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The Great System of Yoga Propounded by Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: The Process of Creation

The stages of yoga as a practice are actually in direct correspondence with the stages of the descent of the soul from God or, the other way around, the stages of the ascent of the soul to God, the Supreme Reality. This is the reason why we should have a philosophical background of the structure of the universe and the nature of its descent or ascent, as you would like to put it, before we actually take to a serious study of the practical techniques of yoga.

I told you something yesterday about the general character of the universe. We concluded with the stage where the one appears to split itself into purusha and prakriti, consciousness and its object. The whole of our experience is comprised of these two aspects: consciousness and matter, the seer and what is seen. In our study in the present context of this course in the Academy here, we shall be strictly following the enunciations in the ancient texts without any innovation or departure.

The yoga texts tell us that our experience as constituted of the seer and the seen is what can be called in Sanskrit vyavaharika satta, or in English we may say “an empirical experience.” It is empirical, vyavaharika, or of practical utility, because though it is workable and seems to be the only reality available to us, it is not the whole of reality. The seer aspect and the seen aspect, the consciousness aspect and the object aspect, the purusha aspect and the prakriti aspect, are designated in ancient texts as the adhyatma and the adhibhuta. The adhyatma is the inward-perceiving, seeing consciousness lodged in the individuality of the seer. The adhibhuta is the objective universe – what appears as a material expanse before us. Sankhya, to which I made reference yesterday, as propounded by the sage Kapila, confines itself to these two categories, purusha and prakriti, and does not feel the necessity for anything else. But the yoga texts are not all based entirely on the Sankhya as propounded by Kapila. I mentioned to you yesterday there is a modification, and an improvement, rather, of the concept of Sankhya in other texts like the Manusmriti, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavadgita, and the Upanishads.

In the deeper analysis of this circumstance of there being the purusha and the prakriti as the only possible realities in experience, the Upanishads particularly, and also the Bhagavadgita, proclaim by way of implication the necessity to accept a third principal – which may be called the adhidaiva, or the superintending divinity transcending the subject and the object, purusha and prakriti – because the connection between the seer and the seen cannot be explained merely by the seer and the seen. The subject relates itself to the object, and vice a versa, in the subject's awareness of the presence of the object. This relation is inexplicable on the assumption that there are two isolated realities, the seer and the seen. Two entirely demarcated principles cannot come in contact with each other, and cannot know each other. The possibility of the perception or awareness of an object outside by consciousness within can be accounted for only by the presence of something that is there as a connecting link between the subject and the object. This is invisible to the naked eyes, but logical deduction requires or demands the presence of such a principle, without which it is not possible to explain how we are aware of the existence of the world at all. How can anyone know that there is something outside if the outside is totally cut off from the one who beholds it? That things are not entirely severed from the seer of the things implies again that there is a link between the seer and the seen. This link is something transcending both the seer and the seen. Hence, beyond the adhyatma and adhibhuta, there is the adhidaiva.

Therefore, the one Infinite Being, about which we discussed a little yesterday, appears as the two, the subject and the object, but it remains yet as a unity. God does not become the world as milk becomes curd, because once the milk becomes curd, it cannot become milk once again. There is no internal transformation of the Supreme Being into the world. If that had taken place really, there would be no possibility of return to God, as curd cannot return to milk. Such a transformation has not taken place, and it cannot take place, inasmuch as the Supreme Being is indivisible, and indivisibility cannot undergo transformation of any kind. Thus, the unitary aspect of the Supreme Being is maintained even in spite of the apparent division into the seer and the seen, the subject and the object. So behind the duality of experience, there is a unity of a transcendent principle which persists in spite of the multiplicity and the duality of experience. So there is a tripartite creation, we may say, over and above the dual concept of creation, which we considered earlier. On the one side, we have the universe, which is the adhibhuta. On the other side there is the adhyatma – the viewer, the beholder of the whole universe, you, I and everybody. And above these two we have the connecting link, the transcendent, called a divinity, a devata, God, an angel or the spirit of the cosmos.

