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


Chapter 20: The World and Our World

The subject of our discussion is the mental cognition of objects. In the experience of an object, does the mind influence the object, or does the object influence the mind? This is the central issue in all philosophical schools, which has led to various divergent doctrines such as idealism, realism, materialism, subjectivism, etc. There has been very little progress towards an answer to this query because, just as we cannot know whether the beauty that we see in an object is in our own mind or if it is really in the object, so there is the question – is the mind influencing the object, or is the object influencing the mind? The difficulty arises on account of the position of the perceiving subject itself. To hold that the mind entirely influences the object, that it determines it in every manner, would be another way of saying that we have created the world and everything is in our hands – which does not seem to be the truth of things.

Everything does not seem to be in our hands. We cannot change the pattern of things. We cannot make the sun rise in the west merely because we think that it should be so. So there seems to be something which is outside the jurisdiction of mental operations, to which the operations of the mind should accord, and whose law the mind has to follow. We cannot suddenly imagine that a cup of milk is identical with a stone. The stone and the milk are not identical, and the mind cannot change one into the other by any amount of thought. So, the hard reality, in the form of an external something which the world presents before the mind, has led many to conclude that the mind cannot determine the objects. On the other hand, the objects have a reality of their own and they influence the mind, so that the mind subjects itself to the conditions of the object, rather than conditions the object by its own laws.

We are in a world of interrelated facts and figures, and Eastern thought has tried to solve this question by positing a Creator for the world, independent of individual percipients. We have standard expositions on this theme in such texts as the Panchadasi, Vichara Sagara, etc. on the basis of certain proclamations in the Upanishads, for instance. Nobody has seen the Creator. Nobody can imagine that a Creator can exist, or must exist, or does exist. But the necessity of thought, the conditions of thinking seem to demand the presence of such a thing as a Creator for the world; otherwise, we cannot explain perception. The very fact of the perception of things – the inherent meaning that we see in objects of perception – compels us to accept the existence of a prior cause behind the objects of perception, and it seems that the world could exist even if we do not exist. We have arguments by modern scientists – biologists and evolutionists – who tell us that once upon a time the world was unpopulated; there were no percipients of the world. According to the astronomical theory, the world, the earth, is only a chip off the block of the sun, and was boiling and incandescent in its original state, so naturally no human being or nothing living could have existed at that time, not even a plant or a shrub. But did it exist? The earth did exist. So the earth could exist even if there is nobody to look at it or observe it.

These assumptions have led to the conclusion that the object exists independently of its being perceived, and the universe was created much earlier than the creation of the human individual. This theory gets confirmation from the expositions in the Puranas, the Epics, etc., wherein we are told that God created the world. He did not create man first; man is perhaps the last of creation. Even in the Aittareya Upanishad, on which perhaps the Panchadasi, etc., take their stand, we are given to understand that man was not the first creation, and that perhaps nothing perceiving was ever existent. Nothing perceiving, nothing thinking, nothing willing, conscious, ever existed except that One which willed Itself to be many, and the world was so created, etc., is the doctrine.

Basing themselves on this scriptural proclamation, exponents tell us that there is a distinction between what they call Ishvara srishti and jiva srishti – the creation of God and the creation of the individual. There are two kinds of creation. Ikshanadi-praveshanta srishtir ishana kalpita; jagradadi-vimokshantah samsaro jiva-kalpitah - says the Panchadasi, in a famous passage. The meaning of passage has reference to the Aittareya Upanishad and such other relevant passages in other Upanishads, and makes out that God willed to be many, and manifested Himself as this vast creation, projected individualities, and entered the individual by an immanence of His own nature. This is another way of describing the traditional process of creation through divine manifestations usually known as Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat – all of which are precedent to individual manifestations, and prior to the existence of human beings. But there is also what is known as 'individual's creation'. A lot of detail about it is given in the Panchadasi, especially in its fourth chapter called Dvaita Vivek – how duality-consciousness arose at all, and how perceptions can bind us, though they need not necessarily bind us.

