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The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Nature of Ultimate Reality

We are slowly moving in the direction of coming to a conclusion as to the nature of an ultimate reality, which alone can attract us and compel us to seek our fulfilments in it. All this effort, this study, this analysis, is for this purpose.

Is there a thing called Ultimate Reality? It has to be there if our desires and aspirations are to have any meaning or sense. If our incessant search, day in and day out throughout our life, has any worthwhile meaning, it has to be fulfilled one day or the other in the attainment or the achievement of something finally and ultimately real – not temporarily or tentatively real, or real for the time being – a final quenching of every thirst and an appeasing of every type of hunger of the personality. This is possible only if there is such a thing called the ultimately real. Towards this is our effort in our studies.

Last time we discovered that we seem to be mysterious somethings which cannot be identified with the body. We cannot identify ourselves with the body, because in the state of dream we seem to be existing even without any relation to the body. We do not even seem to be minds thinking, because in sleep, the mind does not think. The mind is almost not there, and yet we are there. So, we can be there even if the body and the mind are not there. In some important sense, we did exist in sleep, minus our association with the body and the mind.

In our daily life we always refer to ourselves as bodies, sometimes as minds. We associate ourselves with the bodily personality only, for all practical purposes, in every business of life. There is nothing else in us which we can think of. Rarely do we refer to our intellect, our reason, our mind, our emotion, our psyche, but there is nothing else we can discover in ourselves. Yet, there seems to be something which is coming to the surface of our discovery when we analyse this enigmatic condition we call deep sleep.

This condition of sleep in which we did exist without any association with all these things we call meaningful in waking life – body and mind – is a gateway to a great knowledge about our own selves. If we are something, and we did exist as something different from the body and the mind, in what condition did we exist? We are unable to think properly here because the body alone is the object of our thinking; and to some extent, thought itself is the object of its own function. All our knowledge is psychological, mental. We have no other knowledge available in this world. But this knowledge is inadequate for the purpose of knowing what it was that existed in deep sleep. The mind cannot turn back on its own source; it cannot climb on its own shoulders or peel its own skin. The mind is turned back baffled when it tries to know what it was that existed in deep sleep. The mind can think only that which is in front of it; it cannot know what is behind it. In some way, just as we cannot see our own back, the mind too cannot see its own source. The area or jurisdiction of mental activities ceases when we cover the domain of waking and dreaming. The mind operates during waking and dreaming, but it cannot operate during sleep. Therefore, all our apparatus of knowledge fails and becomes valueless when we try to know our own selves.

Look at the wonder! We have no means of knowing our own selves. We have means to know other people, other things, but we cannot know our own selves. Why? It is because the mind cannot know its own source. The effect cannot go back to the cause, for an important reason which we have tried to touch upon previously – namely, the conditioning of the mind in space-time and causal categories. In deep sleep these categories do not work, and space-time does not operate either. There is nothing practicable – no space, no time, no causation, no objects, no associations of any kind – a nihil, a zero as it were. But were we a zero in deep sleep? Not at all! We were solidly existing, and not annihilated nothings.

We were not destroyed in deep sleep. We existed very substantially, wholly; yet, we cannot know in what condition we existed. How do we know that we existed in such a completely fulfilled manner in the state of deep sleep, when we have no means of knowing that we existed? When the means of knowledge are not there, how does one know that anything is there at all? Who is telling us that we existed in sleep? It cannot be the mind because it was not working, and it was not the body. Therefore, there is a peculiar way of 'knowing', that is other than mental knowledge.

The process of psychological knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge. There is another way of knowing, which is superior to perception and psychological cognition. We can perceive the objects of the world, we can cognise concepts, but we cannot perceive or conceive our selves because the perception process is the activity of the senses, and conception the work of the mind. The senses and the mind do not work in deep sleep; therefore, we cannot know what we are, through the process of perception and cognition.

What other way is there? There is direct apprehension. We sometimes call it intuition. Even now, at this moment, we know that we are, not because we open our eyes and look at ourselves. We can close our eyes, and yet know that we are. We apprehend ourselves in a total way, not in a sensory manner, and a conviction arises in us that we are – not by means of inductive or deductive reasoning, not by perception or cognition, but by a self-assertive, indubitable feeling which we can call realisation. We have a realisation of our own self – “I am” – and we do not require any proof from a textbook; no experiment is necessary here, and nobody need observe this fact of our being. We know that we are, for a reason which cannot be explained.

