The Psychology of Yoga

Written by kalabin. Posted in Articles

Vyasa explained: “Some people, who are misled by the similarity of personal consciousness and Universe Consciousness (Spectator-Purusha), believe that it is this, i.e. their personal consciousness, is animated. The other (the followers of vidjnyanavada – one of Buddhist philosophic conceptions) prove that the whole world is only consciousness (chitta-matra), and its objects (animals, people, nature, etc.) don’t really exist… Both are regrettable.” The perceived object, while being reflected in consciousness, is not identical to consciousness itself as it serves its base, i.e. the object basis for the mental-psychic image. If such an object were only consciousness (chitta-matra), the objective perception of reality would be impossible. In the process of self-perception, consciousness couldn’t reflect and see itself.

In the depth of the human psychic world there are reasons of one’s attachment to the material world, in other words, it is the root of karma which makes the continuous chain of transformations (sansara). It is connected with sanskaras — psychic reflections or prints of experience which are located in the bowels of the unconscious and serve as the potential forming factors of new states of consciousness corresponding to them by essence. And in their turn, they give birth to the corresponding new kinds of actions and affects which lead karma behind them. Karma immerses a human into the material being and sufferings accompanying it.

If consciousness tends to sensual objects, it is the way to sansara. But if the stream of sensual inclinations is stopped by impassion which is completed by the practice of differentiating perception (spiritual wisdom), it is the way to spiritual liberation.

Yoga’s psychology comes from two main pair features of consciousness, five kinds of consciousness activity and five kinds of consciousness states (uma-chitta) in the sense of its changes and concentration.

The first pair of qualitative features is as follows:

  1. The percepted states of consciousness (these are the acts of perception);
  2. The non-percepted states of consciousness (it is pure psychic reality the elements of which cannot be visual, but can be stated by rational thinking). All in all, there are seven such elements or features: ceasing the unrolling of consciousness, dharma, forming factors, changes, vitality, efforts of consciousness, potential energy of affects.

The second pair of qualitative features concerns the direction of consciousness. It can be:

  • Multidirectional (it is the state of scattered consciousness);
  • Unidirectional (it is the state of concentrated consciousness).

For practical purposes of Yoga, the consciousness unidirectionality is important which is achieved and perfected by special practice of mental contemplation with one essence–object.

Five kinds of consciousness activity are as follows:

  1. True cognition (perception, conclusion, authoritative evidence);
  2. Delusion (false knowledge which isn’t based on the real object’s own form);
  3. Mental designing (deprived of the objective base and originated from verbal knowledge);
  4. Dream (a special consciousness activity based on the absence of cognitive contents; the particular experience of cognition as it is saved after waking up);
  5. Memory (keeping the previous experience).

These kinds of consciousness activity can be contaminated, if they are stipulated by affects and are the reasons of collecting the unconscious ‘prints’ of karma, and uncontaminated, if they counteract to the movement of guns and tend to the separating cognition.

While learning the range of consciousness problems, let’s touch its psychic-linguistic aspect. We’ll consider how the objects, the consciousness notions about them and words are related with each other. Vyasa claims the difference between words, objects and notions by commenting Patandjali’s laconic statement: “The false identification of a word, an object and a notion leads to their mixing”.

Vyasa understands a word as the sign of a single mental act which is made by the effort of speech organs and is the integral succession of articulated sounds. As a result of a conditioned agreement, words are related with their objects. As a whole, it is the result of human culture. Vyasa claims, though, that a language, as such, has no beginning in time. The existence and change of real objects, he continues, is accompanied by neither consciousness (notions) nor words. In the same way, the word and the meaning are not related with each other in reality. Their relation is set by human consciousness. So, the world of objects is one reality (objective), the world of consciousness sets another one (notional), and the world of words does the third reality (verbal).

Leaning the theoretical aspects of consciousness problems in classical Yoga, we’ll dwell in short on two phenomena of consciousness – perception of thoughts and transfer of consciousness relating to the manifestation of ‘perfect abilities’ (a Yogi’s paranormal powers). “Due to direct perceiving the contents of the cognitive act, — Patandjali writes, — the knowledge of the other mentality appears”. The case in point is that the consciousness of one person can perceive the contents of another person’s consciousness directly, not verbally. It means the ability to receive the thoughts of another person and send your own ones.

In the Western world, this phenomenon has got the name of ‘telepathy’. The experiences for studying it let us understand a thought as a special energy-information wave running in cosmic thin-field continuum. At present, such waves can be fixed and studied.

The phenomenon of consciousness transfer consists in the ability of autonomic activity of consciousness outside a human body or in the free consciousness transfer from one body to another. It is achieved by the projective and non-projective concentrations.

In Yoga, the consciousness concentration, when intellect (manas) acts outside the body, is called incorporeal. Vyasa explains: “If it is directed outside by the intellect existing in the body, this is the projective (imaginaty) concentration. If the intellect is outside and doesn’t depend on the body, this is the non-projective (real) concentration. In Yoga, it is called Great incorporeal.”

One of the tales about Shankaracharya is the example of the phenomenon of consciousness transfer. The great man of wisdom Shankaracharya, or simply Shankara, is the famous Indian religious reformer and philosopher, one of the mainteachers and advocate of Vedanta philosophic conception who lived in VIII or IX centuries. He was an enlightened master who had a lot of pupils and lived with them in a small community; every day he admonished to his pupils helping in their movement to the Divine light.

He pointed to the necessity of constant work over oneself and one’s habits, and he often complained that the pupils surrendered to the weakness of their bodies and couldn’t fight against the strong attack of instincts and wishes.