The point is that the perception of an object need not bind us, though it can bind us. It need not bind us, because we can correctly perceive the existent object as it was created by Ishvara, merely reflecting in our minds the character of the object as it really is in itself from the point of view of the Creator. Then, perceptions would not be binding. For instance, a human being, tentatively speaking, may be regarded as Ishvara's creation. A human being is not created by another human being by the will of creativity. The object in front of me – such as a tree, or a mountain, or the shining orb of the sun, and the moon and the stars – may be regarded as parts of Ishvara's creation. We can simply perceive them as such.

But I can perceive a human being in another way altogether by which I can bind myself – namely, this human being is my father; this human being is my friend; this human being is my enemy; this human being can do something for me, this way or that way. This is what is known as jiva srishti, which is an attitude of subjective appreciation and evaluation which an individual projects in respect of an external object. A woman is a human being, but the moment that woman is regarded as mother, or a wife, or a sister, that attitude becomes jiva srishti. A relationship that seems to obtain between one individual and another in a subjective manner is the projection of the mind of the jiva or the individual, which is the cause of joy and sorrow in the world and is the essence of samsara – bondage.

But Ishvara srishti is pure existence of things. A lump of gold is a lump of gold; but, that it is a valuable substance, that it has great worth and, therefore, can be taken away or stolen – these ideas are projections of the mind of the individual. So in the perception of any given object, two factors are supposed to be involved – jiva shrishti and Ishvara srishti. This is a conclusion safely arrived at to obviate any kind of extreme position that people generally take, either from the objective side or from the subjective side.

There are those who think that the object alone is real and the mind is only a stupid something, which merely reflects the nature of an object as it is. This is the realistic, materialistic attitude. They do not give any place for mind in the scheme of things. It is only a kind of exudation of material existences. This is one extreme view - where the objective world alone is the determining factor of every situation in life, and the mind has no place in the scheme of things. The other extreme is that the mind alone is the determining factor of everything and the object has no place in the scheme of things – everything is on account of our thought. This is the extreme idealistic point of view, contrary to the extreme materialistic point of view of certain others. The via-media, the middle course, would be that both contribute a percentage of meaning in the perception of objects. And so the act of mind-control, the restraining of the modifications of the mind, would not mean an abolition of the existence of objects – at least according to thinkers such as the author of the Panchadasi - but is a withdrawal of those special modifications of the mind, on account of which the mind reads particular subjective meanings in objects.

The author of the Panchadasi tells us that if an abolition of objects were a condition to liberation, then liberation would not be possible, because nobody can abolish the existence of objects. Or, if merely a non-perception of the objects of the world is to be regarded as liberation, then sleep would be a condition of liberation because we do not perceive anything during sleep. The actual event that is taking place outside may also not be the cause of joy or sorrow, says the author of the Panchadasi, who gives the following analogy. Suppose there is someone in a foreign land whose mother is here, far away from the person, and his mother receives false news that her son is dead. One can imagine the condition of the mother. Though the son is alive, healthy and hale, and everything is all right, false news can create a real heartbreak for the mother. On the other hand, if the man has been dead for ten years but his mother has not received any news, she is happy.

So, the birth or death, the life or the extinction of a person, is not the real cause of the joy or sorrow of a person. It is the reaction that the mind sets up in respect of a particular event as it is conveyed to it subjectively which is considered as being the cause of its joy and sorrow. This is another interpretation. With all our thinking, we cannot come to a definite conclusion about the nature of things. We cannot say whether our mind is largely responsible for our joys and sorrows, or whether objects also have some say in this matter. The difficulty arises on account of a relativity of action and reaction between subject and object, and no one has answered this question properly. Similar to this is the question of the perception of beauty in things. No one can say, even today, whether the beauty is present in the object outside, or present in the mind inside. Somehow we reconcile ourselves by saying that both factors coincide, and there is some truth in this side and some truth in that side.