Therefore, there are things which are real and convincingly existent, yet cannot be proved by logic. Science and logic are not the only way of knowing things, because in our own case, they fail, while we can apply these instruments in the case of other things and other persons. So we did exist in the state of deep sleep, and we were wholly real; we were not incomplete, we were not fractions. Can we say because our body was not there, and our mind was not there, that only a fraction of us was there? Were we only one third in deep sleep, because the body and mind were not active? No, we were not one third; we were entirely, a hundred percent. Then even minus the body and mind, we can be a hundred percent. How is it possible?

There is a very clearly observable phenomenon of amputation of the limbs of the body. If the arms and legs are surgically removed, we may say that fifty percent of the body has gone, but yet the person will not say he is fifty percent. He is still fully a hundred percent. Even if the bodily limbs are cut off, the person is a hundred percent. Therefore, the person is not the body; otherwise, if one finger goes, some percent of the person must be diminished.

By the other types of analysis we conducted, we felt that we were entirely present in sleep, minus even the thinking process. Not only that, we were immensely happy; we were not grieving or sorrowful going to sleep. We are tired of the joys of the world, and we go to a joy which is superior to all the joys of the world of senses because there is a fulfilment in sleep which exceeds the satisfaction of coming in contact with any object, including the whole Earth itself. Even a sick person is rejuvenated when he wakes up from sleep. Tired people come out with greater strength, and feel a new sense of life after awakening.

What was the satisfaction? From where did it arise? How is it that we feel a new sense of life coming to us when we wake up from sleep? We had nothing to eat, we were fasting the whole night, and yet we were happier in that condition of fasting than in the waking condition of eating. What could be the reason? When we had no friends, no associations, nothing to do, no contact whatsoever, and no joys of the world, we felt happier than all the joys acquired in the world. From where did it arise?

It arose for a simple reason. In the waking and dreaming conditions – or, for the matter of that, when we are in association with the body and the mind – we are not wholly ourselves. We become wholly ourselves only in sleep. We partially distract our being by associating it with something which it is not. We have already known that we are something entirely different from the body and the mind; and to be daily, persistently clinging to this body and the mental activities as if they are me, would be to run away from ourselves. There is an estrangement of personality – a psychological aberration, we may say – taking place in waking and dreaming conditions. Even now we are not wholly ourselves because we have turned away from ourselves to some extent in thinking that we are the body. We have wrongly associated ourselves with something with which we could not logicality identify by a convincing analysis and a satisfactory deduction. If we cannot, by any amount of understanding, identify the body as ourselves, how do we wholly depend only on it and ask for satisfactions through the limbs of the body?

Hence, we are living in a desert of what we call this life, where we search for a little water in the oasis of sense contact. This oasis is very small; we cannot find it everywhere in the vast desert. We are never satisfied. Let the whole world be given to us; we will be wretched still because this so-called world is an object of the senses which we come in contact with by a turning away from ourselves through the senses and the bodily instrument. All this should explain why waking life is not such a happy condition as sleep. But why do we come back to the waking state again and again, if sleep is the best thing? This is a subject of psychology, and we are not discussing psychology at present; we shall keep it aside for a further discussion. Why is it that we are forced to come back to waking life again and again, every day, in spite of the fact that it does not seem to be our real condition?

In the state of deep sleep, therefore, we existed entirely, wholly, completely, one hundred percent. What was the substance out of which we were made? What are we made of? The building is made of bricks, the book is made up of paper, the desk is made up of wood; of what are we made? Because that state in which we existed wholly and totally in the state of deep sleep was dissociated from what we call the body and the mind, we cannot say that we are made up of the body, or even that our substance is the mind. What was it, or what is it?

Here is something transcendent to our approach. We ourselves are transcendent to our own mental consciousness. We are more than what we are; we are greater than what we appear. Our jurisdiction is wider than the little bodily area we are occupying now. We existed, but not as any substance either physically, materially, socially, politically, economically, and not even psychologically. Minus all these things, freed from all these associations, we did exist as a hundred-percent being. We cannot say anything about that condition except that we were simply aware – a mere awareness. We can say nothing more. The truth cannot be accessible to us because, as I mentioned, it is no longer a content of the mental consciousness. We were, we are, and there the matter ends. We were not something as persons – as men, women, etc. We were not any of these things. We were unqualified existence, without any adjective – pure being which can be associated only with pure consciousness: “I am”. I was in sleep, but not as something, not as this or that – not as the son or daughter of somebody, as a boss, as a rich or a poor person. I simply was. I am.

This being of ours in the state of deep sleep has to be associated with consciousness because we cannot say that we are an unconscious, brick-like substance. Nobody would accept this condition, especially as we know that we can be aware of the fact of our having slept yesterday, a remembrance which is posterior to our existence as something in deep sleep. All memory proceeds from past experience, and experience is always associated with an awareness of being something. Therefore, with this very difficult logical conclusion, we realise that we have to be considered as pure being, consciousness, and nothing more, nothing less.