People among you who might have read Plato, for instance, may recall to your memories his ideas of there being a superintending archetype, as he calls it, transcending the world of opinion, sensory perception, and mental cognition. Two things cannot relate themselves with each other unless a third thing is there. This third thing is called “the Idea” in Plato's metaphysics, and in Indian philosophical parlance we generally designate this third principle as the devata, or the divinity.

Generally, people think that in the religions of India there are many gods, a sort of polytheism. This is a thorough misconception of the philosophical foundations of India. They are not many gods. They are the manifold levels through which the one Supreme Being manifests itself by densities of descent, becoming grosser and grosser as it comes further and further down for the purpose of maintaining this relationship between the subject and the object. As there are several levels of descent, it appears as if there are many gods, but they are levels of the one supreme connecting principle, and several levels of one and the same thing cannot be regarded as many things, so there are not many gods. This wrong idea should be brushed aside from the mind. This superintending principle is the adhidaivata, a very essential reality without which no experience can be accounted for.

The yoga texts and the philosophies tell us that the objective side is to be visualised as constituted of five subtle forces. These forces, which are five in number according to the yoga or the Vedanta, are termed in Sanskrit tanmatras. Tanmatra is a Sanskrit word meaning the basic essential building brick of any substance in this world. As electric energy is said to be the foundational reality of all physical objects according to modern science, tanmatras are regarded as the basic foundational essences of all objects. Perhaps they can be equated with what we call today the electrical continuum of the cosmos.

Now again we have to remember that this fivefold classification of the forces does not imply that there are five different forces, even as the many superintending divine principles do not mean that there are many gods. The manifoldness is only an appearance of the levels of descent, and likewise this fivefold appearance of the forces constituting all things is because of the five senses that we have through which we pursue objects. Corresponding to the faculty or sensation of hearing, we have a tanmatra called shabda or sound. Sound is the object of the sense of hearing. Unless this object is present, hearing will not be possible. We have only five senses of cognition, or knowledge, and so we have to conceive the object also in a fivefold manner. Perhaps if we had one thousand senses, we would have imagined that there are one thousand foundational principles outside. Corresponding to the sensation of touch, or tangibility, there is the tanmatra of what in Sanskrit goes by the name of vayu. Sparsha is tangibility. There is a corresponding outside principle which causes this sensation of touch, called vayu in Sanskrit. Shabda is the corresponding Sanskrit term for sound. Corresponding to the sensation of sight, there is the objective principle of rupa, or colour. Similarly corresponding to the principle or the sensation of taste, there is the liquid form of things or anything that contains this liquid essence in some percentage or proportion. Then, finally, the sensation of smell requires a solid substance which emanates this smell. So the five senses of cognition correspond to the five basic objective elements known as the tanmatras: shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha. The objects that you see with your eyes which are hard, substantial, solid, are constituted of a further intensified density of formation of these basic five elements when they are mixed in certain proportions by permutation and combination, and this admixture of the basic principles of shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha are said to be the reason behind the formation of five gross elements. The five gross elements are ether, air, fire, water and earth. These are known in Sanskrit as akasha, vayu, agni, jala or ap, and prithvi. We have only these things in the world. If you cast your eyes all around, you will see only these things, and nothing else. The varieties that you see are only the variety of the formation of individuality constituted of these basic five elements, which again are the outer manifestations of the basic principles shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha. We come down to the lowest material level: earth.

Now, from this stage onwards, we come to what we call the doctrine of evolution as propounded by the West especially. The Western outlook of life does not consider these aspects of reality which we have analysed up to this level, up to this stage. Biology in the West, and the theory of evolution there, starts from the lowest material level, from which there is a rise into larger and larger organisms manifesting life, mind and intellect, which can be correspondingly seen or respectively seen in plants, animals and human beings.

The Western education which has been imparted to us may make us think that we are advancing from the lower level to the higher level. We are always told that there is an ascent – and therefore, an improvement – from matter to life, from life to mind, and from mind to intellect. Man is always said to be the pinnacle or the summit of creation. We are superior to animals in every way, animals are superior to plants, and plants are superior to inorganic matter. This is the way we generally think, as we are told by our educational syllabi. But this is not wholly true. It does not mean that we are moving towards reality as we are rising from matter to life, life to mind, and mind to the intellect, or the reason of man. Why it is not really an improvement can be known only by a little bit of subtle thinking, to which a little hint is given in an Upanishad known as the Aitareya Upanishad. The subtlety of this thought is almost unparalleled, and cannot be easily available in other systems of thought.