The difficulty is simply because the mind cannot think both ways, and the truth lies neither on this side nor on that side. The isolation of the individual from its relationship with the pattern of things is the cause of its difficulty in understanding anything. The whole universe is an organic structure in which the percipient is included as a vital part. For instance, we cannot study the nature of the heart of a human being by removing it from the body. Though it is a fleshy substance and can be examined pathologically, medically, etc., studying it like this would be meaningless because the moment the heart is removed from the body it ceases to be a heart and becomes only a lump of flesh. The heart has to be studied in its connection with the body in its working condition, and not by isolating it from the organic relationship it has with the body.

Likewise, we should not wrest the object from its connectedness with things in our perception, which is another way of judging it. A similar mistake has been committed by us – we have wrested ourselves away from things. We have stood outside the scheme of things in our judgement of values, while we are already a part of the scheme of things. All perceptions, judgements and evaluations become inscrutable mysteries on account of this initial difficulty that has been created, namely, a separation of the percipient from the object with which it is organically connected, basically. For instance, a finger of the hand becomes aware of another finger of the same hand. If we were to take for granted that a particular finger of a hand has a consciousness of its own, and we conclude that it can perceive the existence of another finger of the same hand – what would be its attitude? What would be the real relationship between one finger and another finger, given that one finger can see another finger outside it? We know that one finger is different from another finger. But the consciousness of one finger in respect of another finger would be charged with its basic awareness of its connectedness with the whole body, which it cannot look upon as an external object, so that even the other finger which it perceives cannot be called as a real external object, though it is an object for all practical purposes because it can be seen.

This is perhaps the significance of perception from an organic point of view, while what happens in our case, at present, is that this organic connection between the seer and the seen is lost sight of, and we have only a mechanised form of perception where there is a false evaluation projected on the object by the mind which is perceiving it, on account of its losing contact with the vital issue which is involved in perception, namely its connectedness to the object. Whether in attachment or in aversion, the mind is not properly related to the object. It has an improper relationship with things, both in love and hatred. The impropriety of this relationship arises on account of its false disconnectedness from the object, and we cannot properly understand the way of controlling the mind if we cannot understand the relationship that the mind has with the object. It has a twofold relationship. On the one side, it stands as a perceiver of the object and is obliged to regard the object as an outside something, which is the very meaning of perception, of course. But, on the other side, there is a basic similarity of nature between the seer and the seen, which is the reason why there is the very possibility of perception at all. A consciousness of the object would be impossible if the seer of the object is basically disconnected from the object. Basic disconnection would not be permissible. An utter isolation of the subject from the object would defeat the very purpose of all perception.

Consciousness of an object implies a basic connectedness between the subject and the object. It is this connection that pulls the object towards the subject, and vice versa. We have an undercurrent of unity among ourselves, on account of which we sometimes feel a necessity to sit together and work in a unanimous manner. We have the urge of unity from one side, and the urge of diversity on the other side. The diversity aspect is emphasised by the senses, and the unity aspect is emphasised by the nature of our consciousness. The essence of our consciousness is unity par excellence. It is the basic existence of a unity of consciousness behind all perceptions that is responsible for the perception itself, and is also the reason for loves and hates. But the emphasis given by the senses is the other way round. They assert diversity of things and make externalised perception possible. So in the attraction that the subject feels towards the object, two elements work vigorously – the diversity aspect and the unity aspect. The attraction is possible basically on account of the structural similarity between the subject and the object. But the need for being pulled by the object, or getting attracted towards the object, arises on account of the perception of diversity, or the duality of subject and object.

If unity is the whole truth there would be no need of perception, and the question of attraction would not arise, because the subject has basically become one with the object, and is one with it. Where there is an utter unity of the subject and the object, neither perception would be there, nor any kind of love or hatred. If there is utter isolation, even then there would be no perception. If we are really disconnected from all things, we can neither see anything, nor can we have love and hatred towards things.

If we are really one with things, then also it is the same thing. So either way, whether we emphasise the unity aspect or the diversity aspect exclusively, we find that there is no perception, and no love and hatred. Perception and love and hatred are hybrids born out of a mixed-up attitude that has arisen on account of a transference of values, by which what is meant is, a little of the unity aspect is transferred to the diversity aspect, and a little of the diversity aspect is transferred to the unity aspect, so that we live in a very utterly false world of created counterfeit circumstances. Neither do we live in unity, nor do we live in diversity. Then, where are we living.

