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


Chapter 19: Returning to Pure Subjectivity

What actually happens when the mind cognises an object, is not, again, a matter of easy comprehension. A sudden miraculous trick, as it were, takes place when there is a mental cognition, and we are suddenly tripped from our balance and caught in a condition which escapes notice and eludes understanding. The cognition of an object is a miracle by itself. It is a wonder, and therefore it is not easy to comprehend. The peculiar structure, called the mind, envelopes the shape of the object, which is what is called 'vyapti' in Sanskrit. Various examples are given to explain what sort of enveloping takes place. It is said that as molten lead cast into a crucible may take the shape of the crucible, or water flowing into a field may take the shape of the field – circular, or rectangular, or square, or whatever the shape the field is – the mind takes the shape of the object; and something else happens, at the same time, which is the cause of our bondage.

The mind does not merely stop with this act of enveloping the object. It drags our consciousness with it - just as when the wife goes, the husband also goes. This is a danger in all mental cognitions. If the wife starts quarrelling with somebody, the husband runs and adds to the quarrel, which makes it much worse; this is what happens. So if the mind merely envelopes the object, so much the worse for us; but something still more undesirable takes place, which is that the consciousness is pulled, together with this rush of the mind, towards the object, and then it is not merely the mind that is there in the object – 'we' are there in the object. I am there in the object – finished. My doom has come immediately.

When I run from myself and sit on the object outside, one can imagine my condition. I forget myself, lose myself, snatch myself away from myself and completely destroy my subjectivity, my self-identity, my very existence. I sell myself to the object, so that I have abolished myself like a slave surrendering himself to the master under utter abnegation. The subject has become the object. This is an extreme form of clinging to objects. Why does a subject cling to the object? The subject has lost itself completely – lost its very life. It does not anymore exist there. It has transferred its location to that of the object. It is sitting in the object and has become the object. It has taken the shape of the object and identified itself with the object; its existence is the existence of the object, and it thinks through the object. The subject is now finished. This is the last consummatory condition to which the mind takes us in the cognition of objects.

This result does not come about at once – there are stages to this process. The extent of absorption of the subject into the object depends upon the extent of the meaning that the subject reads into the object, the extent of the value that the subject sees in the object, and the extent of the need that one feels for the object. According to the degree of the value that is recognised in the object, to that degree one transfers oneself to that object. There are degrees of affection – all affections are not same. One may have a little love, or a little more love, or intense love, or complete self-abnegating love. In very rare cases, the ultimate stage comes. But mostly it is only some percentage of love. We have a love for our children, we have a love for our dog or cat, and so on and so forth – but all loves are not the same. They have various degrees according to the meaning that we find in them, the value that is there and the significance that we can read into their very existence in respect of our personal necessities.

But now we are considering merely the psychological processes of perception. The subject which is supposed to transfer itself to the object is not merely a process of thinking. When I say the mind transfers itself to the object by an act of enveloping, it does not mean that merely a thought process in the ordinary sense takes place, because the subject – the cognising individual – is not merely thought, but is also will and emotion. Thinking, feeling and willing – these three are the primary functions of the psychological organ. So in cognition it is not merely the thinking aspect that functions. Though thinking is perhaps the first aspect that rouses itself into activity in cognition, emotion follows.

It is very difficult to withdraw emotions from acts of cognition. In some cognitions, emotions are not involved very much. Just as when we see a rock on the bank of the Ganga, there is a mental cognition based on sensory perception of that rock on the bank of the river, but as a rock does not mean much to us – whether it is there or it is not there, it is not of great significance to our life – our emotions do not run to that rock. But if it is a rock of gold, or a diamond, then the emotions will go to it. "Oh, it is a diamond rock." We will not withdraw our eyes from the rock; we will go on looking at it because a tremendous meaning has been seen in this rock. But ordinary rocks do not mean anything as we have seen so many rocks.

But the control of the mind, which is the primary function in yoga, is also a direct step taken in the restraint of emotion and will, together with thinking, because while thinking is the beginning of attachment – the identification of the subject with the object – the will and the emotion get the upper hand subsequently and reinforce this act of cognition and make it impossible for the individual to extricate itself from the identification it has established with the object. We cannot ordinarily understand to what extent we are attached to objects, because we are shifting the position of attachment from one object to another, every day, according to circumstances. We do not stick to any particular object from morning to evening. That is not possible, because we do not find it necessary. &nbsp.