I will give you an example. Number two is more than one, three is more than two, four is more than three, five is more than four. If you have two dollars, naturally you are richer than the one who has one dollar, and so on. So if you have five dollars, you will think that you are richer than the one who has four, three, two or one dollar, merely because two represents a larger number than one, three is larger than two, four is larger than three, five is larger than four, etc. But minus two is not larger than plus two, or even larger than plus one. Minus two is less than plus one, though two is larger than one, ordinarily speaking. The mere quantitative measurement is not the only criterion in our judgments here in these processes of analysis. There is a kind of reflection, as it were. The only way we can put it is this way, this manner. And the reflection somehow has the characteristic of removing the reality away from its base in an opposite direction, and so the more we go away in the direction of the reflection, the more also may be said to be the distance that we maintain from the original reality, an important point which is made out by certain thinkers in the West such as Henri Bergson, for instance.

Bergson was very sure that animals are nearer to Reality than man, for an important reason which may not occur to the minds of people ordinarily. The instincts of the animals are nearer to the Truth than the reasons of man because the reasons of man are laboured. They are mathematically calculated with tremendous effort, whereas animals have a sudden response. Maybe they are blurred and dim, and not clarified, but this dimness of the instinct of animals is said to be nearer to Reality than the clarity of the so-called intellect of man. There is a sensation in the lower creatures which is not available to man. Even dogs and cats have a peculiar sense of contact with Reality which is not accessible to us.

There are, it is said, very minute animals like the snails living some three or four kilometres below the level of the ocean waters, a depth to which moonlight may not reach or sunlight may not touch. These animals are crawling at the base of the ocean and might not have even seen the light of day. Such creatures are now discovered to be guided by the waxing and the waning moon moving in the sky two lakhs of miles away from the surface of the earth, at a depth in the ocean to which the moon's rays are not likely to reach at all. This is a prosaic example to give us an idea of the sensitivity of these little creatures, which is not accessible to us. We are very dull in our brains compared to all these sensations which ants and honeybees feel. Even a month before the rainy season starts the ants will know that the rains are to come. We cannot know if it will rain tomorrow unless we go to the meteorological department, and even there something goes wrong oftentimes. Even the plants know what vibrations are around them. The great discoveries of Sir J.C. Bose are a standing refutation of our old belief that plants do not think, do not feel, and know nothing.

The Aitareya Upanishad, as I mentioned to you, tells us that there has been a kind of catastrophe that has taken place when individuality asserted itself. This, in my opinion, is the same as the fall mentioned in the Genesis of the Bible. The fall is nothing but a catastrophic isolation by an affirmation of egoism. The isolation is bad enough, but something worse seems to have taken place, by which we cannot even know the fact is such. The point that is made out in the doctrine of the isolation of the individual from the whole may make us feel oftentimes that the part is at least qualitatively the same as the whole. One grain of sugar is qualitatively the same as a mountain of sugar. One drop of Ganga water is qualitatively the same as the whole river. A little bit of the ocean is qualitatively the same as the whole ocean. So are we qualitatively the same as the Supreme Being though we are a little jot or a fraction thereof? This is not so.

While it is true that we are isolated or cut-off parts from the Universal Being, it is not true that we are qualitatively the same as That. We are not little gods thinking here. It is not so. We have not got that godly or divine thinking in our minds even in the smallest of a fraction, notwithstanding the enunciation of the scriptures that we are isolated parts of the whole. A sudden reversal of perception takes place. This is the unfortunate thing that has happened to everyone.

The reversal is difficult to understand. We have been exiled from the Garden of Eden, thrown out from the realm of godhood, banished totally from the angelic status which we were occupying in Brahmaloka. We have completely been boosted out from our status. We are away from our home. But when a member of the family is away from the home, he does not cease to be a human being; he is still the same man, though he is not in the family. But we have ceased to be in quality the thing that we were in the originality of things; otherwise, we would be thinking like God in a little fractional manner. That has not been possible for us.