In Sanskrit there are words such as sat and chit. Sat is pure being; chit is consciousness. We are sat, chit and ananda. Ananda is bliss, the bliss of sleep, surpassing every other joy of the world. We rub our eyes when we get up from sleep, and want to go back to sleep again if possible. But the worries of life pull us back to waking, so somehow or other we get up, unwillingly, and run about. We were sat-chit-ananda in the state of deep sleep, which means to say, existence, consciousness, bliss – that is all.

Knowing this, we have stumbled upon some valuable content of our own reality. An ultimately real something is in us, and we are ultimately real and not unreal. This real something which we are is seeking fulfilment in all its desires and aspirations, in all its longings, enterprises and activities in life. We are struggling in our life to come back to our own source of pure being and consciousness, even by an erroneous movement of the senses in terms of objects of sense. Even when we go wrong in our life, we are trying to do the right only, but there is a blindness that covers our senses and the mind. What this blindness is concerns the actual practice of yoga.

There is something ultimately real in us – pure being, consciousness – which cannot be dissected into parts. It does not mean that some consciousness is here and some consciousness is there. There is no gap between one aspect or part of consciousness and another aspect or part of it. Consciousness cannot be partitioned. The idea of partition cannot arise in consciousness because division implies a gap between two parts; and nobody can be conscious of a gap, except consciousness itself. So unless consciousness is present even in the gap, there cannot be a gap, so the gap is ruled out. What does it mean, finally? Unlimitedness is the characteristic of this consciousness. The essence of man is an unlimited existence, if it is consciousness. Infinite is the nature of man, and as there cannot be two infinites, there cannot be two realities. So, there is an ultimately real something, and that ultimately real something has to be pure being and consciousness, and also it has to be one only and not two. Therefore, there cannot be two ultimate realities, two infinities, two Gods, two Absolutes, two final achievements of life.

Thus, the process of the evolution of life seems to be a tendency of everything in the direction of this fulfilment, namely, a realisation or coming in contact with this Great Being. This is something we have to keep in our mind always because all our further studies will depend upon this conclusion. There has to be an ultimately real being, which is immanent and, at the same time, transcendent. It is immanent because it covers all forms of existence.

As I mentioned, since consciousness cannot be divided, cut into parts or partitioned, it has to be infinite. Therefore, it has to be everywhere. This state of being everywhere, in everything, in every form, in every condition, is called immanence. It is also transcendent at the same time, because it is beyond the body and the mind. It is not a physical immanence; it cannot be identified with contacts of any kind. The infinite does not come in contact with anything, because it itself is all things. There are no objects outside infinity. By the word 'infinite' we mean that which has nothing outside it, because if there is anything external to it, it becomes finite. The finite is that, outside of which there is something; and the infinite is that, external to which there can be nothing. Hence, the only infinite that there can be has to also be transcendent at the same time, since by this little study and analysis we have conducted just now, we seem to be realising that this mysterious reality is beyond the body complex, and even the psychological operations. It is transcendent and immanent at the same time. It is everywhere. It is all things, and yet nothing can be considered as limiting it. This is the Absolute that philosophers speak of. This is the Supreme God, the Creator of the universe that religions speak of. This is what is called the Father in heaven because He is transcendent; but He is not outside creation, as creation has come from this Being only. He is transcendent as well as immanent. He is God, the Supreme Being.

This is the ultimate reality which Vedanta philosophy calls Brahman. In English we may simply say pure consciousness, existence. Sometimes it is called Purusha or the Ultimate Person. Sometimes it is called Purushottama, to distinguish it from ordinary persons. When we consider God as a Supreme Person, we are likely to imagine God as a sort of large human being. To obviate this misconception, to free our mind from associating any kind of human characteristics to God, we call God as Purushottama, Supreme Person, and not simply a purusha or an ordinary person.

God is a person and also an im-person at the same time. Impersonality and personality can both be the characteristics of the Ultimate Reality from different angles of our vision or viewpoint. This Supreme Person who is the Creator of the universe, called the Ultimate God in religion, is sometimes called personal because we associate It in some way with creation. The relationship of God to the universe is a theological and philosophical problem. It cannot be easily explained, because when we go further and deeper into this subject and press the matter to its logical limits, we have such difficulties that we are not be able to say anything about it. Because we cannot help seeing a universe in front of us and, at the same time, cannot assert that there is something outside the Supreme Being, we assume a dual position in philosophy and religion by conceiving the Supreme Being as impersonal sometimes and personal at other times. If there can be nothing outside the Supreme Being, there cannot be a universe outside, and then the question of personality also does not arise. But we cannot give up this idea of a universe being there; and God has to be related to it in some mysterious, unintelligible manner, and assumes a super-personality, the Purushottamatva we speak of in our religions.