There are many factors necessary to maintain our individuality in life – a single object is not adequate. So the mind, in its intelligent manoeuvres, shifts itself suddenly, like a shuttle, from one centre to another, and keeps itself in contact with all the necessary factors in life which are essential for its existence and security, just like a good politician who shrewdly maintains contact with all the people concerned with his security, position, etc. He can contact even a thousand people in a day if the necessity arises – by phone, by telegram, by letter, by personal interview, etc. – because he knows that these contacts are necessary for his security and status. Likewise, the mind – the greatest of politicians conceivable in the world – plays the very same trick and sees that its security is maintained throughout life, and that nobody threatens its existence. The act of mental cognition is nothing but a continuous activity engaged in by the mind for maintaining its security in life. Otherwise, what is the use of perceiving things? Why do we want to see objects? Why do we want to contact people in the world? Why do we want friends? Why do we want telephones? It is only for security, maintenance and status, so that we may not be cut off from the ground on which we are standing. This is what the mind is doing in every act of cognition.

This is a bare outline of the psychological process involved in perception, but it is a process which completely enslaves us into conditions which go beyond our control. We can imagine the state of affairs in which a bonded slave lives. Nowadays we do not have slaves of the kind that we have heard of in ancient history. The slaves were sold not only financially and physically, but even emotionally and in every aspect that constituted their personality. A slave is one who has no individuality or personality of his own. He has become part and parcel of the master to whom he has been sold. His existence, his will, his thought, his feeling, his very security and life itself is in the hands of the master. So is the case with an individual selling itself to the object. The object controls us, and one is a slave of that object.

One cannot know that one is a slave. In the case of mental attachments, the situation is a little different from a human slave selling himself to a master. The slave in the ordinary case may be aware that he has bound himself to a master who is controlling him in every way, so he may feel very unhappy sometimes. "Oh, what a condition is mine. I am serving under this master and he may even end my life due to the subjection into which I have entered with him." But in our case of slavery to objects, something worse is taking place. We cannot be aware that we are slaves. We are not sorry that we are attached to objects. We are immensely happy because of the attachment. Otherwise, how can there be attachment if we are always conscious of the sorrow that is involved in it? The attachment becomes a source of happiness. It is not a source of sorrow, as in the case of the ordinary slave or subordinate. It is a source of happiness because something very strange has taken place in the cognition of the object, which is the cause of this joy.

Something inscrutable is taking place. The mind feels the need, which is the need that the whole personality feels. Why is the need felt? It is a little difficult to understand merely by surface thinking. The need is biological, sociological, psychological, economical, and every blessed thing. When we are attached to something, we are not attached merely for one single reason. Many factors pull us to the object, and all these factors act simultaneously, like enemies attacking from all sides, so that we may not know what is happening to us. We become helpless and then surrender ourselves. Similarly, the subject surrenders itself to the object on account of the attack to which it is subjected by umpteen factors from all sides – social, physical, economical, psychological, emotional, volitional, and what not.

The need that we feel in our personality is multi-faceted. This is what keeps us unhappy throughout the day, and to remove this unhappiness we cling to objects. We feel social insecurity, physical deficiency, emotional inadequacy and psychological inferiority – all of which cannot be set right at one stroke by a single object. It is difficult to find a single object which will fulfil all our needs – economical, sociological, physical, biological, etc. All these needs cannot be fulfilled by a single object – such a thing is difficult to find. There may be such a thing, but it is not always easy to find. So we cling to many aspects of objectivity for the fulfilment of various types of need we feel in our personality. We want social status; we want the recognition of people; we want a lot of money; we want a wife or husband; we want a very delicious dish to eat every day; we want a nice bed; we want security by army, police and friends, etc. so that nobody can attack us. We want medicines to cure us of illnesses. What untold things we require to keep us happy and secure in life! For this reason the mind keeps us distracted. It shifts itself from one thing to another thing to find out what it lacks and where it can find what it needs.