Shankaracharya exclaimed: “Oh you negligent! You spend the precious time on satisfying your momentary impulses of your bodies instead of being directed to the Single – Who exists forever — with all your hearts! You exchange the priceless coin of life for that will turn into dust in a moment! Stop it until it is too late! Stop this wheel of passions burning your immortal souls!

The pupils replied: “Oh Teacher! Let us explain to you. The influence of our bodies is still very strong. We are unable to resist it. You the wisest cleaned your consciousness from the perishable wishes long before the birth in that body, and that is why you cannot understand us.”

“These are lame excuses! You simply justify your negligence and laziness! – Shankaracharya exclaimed. – “I’ll prove it isn’t such! I’ll show you that, while existing in any body, I won’t lose the clearness of my spirit and will be able to cope with all its influences”.

Shankaracharya said that and started acting.

At that time, the tsar of the area where the community was located was dying. The man of wisdom said that he would come into the Samadhi state and leave his body having installed himself into the body of the dying tsar. He ordered to leave his ‘sleeping’ body in the cabin under two pupils’ supervision until his soul existed in the tsar’s body. The other pupils were to come the tsar’s audience as soon as his recovering was claimed and to get convinced of the rightness of their teacher’s words.

He did so. When the dying tsar’s soul was flying off, Shankaracharya’s soul was installed into his body. At that time the tsar’s courtiers were mourning over him, when suddenly they noticed that his cheeks were getting red. His eyelids began shaking, and he opened his eyes.

Some time later there was a feast in the palace in honour of the tsar’s wonderful recover. A lot of guests, musicians, magicians and skilful dancers were invited. The feast lasted for two days, and merriment didn’t stop for a moment. Shankaracharya, in the tsar’s body, was eating and drinking, enjoyed the beauties’ caresse, the sounds of charming music and the beautiful movements of the dancing women.

Any of his wishes had been satisfied before it was pronounced. Everyone was glad to see their beloved ruler alive and healthy. And Shankaracharya was also glad together with everybody; he forgot who he was.

On the third day he was informed that a group of pilgrims were asking for the tsar’s audience, but Shankaracharya ordered to get them away.

“What is the use of the monks? The can bore just with their pious appearance. Let them go away!”- that was what Shankaracharya said.

Then his pupils understood what was wrong with their Teacher and decided to disguise themselves in musicians and poets and enter the palace in such a way. This time they were accepted as the tsar loved creative people, and his court was always open to musicians, poets and other interesting people.

The pupils, changed into musicians, entered and started playing. In order to prevent the court people’s suspect of anything, they approached to the tsar and started to sing while inserting the words addressed to Shankaracharya’s spirit.

“Oh dear Teacher, — they sang, — Wake up! We are your pupils. Recall yourself! You are a great man of wisdom presented by God’s wisdom! You are the master of the whole Universe and not of the kingdom only. We beg you to come to yourself!”

At last, the tsar’s look got clear. He looked at them with Shankaracharya’s eyes and winked at them. Then he told them to approach in order to get an award from the hands of the tsar himself.

He said into the ear of an approached pupil: “Go back to the place where my body is located; I’ll come soon”.

With these words, Shankaracharya let the musicians leave and went to the bedchamber. There, he lay on the bed and left the tsar’s body having returned to his own body which had been in Samadhi under the care of his pupils. So, the tsar died, and Shankaracharya realized the power of influence of the perishable body on the immortal soul.

As we see, such mental exercises for developing autonomy of consciousness can end tragically, especially if you aren’t a Yoga master and don’t have a spiritual Teacher who is a more perfect master than you are. It should be added that similar abilities are not directly related to the main purpose of Yoga (liberating Spirit from the bonds of matter) and are only the accompanying result of perfecting consciousness and its power over body.

  1. Knowledge, cognition and role of mystical experience in classical Yoga

In the texts of Yoga tradition thinkers, significant attention was paid to the problems of knowledge and cognition. However, knowledge and cognition were not an end in itself in classical Yoga, but were the means of spiritual liberation or the instrument of overcoming one’s own imperfection and dependence on material being.

According to the philosophic axiom of classical Yoga and other philosophic systems of Ancient India, the root of dependence and karma was considered avidya (i.e. ignorance). Knowledge was understood as a medicine for avidya. It was supposed that a person having no knowledge stays disoriented spiritually. He doesn’t see where there is the true reality and where there is the false one (maya); what is the eternal and what is the interim; what is good and what is evil.

To overcome spiritual blindness, a human needs true knowledge. But here it is not meant knowledge in general or, moreover, the applied everyday-pragmatic knowledge, but first of all spiritual knowledge, i.e. understanding the essence of things, one’s own essence, the purposes of one’s existence, the principles and mechanisms of spirit liberation.

Thus, it can be stated that classical Yoga gibes more importance to knowledge as the practical means of perfection. Moreover, among many modifications of Yoga, there is a system of djnani-yoga where spiritual cognition, or spiritual wisdom, is considered as the most effective method of Yoga perfection and liberation from avidya, karma (the law of requital) and sansara (the wheel of regenerations).

Classical Yoga solves the problem of the World cognoscibility in the following way. Outer things really exist in the World (that is they aren’t the products of human consciousness) and are accepted to objective human cognition. At the same time, it is necessary to stipulate: in the philosophy of Yoga, the world is the result of interaction between Spirit and material Nature. Cognition of the world of Prakriti – Material Nature – is not limited by anything. But the cognition of the world of Purusha – Spiritual Nature – has certain limits. Here, Yoga states: it is not the human consciousness that really cognizes the spiritual Nature of Being, but the Spirit (Purusha) uses human consciousness (buddhi) as the mirror for the cognition of one’s own essence.

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