Now, in India we have various systems of philosophy, the most prominent being Sankhya and Vedanta. To study yoga, we need not concern ourselves with many other schools of thought. These two systems are very important because there is some interrelation between them. The Sankhya and the Vedanta form, in several ways, the foundation of the practice of yoga. Yoga is the implementation of the conclusions arrived at by Vedanta and/or Sankhya. Though there is a great difference between the classical conclusions arrived at by these two systems of thinking, there is also an interrelation which makes it desirable to study something about those systems.

The Sankhya is a doctrine of the presence of an ultimate reality called purusha, whose essential nature is consciousness. The purusha is a difficult word that Sankhya uses which does not mean a person like a human being, but something superior to what it considers as matter, or prakriti, in its language. That which is not matter – non-material existence – is called purusha. A thing that is non-material has to be conscious; therefore, the purusha of the Sankhya is a centre of consciousness. It is considered by the Sankhya as an infinite consciousness. The purushas asserted by the Sankhya are considered infinite and interacting, like the monads of Leibnitz. Leibnitz was a German philosopher who asserted the presence of infinite substances called monads, whose essential characteristic is consciousness and yet which are infinite in number. There are many monads, many centres of consciousness, interacting with one another. This is one doctrine.

The Sankhya had to accept that these infinite purushas are also infinite in number because the consciousness of the human being – he may be a Sankhya philosopher or whoever he is – refuses to accept that the world is not there. The world is definitely there, and it is not that only one person sees it; many persons see it. The personality of the subjective consciousness of the purusha, though it was identified with a non-material substance, became identified with the plurality of individuality. A mixing up of the empirical and the eternal took place. The empirical multiplicity of individuals became identified with the infinity of consciousness. It is a very interesting mix-up that occured, and oftentimes we also make that mix-up due to the difficulty of thinking in any other manner. Thus came about the Sankhya. I am not going into further details about this matter; it is just a little information as to what Sankhya is.

The purusha is non-material infinite consciousness, and there is another thing, namely, this material universe. It is necessary to know something about Sankhya, though not all its minor details, because it is connected in some way with the practice of yoga – perhaps the practice of any type of yoga, not merely Patanjali's yoga. The evolutionary doctrine of modern science is almost the same as the evolutionary theory of the Sankhya, to which Vedanta is not opposed, though it transcends Sankhya in some other way for another reason. Therefore, the purusha is, according to Sankhya, the pure centre of consciousness – yourself, myself, everybody included – and prakriti is this vast universe of what is called 'matter'. It is unconscious. While the purusha is non-material, and therefore conscious, the world, prakriti – matter – is unconscious.

So, consciousness and unconsciousness meet in the perception of the world. An unconscious material substance called prakriti, which is this vast universe of physical matter, becomes the content of a subjective awareness in all perceptions. Prakriti and purusha join together in the knowledge of anything. Consciousness contacts matter in the perception of any object, even in the conception of it. How does consciousness come in contact with matter? They are dissimilar in their nature. How could we expect two dissimilar things to come in contact with each other? The Sankhya has one example of how it comes in contact. Consciousness does not enter into matter really; it does not become matter. We do not become the object in the knowledge of the object, nor does the object enter us. The object maintains its independence of consciousness, and consciousness, which is the purusha, maintains its own independence, even in an apparent coming together. It is an apparent coming together, not a real coming together. This is the bondage of the soul, says the Sankhya. The purusha, who is independent, infinite consciousness, wrongly imagines that it comes in contact with something which it is not.

Finally, whether it is Vedanta, Sankhya, Yoga, or whatever else it is called, the question of the problem in life seems to be a question of our apparent contact with something which we are not. I mentioned to you already that we are coming in contact with something which is not our essential nature, when we are awake. That is why we are grieved in the waking state. The Sankhya tells us in a highly philosophical manner the same thing – the sorrow of the individual consists in its wrong apparent association with that which is not its essential nature. Matter is not the essential nature of consciousness. Purusha is not prakriti, and yet one comes in contact with the other. So according to the Sankhya, liberation or salvation consists in the freedom of consciousness from contact with prakriti, the absolution of consciousness from its relation to matter, or rather the resting of consciousness in its own self, freed from any kind of association with that which it is not. This is something about the final philosophical conclusions of Sankhya.