We have created a world of our own – that is jiva srishti. Utter diversity is not possible; utter unity is also not possible. So we have created a world of our own, like trishanku svargam, and here we are ruling like masters. But inasmuch as it is not based on facts and cannot be substantiated finally on logical grounds, it shakes from the very bottom, and so we are very unhappy right from the beginning. We are unhappy when the objects are not with us, we are unhappy when the objects are with us, and we are unhappy when the objects leave us. So when are we happy? Unhappiness is there because the object has not come. Unhappiness is there because the object is there, but the fear is that it may go. So even when it is there we have a fear, "Oh, how long will it be there? I may lose it at any moment." And when the object has gone, of course, there is unhappiness. There is an undercurrent of joylessness in every experience of the individual, because the very existence of the so-called individual is itself an illogical something. It is an unwarranted assumption and something which cannot be finally justified, either logically or scientifically.

What is an individual, which we call the percipient? It is an abstracted group of characters, tentatively isolated from a larger set or group of characters to which these former really belong – an act that has been perpetrated mysteriously for the purpose of playing a drama, we may say. We have falsely isolated ourselves. Even that isolation is not a real isolation, because a mere abstraction of a few characters from a group of larger characters cannot be regarded as real. It is only a closing of one's eyes to certain existent conditions. We can ignore the presence of things and conditions which are not conducive to our present purpose, but why this purpose itself has arisen is a very difficult thing to answer. This is maya, as they call it, a peculiar jugglery that has been projected by no one. Neither can we say that God created it, nor can we say that we created it. It is somewhere; and how it has come, neither can we say, nor can anyone else say. The inscrutability of the relationship between the individual and the cosmic, the difficulty in ascertaining the connection between appearance and reality – this is called maya. To put it in more plain terms, the relationship between the subject and the object is itself difficult to understand.

We cannot understand what our connection is with anything at all, and so we are in a helpless condition. Therefore we cannot even control the mind, because controlling the mind is an adjustment of the modifications of the mind in respect of the object of its cognition, and the object of its cognition is not properly understood because of its unintelligible character. Everything then becomes difficult, and our efforts become a source of failure in the end. Success does not seem to be forthcoming, because it is not clear to us what is the right direction that we have to take.

What is the mind to do, what are we to do, what is anyone to do in this prescription of yoga called 'mind-control'? Are we to subjugate the object, destroy the object, absorb the object into ourselves, or abstract the mind from the object and not cognise it? In an act of mind-control, what is to be done? Are we satisfied if we merely become unaware of the existence of the object, which is what is usually known as abstraction of the senses and the mind from objects, or is there anything to be done in respect of the object itself? This question arises on account of the necessity to understand the extent of influence the object exerts upon the subject, and the extent of influence that the subject exerts upon the object.

For all practical purposes, we can agree with the author of the Panchadasi and conclude that we need not interfere with the scheme of things from the point of view of Ishvara's creation. People can be there, and things can be there – they have to be there. We have to change our attitude, which means to say we have to reorganise the method of the working of our own mind inside, in respect of existent objects outside. This is only a tentative answer, and not the final answer, because we have not yet finally given the judgement as to the nature of things. We have temporarily accepted the existence of a world outside us, just as we temporarily accept the meaning of an 'x' in an equation in algebra. Though the 'x' itself may have no meaning ultimately, it is a necessary assumption which solves the question, and afterwards it cancels itself.

So, in the end, we will find that while the acceptance of the existence of things independent of the mind by way of what is known as Ishvara srishti may be necessary for the solution of our problem, the world also will modify itself accordingly when the individual advances further, because all spiritual advance is a parallel advance both from the side of the subject and the object. It is not only one side that is evolving. The evolution of the individual is, at the same time, a corresponding evolution of all conditions in which the individual is involved, including society and the world.