which the mind and intellect pass judgement, is a source of joy. Is it true, or is it not true? This has to be carefully investigated. Secondly, we have to determine why there is a constant anxiety felt by oneself in respect of an object, and why there is a subtle insecurity and joylessness even at the time of experiencing a so-called joy during one's contact with an object. Even while we are enjoying an object, there is an unconscious unhappiness in the background, for reasons which the mind is not consciously thinking about at that time.

The object of sense cannot be understood easily, because there is a preconceived notion of the mind in relation to the object. It is not possible to understand anything if we already have a preconceived notion about it. We have to first shed this preconception or prejudice. We always say, "Oh, this is very good." If we have already said it is very good, then one has nothing to say about it; one will keep quiet. First of all, we have to be very dispassionate and a little more general and impersonal in our making a remark about a thing being good or bad, useful or otherwise. But the mind is not amenable to an investigation of this kind, because the essence of the mind is prejudice, which is another name for clinging to objects as sources of real joy. It is born into prejudice, and it is stuck-up in that peculiar, prejudicial mould into which it is cast.

It becomes very difficult to investigate an object, because the mind has a prejudged notion of the object and always tells us, "It is there. The matter is closed. If it is there, why are you going to question it now and ask whether it is there or not there? I am telling you it is there, and you should not put another question." The question that arises regarding the existence of an object may be due to a doubt in regard to its existence, but the mind says, "There is no doubt. It is there. I am seeing it, and also I am experiencing a particular reaction from it." This reaction from the object, which comes through the avenue of the senses, is the cause of the conviction arising in the mind that the object is really there, outside, as a substantial something. But all of this so-called conviction of the mind in regard to the existence of an object is an outcome of a misconception, a kind of confusion, a muddle. A muddle is something which we cannot intelligently investigate into; but this is what has actually happened. The object, according to the perception of the senses and the conception of the mind, is something which would not permit logical analysis.

One of the strong points about the objects of sense is that they do not allow any kind of investigation, because if we subject them to scientific analysis or logical investigation, they slowly begin to lose their ground, like the investigation of the activities of a thief. A thief does not like to come to the forefront. He always lies at the background where he is not perceived, because any kind of investigation into the background of his life would be a source of insecurity and unhappiness for him. So the strength of the object is precisely in its inscrutability – anirvarchaniyatva, as they say in Vedanta philosophy. One cannot say it is there; one cannot say it is not there. In classical analogies, they give the example of the rope and the snake. When we see a long rope, twined-up, lying on the road in twilight, we mistake it for a snake. We may jump over it in fear, imagining that it is a snake. We have seen a snake. If we had not seen it, we would not have jumped. Now, it is not there. So it is possible, under certain conditions, to see something that is not there, and these conditions have to be examined.

What are the conditions under which certain objects can be perceived, even if they are not there? There are various factors in the case of this analogy – lack of sufficient light, or the memory of a snake that one has seen earlier, and so on and so forth – umpteen causes are there. Likewise, there can be certain sets of conditions which can generate in the mind the perception of something outside as an object. The reality of an object lies in the conviction of the mind, which conviction has arisen out of the judicious synthesising of the reports of the senses – a process which it has done and which it regards as logically deducible from facts given. If something can be regarded as having a colour or a shape, if something can be tangible, and if something can have other characters that excite the activities of the five senses, then it can be regarded as an existing object. But why does something excite the senses? This is a side-issue that arises from this investigation.

What makes an object endowed with the capacity to excite the senses in a given manner? We have a very simple answer, and it is given in the Bhagavadgita: guṇā guṇeṣu vartante (B.G. III.28). The reason why an object stimulates or excites the senses is due to a similarity of character in the structure of the senses and that something that we call an object outside. Let us go back to the Samkhya and the background upon which this statement has been made by the Bhagavadgita: guṇā guṇeṣu vartante. Guna does not mean a quality, but a pattern or a structure of things which is supposed to be the substance of every object. What is intended here, in this statement of the Bhagavadgita, is that the thing out of which the senses are constituted is the very same thing out of which the object outside is also constituted. So there is a pull of one thing in respect of the other. The senses run towards the object, and the object evokes the activity of the senses on account of a similarity of structure. The same structural pattern is present both in the object outside and the senses inside.

These substances which make up the senses and the object are called the gunas. The 'gunas' are peculiar technical terms in Sanskrit, meaning certain properties. These properties of objects are also the properties of the senses. These properties are sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva, rajas and tamas are gunas or properties, and to explain what it actually means would bring us to the substantiality of the objects and the substantiality of the senses themselves. Rajas is a condition of the absence of equilibrium. Any state in which there is disturbance, agitation, division, tension and a tendency to externality may be regarded as rajas, or what may be called kinesis. The kinetic condition of an object is rajas, whereas the static condition is tamas. In our scientific studies or studies of physics, we talk of the kinetic or dynamic condition of things, and the static condition of things, but there is no talk about the third aspect, which the Samkhya and the Bhagavadgita speak of as sattva. We do not know what it means because such a thing is never seen in the world.

Sattva does not exist anywhere outside. Either a thing is dynamic, or it is static – that is all. But the condition of dynamics and statics is, after all, a condition, and we must remember that. Very aptly, the word 'guna' has been used here, and is translated as 'property'. It is not a substance, but a condition. When we say something is inert, we refer to a condition of that something. When we say something is active or kinetic, we also refer to a condition of that something. Can we say that substances are made of merely conditions? It is very strange indeed to say that, because we always say that a condition is 'of' something, a condition is 'of' a substance. Now we are saying that the substance itself is nothing but a collocation of conditions. Otherwise, why do we use such words as 'property', 'guna', etc.

Both the Samkhya philosophy and the Buddhist psychology of momentariness or the transience of things have concluded, after deep thought, that the substantiality of things is ultimately inseparable from a condition in which these things find themselves. This is also corroborated by scientific analysis, as has been done these days. A condition, though it cannot be and should not be identified with the substance itself, somehow or other seems to be inseparable from the characterisation of the substance by sensation and cognition. We cannot say what a substance is, except by definition of its condition. We have never seen a substance minus its condition. Whenever we speak of a substance, an object or a thing, we always speak of a particular characteristic, or a group of characteristics, or a set of circumstances under which that object, the so-called object, is supposed to be.

So, we can safely say that though we speak of a substance, or an object, or a thing, we are really speaking of certain states, of certain conditions, of certain reactions set up in respect of our senses. Finally, the judgement in respect of the existence of an object seems to be the same as the judgement in respect of an experience that has been produced in us. What we speak of as the substance of an object is nothing but an experience of something being there. If the experience is not there, the object also is not there.

From the difficulty of not being able to differentiate a condition from the substance, we have come to another difficulty of it not being possible for us to differentiate the so-called existent object from an experience of that object. So we have a double difficulty – one objective, and another subjective. We shall think of it a little later on.