Occasionally the mind gets caught up by the preponderance of a type of need, to the exclusion of others. That is what is called a mania or an intense form of emotional clinging, which rarely takes place in people, but is not unseen. It can be the state of affairs of any person under certain conditions where exclusive attachment is possible, closing one's eyes to all other aspects of one's existence. When we are about to be elected into a very high post and we are working day and night, sweating, and moving earth and heaven for this purpose, we may have an exclusive concentration on that aspect of our life, oblivious of every other factor. We may not eat – hunger also vanishes at such times. Though at other times we may think very much about the food that we want to eat, during the election period we will not eat food. The appetite has gone because there is a shifting of emphasis on some other aspect. Also, normally we sleep because sleep is a necessity, but during the time of elections – no sleep. There is no food and there is no other biological attachment that is usually present in family life or social life. It is not cut off, but it is completely suppressed by the preponderance of an urge which has taken the upper hand at that particular moment or period. Or, when we are in an army, in a battlefield, where we are worked up into a feeling of intense emotion – do or die – we find that all other needs are suppressed, and a particular aspect of our mind gains the upper hand and directs us along a single channel.

In the practice of yoga we have to place ourselves in a practical condition by conscious analysis, and subject ourselves to diagnosis and treatment, deliberately and voluntarily, for the purpose of freeing ourselves from the chances of getting caught by these conditions in future, sometime or the other. Self-analysis is something like a vaccination, where we produce an artificial disease in our personality in order to get rid of the impending destructive disease which may threaten us. Though we may not be in a state of attachment just now, we become conscious of the possibility of such attachments in the future, because no one can be completely immune to attachments of any type. Any attachment can come to any person at any time, only if circumstances are favourable. So we should not say we are free from such these things. Nobody can be free.

That we are free from certain attachments is only because of the fact that we have laid emphasis on certain other factors, for other reasons, which does not mean that the enemy is not lying in ambush even though he is not visible now. Anything can happen at any time to any person – we should not forget this. So we have to be cautious of these possibilities and then rouse the potentialities of the mind in this connection, up from the unconscious level to the subconscious, and then bring it to the conscious level of direct attack and frontal investigation. This is self-analysis.

To revert to the point I mentioned earlier, in the act of mental cognition the mind takes the shape of the object and drags the consciousness towards it. In technical Sanskrit language these are called vritti vyapti and phala vyapti. Vritti vyapti is the mind enveloping the object and taking the shape of the object – the molten metal getting cast into the crucible of the structure of the object. To become conscious of it is to be in the state of phala vyapti, as they call it. So there is a dual role played in acts of perception and cognition – psychological and conscious – and they are inseparable.

The mind cannot be isolated from the consciousness that is animating it, just as when a mirror is kept in the blazing sun, it may itself become invisible. A glass that is in the sun cannot be seen because of the light of the sun that is shining through every particle of glass. The whole glass or mirror is radiant with the blazing light of the sun, and therefore we see only a glare and we cannot see the mirror. Though it is there it cannot be seen, because light has enveloped every particle of that matter. Likewise, we cannot know that some peculiar perceptional involvement is taking place, on account of consciousness enveloping every fibre of thinking. We may say the mind is something like a mirror. Sometimes we may call it is a prism. Sometimes we may call it a plain glass, or it may be called a stained glass through which consciousness passes like light and takes various shapes. Inasmuch as consciousness envelops the total structure of the mind in acts of mental activity, we cannot isolate ourselves from perceptional processes – we become the process. We become the process, and we become the object towards which the process is directed, and then we are the object.

Samsara is the subject becoming the object, and moksha is the object becoming subject, to put it very plainly. When we become the object, we are a samsarin. When the object has become us, we are liberated. They are simple things to explain and say but most difficult things to swallow, because the mind is not an object of perception, as we have been noticing in our earlier analysis. It cannot be studied in the usual manner, because here we are studying our own self, and so every act of self-control or mental-control involves subjugation of oneself by oneself. Atma vinigrah is another word which is very aptly used in this connection. One controls the self, which means oneself as one is at present, by the introduction of the principles governing the higher values of life or the higher nature of the self. The higher self includes the immediate vicinity of objectivity which usually the individual self regards as external to it; and every stage of rise to the higher degree of self is also a rise to a greater inclusiveness of objectivity in subjectivity, so that in every higher stage the subject becomes larger in its comprehension, and the objectivity gets lessened. The more we rise higher, the less is the objectivity involved in awareness, and the greater is the subjectivity.

In the final consummation, which is the goal of life, there is only subject, and no object. All the objects are drawn into the subject, in the largest comprehensiveness of the subject. That Supreme Subjectivity, which is All-Comprehensiveness, in which every object is subsumed, is Ishvara or God.